Growing up in an Irish dancing household means that St. Patrick’s Day is a. big. deal. It’s the Superbowl of the Olympics of the Oscars of the ChristmaHannuKwanzukah of every other big deal day you’ve ever celebrated. It’s not for the faint of heart, or really, anyone who’s pregnant or injured or under the age of 15 or over the age of 60 but you’ll adjust, don’t worry. ‘Oh- you want to stop dancing when your toes start bleeding? TOO BAD.’ ‘Oh- you’d like to get home before 1:30a because it’s a school night and you’re 11? STOP WHINING.’
St. Patrick’s Day as an Irish dancer is a really big deal. Why?
1 )St. Patrick’s Day means GETTING OUT OF SCHOOL. My dance master was also a talk master and could convince any principal that the cultural education her dancers would receive schlepping around to a million performances before ending up hosting a ceíli at a pub full of drunk revelers FAR outweighed whatever we were learning in the fourth grade (or any grade) that day. My dance master, Terri, was a magnificent example of being loved and feared in equal measure. Here we are together last summer, 20+ years after first shouting at me to keep my hands by my sides and stand up straight. Photo is to scale (I’m not tall). Don’t let her size fool you. She is not to be trifled with. I love her.
2) St. Patrick’s Day means getting FREE ICE CREAM AT STEWARTS if you wear green, which we wore all day long because we only took off our green costumes long enough to get into our green warmups and there are approximately a bajillion Stewarts’ in upstate New York so every time you pass one, you get another free ice cream! (It’s now $0.50/ cone. In case you were thinking about it.)
3) St. Patrick’s Day means slathering your hair with mousse on the 16th and sleeping in these medieval torture devices and leaving them in during breakfast in a restaurant with the rest of your dance school while your mom tells you not to be cranky and you’re like “mom you seriously have no idea it hurts so bad it’s so tight it’s pulling out my brains please take these out oww.”
4) If you’ve outsmarted #3, it’s because you’re wearing #4. That wig’s name was Sinéad, and she was kind of a jerk.
6) St. Patrick’s Day means ALL OF THE COSTUMES. ALL DAY. How many do you have? Bring ’em. You’re gonna need them.
Sure, but sparklier. And SHORTER.
OK, fine, but do you have anything with more sequins?
6) St. Patricks Day means blisters and chafing. Have you ever experienced sequins-chafing? It’s like regular chafing if regular chafing involved razor sharp little mini-blades that left slice-marks on you for weeks. Cornstarch doesn’t help. Diaper cream doesn’t help. Nothing helps.
But honestly, St. Patrick’s Day as an Irish step dancer is an experience everyone should have because it’s glorious and exhausting and silly and beautiful. My childhood would not have been the same without it. This past St. Patrick’s Day I offered free Irish dancing lessons to strangers in the Times Sq. Subway Station.
My friend Lea who performs ballet in the subway lent me her speakers and I set up for a few hours and repeated a few of my favorite ceílis (the Siege of Ennis, the Walls of Limerick, the Bridge of Athlone) over and over.
Several of my friends turned up. Lots of people I didn’t know jumped in our circle and started dancing.
I felt so incredibly thankful to my parents and dance teachers for giving me the opportunity to learn a skill that I could use to bring people together. I’ve loved ceílis since I was young- they have a magical ability to make people less self-conscious and so vibrantly open. It sounds trite, but watching people’s faces when they’re ceíli-ing is one of the most beautiful sights in the world. Everyone devolves into a laughing, sweating, heavy-breathing mass and no one’s worried about looking cool. If only every day could be like that.
I’m horribly under-the-weather for my first St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. I’ve been warned that the city-center will be a wild mob for most of the day, but I’m hoping to muster enough strength to poke my head out from Trinity’s walls to breath in a bit of the atmosphere, and maybe turn a step or two. Regardless of how you celebrate, I hope that wherever you are you take advantage of the fact that everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.