Straight from the Girls: Irish Step Dancing!

Laura P., age 10, is one of our Brooklyn Curious Jane girls. In this post, she shares her experience with a unique after-school activity that she’s been participating in for years: Irish Step Dancing!

I am very involved in lots of activities outside of school. I love to play sports of all kinds, but especially volleyball, softball, squash and golf. I also love to play the piano and am now trying the viola, too! However, my favorite activities of all are singing and dancing. One unique type of dancing that I really love to do is called Traditional Irish Step Dancing.

I have been taking Traditional Irish Step Dancing lessons at the Buckley School of Irish Dance since I was 6 years old. I started taking lessons because my mom took lessons when she was younger for many years and she really enjoyed it. She used to come into my classes in school each year around St. Patrick’s Day to teach a mini-lesson about Irish Step Dancing to my classmates. I loved watching her dance, so when I was old enough she asked if I wanted to try taking lessons to see if I would like it too.

I have always taken Irish Step Dancing lessons with a friend, which makes it even more enjoyable. My friend, Allie, took lessons with me for the first 3 years. Then my friend, Olive, came to watch a few classes and decided she would like to give it a try. Now, Olive and I are in the same class! We take 1 hour- long classes once a week in Windsor Terrace. There are four levels of Irish Dancing classes at the Buckley School, and each one is at a different time on Friday evening. We are also not ever allowed to wear jeans to class because you can’t kick high enough with them on. I usually wear leggings or soft pants. I am now in the 3rd level class. Some of the older, teenage dancers, who are really good, help teach our classes with our teacher, Miss Bernadette (Buckley Kash). She is really nice, funny and just amazing! Miss Bernadette can teach lessons, play the accordion and dance all at the same time!

There are three main types of dance we learn in Irish Step Dancing class, and all the “steps” we learn are a lot of fun and they really give you a feeling of being free! New students begin with the traditional Irish Jig, then the Reel, then the Hornpipe. For the beginner Jig and the Reel we wear our black “soft shoes”, but for the Hornpipe and the advanced Jig, we wear our black “hard shoes”. The soft shoes are like black ballet slippers, but have really long black laces that we cris-cross wrap up our legs and then tie in a bow. They are very quiet and don’t make any sounds. The “hard shoes” look like old fashioned shoes with a thick two-inch heel that has fiberglass pieces attached to the bottom to make a lot of noise! My mom has the same kind of hard shoes, but hers have actual little nails nailed into the bottom of the shoe to make the noise. That was the old-fashioned way to do it.

One thing that makes Irish Step Dancing different than other types of dance is that we stand up straight and tall, keep our arms straight down at our sides and our backs straight and stiff, while only our legs do all the dancing. This is not always easy to do, especially because you need to have good balance to do the steps and keep your upper body straight. So, to make it easier to remember, Miss Bernadette tells us to put our arms down straight at our sides and pretend someone just gave us a $100 bill to hold tightly in each fist! There are a few different historical explanations for why we do not move the tops of our bodies in Irish step dancing, but that would be a whole different blog post!

Every March, around St, Patrick’s Day, we march as a dancing school in the Park Slope St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We wear either the class dress, which is a traditional dancing costume made out of green fabric decorated with embroidered gold Celtic designs. Or, we can wear a black dancing skirt, black leotard, white ankle socks and our dark green class sweatshirt with the name of our dancing school on it, because it is usually pretty cold in Brooklyn around that time. We march a lot and stop in different parts of the parade to dance for the people who are watching on the sides of the street. We practice the certain steps we do for the parade for about 4-6 weeks beforehand. Then, every June, we have a class recital at Bishop Ford High School. It takes a lot of practice to get ready for the recital, which is sometimes hard to juggle around all my other spring activities. It is definitely worth it though, because the recital is a lot of fun! We wear one of the same two outfits we wear for the parade, but perform different, more complicated choreography for the recital. Miss Bernadette is a very creative choreographer. Last year, she even choreographed a dance for the older dancers to “Bad Romance” and “Born this Way” by Lady Gaga!

I love Irish Step Dancing and I’m so glad I could share about it with you. I wouldn’t be saying this if it wasn’t true! And, remember…you don’t have to be Irish to take Irish Step Dancing lessons! Some of the best dancers are not even Irish! I hope you’ll decide to try it out!