The New England Oireachtas was held in Providence RI the weekend before Thanksgiving. Oireachtas is a Gaelic word that means "gathering of the tribes,", but in this case it's the name of the regional championships for Irish dance. Even if you've never seen Irish dance, it's likely that you're familiar with Riverdance, the internationally famous show that brought the art form into the collective consciousness. Or perhaps you've seen send-ups of the dancing on Saturday Night Live.
Riverdance was a revelation. It sparked a huge interest in Irish dance. Schools that had been dormant for years were suddenly overwhelmed by a generation of little girls who decided they wanted to dance like Jean Butler. A dance competition was called a "feis" (pronounced "FESH") in the singular and "feisanna" in the plural. There was an explosion in the sales of all the paraphernalia that attended it: shoes, dresses, trophies, wigs, etc.
My daughter Erin fell under its spell the first time she saw it on a video. We signed her up at Duffy Academy in East Hartford, where she took instruction every Saturday morning from Mary Duffy. I would drive her over every weekend, bring a book, and read while she practiced. I loved that time with her. She was at the age where her father could do no wrong. I'd do silly, fun things like pretend that I'd forgotten the way to the school and force her to tell me when to turn. When I walked to and from the car I'd hold her hand and give it two quick squeezes, simulating the beating of a heart. She'd pump back twice, and we'd alternate all the way to our destination. If one of us stopped, a panic would ensue and CPR would have to be administered until all was well again.
I wasn't the right parent to fulfill her ambitions. We changed schools when Mary Duffy's health started to fail her. My wife took over chauffeur duties to lessons and competitions. Dresses were made and sold, each more elaborate than the one before.
Erin progressed rapidly when she started competing. She quickly rose to the ranks of the best dancers in New England, placing in the New England and North American championships regularly, but she never ranked high enough to qualify for the World Championships in Ireland.
Until this year.
She had a great day in Providence and placed fifth in her age group, her best showing yet. She qualified to compete in Glasgow at Easter 2010.
It's a great accomplishment, of course. But even better is her humility and graciousness after winning. She's a competitor who still manages to enjoy the dancing and interacting with her fellow dancers. We experienced a spike in our phone bill after the competition, because she was fielding so may congratulatory text messages from the other girls in her age group.
Riverdance is coming to an end this year, but Erin plans to continue dancing for a little longer - at least until the coming Easter.