Junior Italian major from Sandia Park, N.M.
Last semester while studying abroad in Rome, Marlena Figge finally experienced her lifelong dream to Irish dance in Ireland, the country where it began.
“Dream’s the word — I’d long entertained hopes of one day dancing in Ireland,” Figge said. “I’d imagined it would be for a competition, but dancing in Eyre Square surrounded by the dearest of friends could hardly be considered a disappointment.”
But Figge didn’t stop at just Eyre Square. She danced in a pub in Scotland on St. Patrick’s Day, the airport in Brussels, and in the University of Dallas talent show in which she won third place.
“It really enhanced the Rome semester for me,” Figge said. “Throughout the semester, I was somewhat hesitant to dance, even just in front of [my friends] in the square, but they were tremendously encouraging and helped me overcome my inhibitions.”
Inspired by her cousin and the show Riverdance, Figge began her Irish dancing journey at age five at Coleman Academy.
“I love the dancing itself,” Figge said. “It also has its own sort of world. I enjoy competing, but I believe I’m more fond of just performing.”
Figge started competing in a New Mexico feis, and as she improved she started to travel for competitions in Arizona and Colorado. She has traveled to Phoenix, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. This year, she will travel to Portland.
“How far you progress in ranks and competitions really depends on your willingness to practice at home and not just go to class every week,” Figge said. “I progressed in rank until rather recently I moved into championship rank. That was right before coming into college.”
Even though her dancing school is at home in New Mexico, Figge practices where she can around campus.
“While I was living in the dorms, it was rather difficult to find a place to practice that had enough space, so I took to dancing in many odd places around campus,” Figge said. “My Lit Trad I classroom became a practice space at night. The parking lot behind SB served a like purpose for a time. They just tore down another one of my practice spaces, which is quite sad really.”
Although she no longer attends weekly classes in Coleman Academy, she has maintained the friendships she formed over the years there. In particular, fellow dancer Melissa Pinson has been a friend of Figge since the two joined the studio at age five.
“Marlena is really persistent and works really hard at what she does,” Pinson said. “Dancing for a long time and especially through college gets tough, but she’s been doing it for several years now. She’s definitely one of my closest friends because of dance since we’ve grown up together, travelled together, trained together, and went through a lot of our ups and downs together as well. Pushing each other has been super important in getting where we both are today.”
Figge loves the comradery of Irish dance as much as the art itself.
“I’m very fond of all of my team members, and I love the feeling that I get when I’m performing with them or onstage,” she said. “Going through the experience of competing with other people as opposed to solos where you’re in it by yourself and your teammates are there for you on the sidelines– it’s not quite the same feeling as when you’re in it together.”