Dyspraxia and Irish Dancing

Dia duit agus failte!

Question – what happens when you throw a girl with dyspraxia into an Irish Dancing group?

Answer – surprisingly, good things.

Today is St Patrick’s Day, and although I have no pretentions whatsoever to an Irish ancestry (you’re looking in the wrong direction unfortunately, we’re from somewhere in Europe), I love my Irish Dance and the girls (and lads) I dance with, so I’d like to pay homage to it. Apologies to any Irish people reading this if I screw up.

Firstly, a touch of irony – St Patrick was not, in fact, Irish. He was born in Roman Britain and was taken to Ireland as a slave aged around 16. After escaping and returning to Britain, he later went back to Ireland to bring Christianity to its people. The legend goes that he explained the Holy Trinity using the three leaves of the shamrock – hence the three-leaved clover that is the best known symbol of the Irish. The story also goes that it was St Patrick who removed all the snakes from the island. Whether this is true or not (and cynical me says probably not), it’s an interesting feature of the Emerald Isle that, minus those in zoos or kept as pets, it boasts no snakes.

Image result for st patrick

I’m not even sorry. (Picture source can be found here)

The Irish have celebrated the 17th of March as St Patrick’s Day for over 1,000 years as feast day, even though it didn’t become a public holiday until 1904. Not to mention that the first parades weren’t even held in Ireland, but in New York City in the 1700s. Irish soldiers serving in the British army at the time were allowed to march through the city to mark the day. To be fair to the Yanks, over 34 million of them can claim Irish ancestry as a result of the mass emigration of the Irish people during the Great Famine (approx. 1845-1852) across the Atlantic to the States. They may not have received the warmest welcome at the time owing to their Catholic religion and alien culture (until then most Irish immigrants were middle class and Protestant, far more palatable for the Protestant Americans) but now the St Patrick’s Day parades in Boston and New York are among the largest in the world.

Irish Dance (arguably my favourite form of dance, even before I started it) was one of the many things the immigrants took with them across the pond. The dancing-minded amoung you might be interested to learn that tap dancing takes a lot of its inspiration from Irish Step dancing. The video below is a fantastic act from the Riverdance show (10th Anniversary) with the marvellous Colin Dunne dancing the lead.

(Video courtesy of Youtube, I do not own it)

I started Irish Dancing about two years ago, when the newly-formed Univeristy society set up stall at the Activities Fair right next to the well-established Ceilidh Soc, of which I was a committee member that year. I thought to myself ‘well, I highly doubt I’d be any good with all that fast footwork and complicated routines, but whatever, I’ll have a go.’ So I had a go – and turned out to be surprisingly okay. Not brilliant, but okay. But there was something about it which made me want to be good at it, which is not something I get a lot. Mostly I’m in it for the experience (unless it’s horses, and I swear I need horses to survive psychologically), and then Irish Dance comes along and for every time I screw up, I want to do it again, and next time do it better. And if I don’t screw up, then I immediately want to do it again anyway because nailing it feel fabulous.

And nailing it, for someone like me, can often be a tad tricky, especially with fast footwork.

For those who don’t know, a bit about dyspraxia – it’s a mental condition which affects co-ordination and spacial awareness. It can manifest in terms of trouble with ‘gross motor co-ordination’ (for example balance and rhythm), fine motor control (for example dressing and handwriting, though personally I find typing more difficult), hand-eye co-ordination and issues with speech and language. I have problems organising thoughts into sentences, especially when speaking. Some of the mental side of the condition can resemble traits of autism, like a tendency to take things literally and a poor understanding of non-verbal cues. (Source: The Dyspraxia Foundation website)

As with many mental conditions, there is a spectrum to dyspraxia, and I’m on the mild end. There also is a lot of overlap between dyspraxia and other developmental conditions. It’s one of the reasons accurate diagnosis is so flippin’ difficult, so don’t shout at the professionals, okay? They’re doing their best.

So you’d think that I’d have issues with dancing. And I do – throw me into a salsa class or a Latin and Ballroom class and I’d have less chance than a snowball in hell of getting my feet to go in the right direction. But maybe that’s why folk dance just clicked with me, because it’s more about what I’m doing with my lower half and I don’t have to worry about losing control of my upper half because I’m not really doing anything with it. Sometimes if I have to use both halves of my body at the same time one or other can start to drift. I can’t walk in a straight line on the really bad days, so whatever deity happens to be listening at the time help me if I ever wind up drunk driving (which I won’t. Seriously, kids, it’s ain’t worth it – but I digress). I suppose that’s what makes the whole thing so rewarding.

So there – If they tell you that because you’re a certain way you can’t be good at something, it’s not always true. It doesn’t mean you can’t push at it and get good at it.

1907627_239904176210432_4079980611130737671_n

I will say it helps if you enjoy it though. I could be as good at maths, except I’m not exactly maths’ Number One Fan, so I’ll never be brilliant.

St Patrick’s Day is always busy for the Irish Dancers of Sheffield Uni. We had a performance this morning at a centre for vulnerable people, which we did last year as well and always goes down a storm. I took my ‘heavy shoes’ out for their first real spin (they’re leather shoes with blocks attached to the toes and heels to make noises – think tap but louder). We’ve got another performance tonight and then we’re off on a bar-crawl (read: piss-up). I’m not a big beer/stout/ale person, more of a cider gal meself, but I might even try Guinness this year. Always up for something new.

So I will leave you with: Slán! And for reading, go raibh maith agat!


Irish translations:

  • Dia duit agus fáilte – Hello and welcome
  • Slán – Goodbye
  • Go raibh maith agat – Thank you

St Patrick’s Day source list:

http://www.history.com/topics/st-patricks-day/history-of-st-patricks-day#

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/Science-Notebook/2015/0317/On-St.-Patrick-s-Day-here-s-the-real-reason-Ireland-has-no-snakes

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_%28Ireland%29

Shamrock picture – http://blog.chestersflowers.com/oxalis-plants-and-shamrock-traditions/

Irish translations:

  • Dia duit agus failte – Hello and welcome
  • Slán – Goodbye
  • Go raibh maith agat – Thank you
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