CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Éasca Péasca (Easy Peasy) Student Stories: The Lady of the Dance

By Shauna Meehan
Instructor Marie Young

Nearly 15 years ago, I was offered a spot in an Irish Dancing class. My mother accepted it, not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Despite her hailing from Galway and my father from Armagh, they had no knowledge of the world we were about to enter; one of glitz, glam, excitement, & ups and downs that have become irreplaceable moments in our lives.  

In 2009 I went to my first Irish Dancing class because my parents felt obligated to sign  me up in order to keep me “connected to my roots.” I don’t think they expected me to continue dancing for long, but 15 years later I’m now writing an article about my journey, so it is safe to say I stuck with it.

Like all dancers, I began with a simple point and point to a reel, that I could  eventually compete at the local ‘feis.’ That reel eventually became light jig and slip jig, which caused us to buy my first pair of hard shoes.

Suddenly, I knew hornpipes, heavy jigs, and all the  traditional set dances; and was competing at the New England Oireachtas in solo and team  dancing. Since that simple day in 2009, not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about Irish dancing; it has never been a part of my identity because it is my identity.

It has solidified my  connection to my Irish heritage in a way nothing else could have done, because no matter where  I go, it always follows. I have ventured from the mountains of Vancouver to the Waterfront in  Belfast, the bayous of New Orleans, and the streets of Central London all because of this  amazing sport; and it makes me nothing but grateful to be a part of the Irish community. 

Currently and while growing up, my parents, sister, and I take frequent trips home to see  our family. Despite being back so often, growing up in America does leave a question as to what  I see myself as: Irish or American? I have two Irish parents, so genetically I am Irish. But I grew  up in America, so does that make me American?

There has always been a grey area that has never had a clear answer. To most Irish people, I am American, but to most American people I am  Irish, so what am I?

My family at home could be whatever they want to be and still be Irish at their roots, but living and growing up in America has always left a gap in my heritage. I believe  that Irish Dancing is what fills this gap for me.

Just as a footballer plays for his county or a musician plays the fiddle, it is not just a hobby or a sport because it is so deeply rooted in Irish culture that it becomes a lifestyle, and a part of one’s identity. Even now, as I live in my quaint Pittsburgh apartment, nine hours from my home in Boston, I feel just as sure about my identity as I ever have, because Pittsburgh and its university is a place where Irish culture is heavily ingrained.

I  researched Pittsburgh during my college search because it was the first city my father came to in  the states, and I got more than lucky with what I found. I believe that it is fate I came to Pittsburgh because I cannot see myself so comfortable in any other city: I joined the Irish dance club to feel at home and now I have been elected president, I took Irish culture and traditions to  learn more about my culture and I know I will never take a better class. Although it’s not home where I have my family, dancing, and my Irish community Pittsburgh has become a place where  I am more than comfortable to feel like my full self. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Like all things, you can only be good at Irish Dancing if you practice, which took me a while to figure out. I would attend local Feiseanna and never place how I wanted to and would ask my parents why I wasn’t doing well. They would respond, “well maybe if you practiced…” and I said, “no that can’t be it.”

Eventually I caught on and hit my stride when I qualified for my first world championships in 2019, and from there Irish dancing has been a well-oiled routine in my day. Even more so during the pandemic, dancing has been a daily task of mine that will always be contributed to by either actual dance practice, sessions at the gym, or physical therapy.

Everything I do that is extra in my life that is not dancing, is for dancing, because it is necessary for all competitors keep up with one another. For me, living in Pittsburgh, this routine has changed and evolved with my move to keep up with what is expected of me by my teachers at home.

Despite the great lengths of effort it takes, it is what makes me feel the most at home in a city that is so far from where I grew up; the hard work is always worth the outcome. This past April, I competed two 8-hands at the World Championships in Montreal with all our preparation being done separately, because I live in a different city. The regiment of practicing a team of 8 alone, was certainly not an easy task, and one that I will never forget doing; it was a task done purely out of pleasure and free will, and ended in a world championship title for one team and a second place in the other.

I feel so proud to hold these titles with my teammates. But I feel even more lucky that I have had the opportunity to keep dancing for so long. I am more than happy to say that I’m still dancing, with no intent to stop!

*Shauna Meehan is studying Psychology and Sports Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Class of 2025

Find this column and others from the October 2023 issue here!

Marie Young

Marie Young

*Marie Young is a native of Dublin, moving to Pittsburgh in 2001. She is the Irish language instructor for The LCTL Department at the University of Pittsburgh. She is married to a fellow Irish man John and has 3 children, Jack (22), Ronan (14), and Tiernan (8).

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