Sophomore Kaylie Fordham (she/her) has been Irish dancing for 13 years. Fordham said the Irish dancing community is strong, and it makes her feel more connected to her heritage and her Irish grandmother.
Irish dancing can be competitive or performative. Competitions are typically hosted by a local dance studio, and during major competitions, dancers from different regions gather to compete.
There are two main categories of Irish dance performed independently during competitions: soft shoe and hard shoe. Each category consists of two subcategories. The two soft shoe dances are the reel and slip jig, and the two hard shoe dances are the treble jig and hornpipe.
Dancers also perform dances during competitions that are choreographed by teachers for their studio’s dancers.
Some Irish dancing competitions involve categories with multiple dancers. Fordham said she’ll be participating in group dance during the Oireachtas competition in mid-November.
“For Oireachtas, we’re doing team dances and we’re doing a four hand — which is four people, and eight hand — which is eight people,” said Fordham. “And it’s where you do skips and use your arms and you go in all these different patterns.”
Fordham said she wishes people considered Irish dancing to be a sport, and a physically demanding one, at that.
“Some people think that dancing is easy. But I’ve been doing it for 13 years, and I’m still working and I’m still learning. So it’s a lot harder than people think,” she said.
Junior Helen Shen (she/her) practices Dai dance, a traditional Chinese dance characterized by elegant, bird-like movements.
Shen typically dances at Chinese New Year events. Because Dai dancing has been part of Chinese culture for centuries, Shen said it helps her feel more connected to Chinese culture.
“It’s an art form that can connect me to my culture because a lot of the movements come from what people in China traditionally do,” said Shen.
One of the most famous Dai dances is the Peacock dance. This dance has been around for thousands of years and takes inspiration from the movement of peacocks. The dance imitates a peacock emerging from its nest and searching for food and water, then bathing in the river. At the end, the dancer spreads out their arms and skirt to mime a peacock taking flight.
Shen also uses Dai dancing to spread knowledge about Chinese culture, especially the less mainstream aspects of it. Shen described how she believes others’ concept of Chinese culture is generalized, as people associate Chinese dance with the Peking Opera but not other Chinese dances.
“I hope others can learn about the artistic nuances of Chinese culture from my dance form,” said Shen.
Senior Trisha Agrawal (she/her) started learning Bharatanatyam, a classical form of South Indian dancing during her freshman year.
Bharatanatyam is characterized by rhythmic movements and the colorful costumes worn by the dancers. Bharatanatyam involves two types of attire: the Skirt (Saree) Style or Pyjama Style. Dancers also wear thick anklets with bells that ring as they dance.
Agrawal said that Bharatanatyam is one of the oldest dances of the world and includes several aspects including storytelling and technical skill.
Bharatanatyam is made up of three basic forms: the Melattur, Pandanallur and Vazhuvoor. Bharatanatyam is famed for its elegance, and Agrawal said she finds it one of the hardest dances to study.
“There’s a lot of footwork involved, and it’s really difficult to master because it ties into the rhythms. There are a lot of different specific types of emotions and expressions that you can convey using your eye movement, head movement and also with the hands, where you can use them to make specific symbols that tell a story,” said Agrawal.
Agrawal said Bharatanatyam is important to her and she enjoys being around the people she dances with because it makes her feel more connected to her culture.
“Originally, I really did not like doing dance because I definitely liked doing sports more,” said Agrawal, “But then over time, I became more appreciative of dance because it’s a good form of exercise and you still get the same sort of satisfaction after doing it, just like you do with sports.”
Senior Mckenzie Wilson (she/her) has been dancing ballet for 16 years, and she said it’s taught her important skills, such as discipline and grace.
“I think [it] definitely gave me a lot of discipline. It teaches perseverance, and I think it taught me a lot about respect and etiquette,” Wilson said.
Ballet is characterized by fluid, graceful and precise movements, all while the dancer stands on the tips of their toes using pointe shoes. Though ballet is very structured, it’s still a form of expression for Wilson.
“[I can express] myself through movement, and I feel like how people can cope with all the stresses of life through their sport, I feel like dance does a very similar thing,” said Wilson.
Ballet is primarily performance-based rather than competitive, and though there are some competitions, skilled
ballerinas are much more likely to be found in a theater than on a podium. Ballets like the Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake all include elements of theater and tell a story.
Wilson has performed as Swanhilda in Coppélia and the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker, both produced by the Emerald Ballet Theater. Her competition titles include placing first in the Youth America Grand Prix junior division and second place in classical for YAGP semi-finals.
Wilson hopes to become a professional ballerina, which is a highly competitive field. Despite its challenges, Wilson loves the art of ballet and the way it’s shaped her over the years.
“I think ballet is the most challenging for me personally. And I also think that for me, it’s the most beautiful type of dancing,” she said.