While I danced competitively for two years, Sarah Rodriguez, sophomore biology major and co-officer in the Irish dance club, has been dancing for 15 1/2years. In addition to dance, “all through elementary school, I played soccer. And in middle school I did cross country and basketball and soccer,” Rodriguez said.
When Rodriguez reached high school, she narrowed her focus to solely Irish dance, and would go to practice three to four times per week for two hour practices. In college, she cut down her practice time to four hours per week — still a significant amount of time At the University of Dallas, our student athletes strive to strike a balance between their physical endeavors and academic achievement, but where do non-traditional athletics fit in?
As an Irish dancer of over 11 years, I’ve heard “Irish dance is a sport!” scores of times from dance magazines, fellow dancers and teachers. But that leaves me to wonder by whose authority sports are defined.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines “sport” as “a game, competition, or similar activity, done for enjoyment or as a job, that takes physical effort and skill and is played or done by following particular rules.” Irish dance, when performed competitively, absolutely fits these standards.
for a UD student.
“There’s two parts to dance. There’s the technique part that comes through just repetitive training, going over—doing the exercises over and over and over again,” Rodriguez said. “And then there’s the performance part, which is more like the art portion, or the athletic portion, where you’re performing — you’re using your technique.”
Irish dance is divided between hard shoe and soft shoe styles, and competition requires a mastery of both. In order to advance, dancers compete at a “feis,” which happens almost every weekend throughout the U.S. and the world. Then, there are the regional qualifiers called “oireachtas,” which determine who will advance to the worldwide competition.
“My favorite part is when you get on stage at competition and you just have all this nervous energy that’s all pent up. And then you release it and you literally fly across the stage,” Rodriguez said.
Alumna Bridget Kennedy, class of ’19, won 14th place worldwide in her age category in her junior year at UD, as reported in The University News in April 2018.
Clearly, then, competitive Irish dance is athletic, but it is also artistic.
“For a really long time, I was dead set, ‘Irish dance is a sport, anybody who says otherwise, I’ll fight you about it,’” Rodriguez said. “But now I don’t view it as a hardcore sport, like soccer or basketball, because there’s a certain element of elegance and grace that is required to do well.”
Soccer requires highly skilled footwork, cross country involves exhausting practices and basketball demands consistency and accuracy, but Irish dance has a unique set of challenges that extend beyond classic athletics.
While Rodriguez enjoys dance for its camaraderie and diversion from studies, she primarily considers it as a way to glorify God.
“Definitely, I see it tying more into my faith. It’s nice to think that it’s a talent that was given to you by God. But then, you aren’t just dancing for fun or for other people. Through your dance, you’re spreading joy and basically giving up your gift to God.”
One sport is neither better nor worse than any other, but we should foster a dialogue of appreciation for one another’s athletic pursuits. Since we value studying a range of subjects in the Core at UD, we should similarly respect the variety and rigor of our diligent athletes, whether on the court, in the field or on the stage.