If you know me, it's pretty hard to miss the fact that I used to be a competitive Irish dancer. Whether you've seen the embarrassing old Facebook pictures, or you knew me in high school, or you've see me rush off to teach dance downtown in Harrisonburg, it's always been a big part of my life. Before college, though, it's a little hard to explain exactly how much of my life it was. Really, dance was my life for over 11 years. Between student-teaching classes, taking classes, teaching private or small group lessons, performing at shows around DC, and traveling to competitions, it was easy to put in over 20 hours a week in high school. Sometimes the schedule got tiring, but I never got tired of dance itself. I was always looking for more way to be involved, to work with more students, to train better, and I have never experienced the same passion and drive with anything else except my faith. It's a blessing to have found something that was so mine, something that I so naturally loved and was good at and that loved me back.
Knowing this about me, my sweet boyfriend Patrick gave me tickets to see an Irish dance show for Christmas. I mean, could there be a better present?! He planned a whole day out, took me to a special place for lunch where his parents went when they were dating, we hung out with my family, and finally landed at the show that evening. The music starts up, and the live uilleann pipes tug at my heart immediately. The air I'm breathing changes, and suddenly I'm back in hundreds of places I've been before. The dancers come out, and I'm just in tears. Not one cute tear falling down my cheek for old time's sake, there are just silent waterfalls worth of water pouring down my face. Poor Patrick is so confused and worried and I can't explain myself because I can't even talk. Every time the dancers did a step or a move that I used to do, it was a fresh punch to the gut.
I really wish I could say that I was crying happy tears or that I was being sentimental because that would make so much more sense than the pure grief I felt. The thing is, I have taught dance at least once a week for the last 5 years. It's not like this was my first time seeing Irish dance since I graduated high school. But, it was my first time seeing people Irish dance the way I used to dance. In Harrisonburg I teach beginner-prizewinner level, and these performers were real, competitive dancers who had routines very similar to my old performances. I was looking at myself, in a way, because I know exactly what it is to do what they were doing. The sad reality is that version of myself is gone and she will never be able to come back.
After 11 years of dance, I reached all of my goals except one. I missed qualifying for the world championships by two placements and half a point at my senior-year regional qualifiers (Oireachtas). Shortly after that, I injured my left ankle and I was not able to compete for the rest of the year. Between that injury and going off to college, I was not able to train the way I had overeagerly (and unrealistically) planned to do through my undergrad career. I missed dance incredibly and an opportunity came up for me to teach a class of beginners at a local dance studio by JMU! I took that job for my own sanity and, of course, the extra cash. My old dance school had an issue with me teaching somewhere else, so I was not and still am not welcome back.
I do not bear ill-will toward anyone there, but I do have real grief from this part of my story. I had known these people since I was 8 years old. They were people I imagined would be invited to my wedding someday, who cried with me and celebrated with me for 11 years, who I saw at least 3 days a week, and whose children I've seen grow up. It's also through this Irish dance school that I encountered people truly living out the way of the Church for the first time, and while that alone did not cause my conversion it did play a big part in it. Now my heart is broken twice over. Not only for losing the person I was, but for losing the people who made me who I am now. I still have so much love for everyone there and their families and their business. I remain grateful for all they did for me, both dance-wise and personally.
So, yes, I cried at an Irish dance show. The grief of losing my past life surprised me all this time later. Eventually the singer hit a weird note and that took me out of my head and into a normal audience member. I genuinely enjoyed the show, and I'm so touched that Patrick thought to bring me there and that he got to experience something that means so much to me. If you've made it this far, thanks for reading this long post. It's really good to have worked this out in writing. I should end by adding that getting to know Jesus has changed my priorities significantly. He is the greatest news that is and ever will be, add that is where my joy comes from now.
"I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. | I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. | Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress." -Philippians 4: 11-14