Ok, I know it has taken me forever to put up another post, and I’m super sorry about that. Life has just been a little crazy during the past couple weeks. Well, enough of my excuses, let’s get right into this! Part of my busy life comes from what I’m going to share today…my sport!
When someone asks me, “Do you play sports?” my answer is “Yes, I Irish Dance!” I’m still shocked that most people actually know what Irish Dance is. However, many people don’t consider Irish Dance a sport, but that’s because they have never seen an Irish dancer behind the scenes. Although Irish dance IS dancing, it’s also extremely athletic and competitive, which to me, makes it a sport as well. Those who know a little about competitive Irish Dance have the impression that it’s like a beauty pageant with people traveling across the U.S. on weekends, spray tanning their legs twenty shades darker than their natural skin color, and baking on pounds of makeup. What people don’t usually know or see is the 10-20 hours a week spent in a hot (if you’re from Texas like me) dance studio doing the same three dances over and over until blisters are formed and tears are shed. They don’t see that after leaving the studio, we still have to cross train, stretch, and practice on our own while also maintaining a healthy diet and trying to fit school, family, and—if we’re lucky—some socializing into the mix. The amount of dedication you have to have to succeed in this sport is the dedication of an Olympian.
Outside of dance being super athletic and fun, it is also an ongoing lesson that has molded me into the person I am today. I learn new things every day, which is something very special to me about what I do. Some lessons I have learned are that criticism isn’t always a bad thing, you are so much better than you let yourself believe, working hard really does pay off, positivity will take you so much farther than you think, and trusting in God’s timing is hard but very important! As you read on, you will learn of the first big lesson dance ever taught me.
Now let me explain how I got into this crazy and unique world of Irish Dance. Much of my heritage on my mom’s side is Irish. My great-grandparents were immigrants from Ireland, and my mom’s parents have even been able to get us connected with some of our relatives there. The dancing started with my oldest sister Heidi, and then most of my siblings at least tried it out. I started with ballet but added Irish in soon after. At that time, I definitely liked ballet more because I was better at it, and I was super shy so I didn’t love being stuck in a class at Irish dance with a majority of older kids. I probably “quit” once a month just because I “didn’t feel like going” or was “too tired,” which wasn’t abnormal for a five-year-old! I did, however, love getting dressed up for competitions and getting to wear makeup, sparkles, and a curly wig! The older I got, the more I fell in love with every aspect of Irish Dancing. I struggled to advance for a while until I quit ballet and decided to focus in on one thing. I definitely still miss ballet at times, but I don’t regret my choice.
When I was eleven, our Irish dance school shut down its location that was just across the highway from our house. Their only other location was an hour away in Dallas, so we had to switch schools. We switched to the school that Heidi had originally attended, McTeggart Irish Dance. It ended up being a really good thing for me because of my new teacher, Maureen Hall, and coach, Jason Hays. Mrs. Hall was one of the oldest and best teachers in the U.S. and had trained a world champion (Jason). Both Mrs. Hall and Jason were huge inspirations to me, but I won’t lie, I was definitely intimidated by both of them at first. Once I started at McTeggart, I improved significantly and quickly; I went from Novice (the second level) to Prelims (the second to highest level) in two years. I had three of my older sisters and my little brother alongside me the whole time which was always so much fun. Each of them got to Prelims and then gradually each quit, leaving me to be the only Schoonover left. I think that was when I realized just how much I loved this sport and that I wouldn’t quit until a day came when something forced me to.
I definitely did not have the talent that some have when I began; it took hours of hard work to advance, and I’m still climbing the ladder. I’ve been through a lot of ups and even more downs in this sport over the years. However, I never let the bad times knock me down; rather I let them spark even more dedication and hard work. I know I’m not alone in such experiences, so I hope to share some of my stories in future blogs to encourage others pursuing their passions to let the tough times develop their character in a positive way.
For a start, I’ll share one hard experience that helped shape my attitude toward disappointments in my dance career. When I decided I wanted to go to my first major championship, the Oireachtas, I was far from ready since I had been at McTeggart less than a year and was in Novice still. Mrs. Hall told me at class during one of her monthly visits that I was not good enough for this competition, and if I wanted to go I had to show her by the next time she came that I had worked hard and greatly improved. I was heartbroken and embarrassed, but in that moment I knew I would show her that I was capable. Sure enough, by the next month, she decided I could go! Traveling to New Orleans gave me many crazy adrenaline rushes because it was not only my first big competition but my first without any of my family being there (I went with a family from McTeggart, and my own family met me the day after I danced). I was so excited to just experience being up on stage with some of the best dancers in my region. On my competition day, I got through my first two dances, one hard shoe and one soft shoe, then waited for hours to hear if I got the recall (or into the finals). I knew it would be a long shot since it was my first Oireachtas and I was at such a low level. When they called the numbers, mine was called! I was shocked. I ran to tell my coach. He was definitely very surprised. He had to quickly put together a set dance (the third dance you do for recalls…we had not prepared one because no one expected me to be in the top half of my age group). I went up to dance, heart beating and legs shaking as I waited patiently for the music to start. Then nothing happened. I remember the judges looking confused and the stage manager calling me over to tell me there had been a mistake and I hadn’t actually recalled. That moment was one of the worst things I have ever had to deal with, but I held back tears until I got off stage. All my friends and dance moms questioned what happened. I kept myself together really well until I hugged the mom with whom I was staying; then I fell apart.
Maybe I should regret that moment more, but I’ve grown to appreciate it. It was the first of many bumps in the road, bumps that I pulled myself over and rose above! I felt like I needed to insert this story in my first post on dance because it was a defining moment for me as a person and a dancer. I’m usually a really positive person who doesn’t like to let sadness control me, so when all of this happened, I didn’t know how to act. I don’t remember why I initially veered away from the natural tendency to be miserable about my situation but for some reason I did. I decided not to let pain and anger ruin my weekend or ruin any of my friends’ weekend. Instead, I let everyone else’s achievements lift my spirits and make the wound a little less painful. I have never been good at admitting when I’m not ok, which I think is one reason why I chose to have a good attitude. Another, was my mom reminding us to never let disappointment take over; God is ultimately in control and He ALWAYS has a plan. I learned so much from this event that has shaped me as a person. I learned that we can always get through hard times no matter how bleak they look, God will always be there for us even when it feels like He’s left us, and if we didn’t have some rough times the good ones wouldn’t be half as great. This tragedy sparked so much dedication to keep pushing to excel in dance, and it’s a thousand times more prominent in me than before. I won’t pretend that I’m not sometimes exhausted, and on bad days all I want to do is quit, but I know that if I ever let this go I would feel incomplete. When I’m angry or upset going into my studio, putting my hard shoes on and dancing until all the anger in my body is released is probably the best therapy. When I practice, my mind focuses in on everything I need to do to improve, so it’s a perfect thing to do when I just need time to cool off from other stresses of life.
I think it is very obvious now why I love this sport, and why I dedicate so much of my time to it. The lessons it has taught me were life-changing. I look forward to learning so much more from Irish Dancing and sharing it with you. Sharing these experiences with you is something I really want to do, because I know that I’m not the only person who has had painful let downs in a sport, or life in general. I can honestly say that even when I was in the most heartbreaking situations I knew that God was putting me through them for a reason. Some of those reasons I still don’t know or fully understand, but I have decided to trust Him and His plan no matter what. Of course, I’ll share some of the exhilarating moments of achievement too!
This is really only a short post out of the long list of things I have to say about dancing, but that’s exactly why I dedicated a whole section of my blog to it! I’d love to hear your comments, if you have been encouraged, are an Irish dancer, or if you have overcome similar hurdles in any pursuit. You can comment on this post directly, or email me at Josieskon@gmail.com! At the moment, I only have the time to post once every two weeks, but I’m working on doing more. My goal is to vary the content I write about each time so it will generate a wider audience. If you want to be informed about new content when it goes up, definitely subscribe to my blog. AND thanks for reading!
XOXO ~ Josie