Monday, 21 August 2017

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. Part 14 - The beginnings of some festival adjudicators being political against myself.

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession.

Part 14 - The beginnings of some festival adjudicators being very political against myself and Royal Tara.

After I won, Gillian stopped speaking to me. She seemed really annoyed she didn’t win and that evening the other older dancers didn’t seem to want to go out because of her being upset. So I ended up finding out where people from other schools were going and joining them.
The next festival was Portrush FDTA and Leslie Baird was adjudicating. I won my reel, and when i was signing for my shield, Dominic Graham  (who was right beside me) told Leslie “That is was only because his girls were getting warmed up” - it was his festival and was unimpressed that I won. I came 4th in the championship and his girls got 1st, 2nd and 3rd. I rememebr I stopped during the treble reel step down the line - I was doing a tricky step Curtis Long had shown me and I changed a bit.
We had moved house to Dundonald around that time and things were hectic. We lived there whilst the new house was being renovated. I remember there wasn’t  a school bus that went my direction and hardly any public buses so sometimes i had to walk home from school. I remember walking past Tullycarnet estate in my St. Pats uniform and finding it really scary. And I had to go into Ballybeen to get the bus into town. They are two very loyalist estates.


That year for New Year's Eve, our family friend had a free house, as her parents were going away. So, my younger sister, her and I decided to have a party there. Without her or my parents knowledge. My younger sister got really drunk and I had to ring an ambulance and had to take her to hospital before the countdown. I was really angry with her - why could we not have a normal night without some kind of teenage drama!?


Portadown FDTA was the first festival of the new year. It was ran by Deborah Anderson who was an An Comhdhail and An Commision dancer who now taught festival dancing - her dancers tend to be quite An Comhdhail styled. My younger sister had a girl that would of won a lot of championships in her section but didn’t ever win a big title (as far as I am aware)- Emily Jones. Sylvia Rice was adjudicating as a replacement judge. She was a mulholland and use to be friendly with Royal Tara but wasn’t anymore - I’m not sure why, but I knew when she adjudicated Holywood festival a couple of years ago she wasn’t going for their dancers. Gillian won the under 18 championship and I came second in the under 20 solos I didn’t get much. She gave most of the solos to Hannah Mclean from bentra and gave her the championship also. Lauren Smyth won everything in the over 20s from what I can recall.

Bangor confed was my next festival. There was a big fuss made and I almost wasn’t allowed to dance - I was living within the perimeter of where the confined was up to, but they almost didn’t allow it. I was pretty suspicious that was due to me dancing for Royal Tara now, as there was no fuss of either of my younger sisters being allowed to dance. Sylvia Rice was adjudicating and she gave Alison Moore everything in the seniors - she use to dance for Royal Tara and was meant to be amazing when she was younger but had some sort of a fall out with them, from what I can recall and moved to Kathy O'Connor. Her slip jig was still beautiful but her set dance wasn't the best that day and I don't think the new school ever suited her that well. Suzanne really should of won her section easily, but she didn’t do that well and the adjudicator seemed to be favouring the daughters of who was helping run the competition.

Newcastle FDTA was the next festival. It was a huge entry as was the last festival you could qualify for the ulsters in. There was about 30 in the under 20s and 20 in the overs.  I got a lift with Laura Norris and Stacey Cottrell and her mum got one also. Stacy was now dancing for Castletown - she was asked to leave Royal Tara. Julie Graham was adjudicating this day, I personally couldn’t make sense of her adjudication previously, but now I could - give the Dominic Graham's everything.

How was this allowed? She was Dominic Grahams niece and helped teach and choreograph in his class. She was also adjudicating her cousin - Robyn Friel.  She made wierd excuses as to why she wasn’t placing me and expressed them in a hostile manner “You cut the stage in your lead around, don’t do that when I’m adjudication!” she said after my reel. In the treble reel she said “some people did dance in time and hit their clicks, but I just didn’t like their style”. She placed me 6th - last in the championship which didn't seem to represent the dancing on the day. She hated Gillian as well, I think because she was wearing her pink costume, she got nothing all day and came 4th in the championship. Seems strange to have the ulster champion and european champion, two of the title holders that low down. Without a surprise she placed the 3 domonic graham's 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the under 18s and her cousin 1st in the under 20s - whose Atlantic Swell was drastically out of time from what I can recall anyway - I was actually quite shocked by it. Julie refered to her cousin as "The girl in black".

Robyn also made really smug remarks towards her fellow Royal Tara competitor Laura Norris, who was changing her set dance “Royal Tara never change their set dances” - bit of a contradiction since she had danced “The Spell” for six years and Natalie and Catherine were about to dance their set dances for the 5th year. However, I kind of agreed with her to a certain extent, I was sick of seeing Laura’s “haunting the castle” as well. The other dancers in Royal Tara changed their steps a lot, and changed their set dance every couple of years, but Laura did the same steps and set dance since she was about under 15 till she retired - maybe that is why she always seemed to be 2nd, 3rd or 4th and  only ever won one local championship and no title as such.  

I can also recall from this festival that Kimberely McCartney won all the over 20s dances and Stacey came 4th in the championship and appeared to be very angry. Kimerbely danced for Kathy O'Connor and was a very interpretive and elegant dancer.

The next festival was Ballymena Open, Irene MccAnn was adjudicating. She was a very well respected adjudicator but I thought her adjudication was random that day, but maybe it was due to the politics that was starting to happen in festival. She gave me nothing and didn’t even mention me the whole day, it was like she was just ignoring me. It was a large entry though about 40 dancers, but even at that for example in my hornpipe I was definitely one of the best in the step down the line and because it was a step down the line there was no way she could've “missed me”.  

Ballyclare was the next festival and was the last festival before the Ulsters, it was adjudicated by an an comhdhail adjudicator.  It was over 17 and was a big entry maybe close to 40 seniors. I won the Heavy Jig and I remember Stacy Cottel on the stage (who was second) threw up a bit of a fuss about my shoes. Gillian was fuming I won one of the solos. Ruth and June, came down to watch the championship and I didn’t get placed - which was strange since I won one of the solo -  June thought Ian McKay was playing my music too fast.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. Part 13 - Returning to school after GCSE, moving house and winning the Festival European Championships.

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession.

Part 13 - Returning to school after GCSE, moving house and winning the Festival European Championships.

I really wanted to leave school after GCSE but my parents made me continue, I was thinking about moving to Sullivan Upper but they didn’t have Drama for A-levels and I wanted to continue studying it. I hadn’t done as well in my GCSEs as I expected to, due to a mixture of myself not revising or doing my homework or bothering to reedit my coursework and other distractions - family drama. And despite myself explaining to some of the a-level teachers some of them did not want to take me on as a pupil, I had gotten back into school but I had to do other A-levels than I had wished - I did not get to study Maths or English Literature,  despite being close on the grade boundaries and being aware of other pupils who had scored lower than me being allowed to. Instead I studied Religion and Economics as well as Politics and Drama. Studying Religion turned out to be a stroke of luck for myself however, I had always been interested in in philosophical topics but never discovered what exactly it was, and part of the religion course was “philosophy of religion”.

Due to my parents divorcing and the finances thus being split we could no longer afford to upkeep of our big house. My dad on top of this took a year out of work due to separation, and since my parents were self-employed and the business focused on him, we were under some financial stress during this period. My parents sold the house for a seven-figure sum and she bought a victorian semi-detached three story property Ballyhackamore. It was still a big house - it has 6 bedrooms but it doesn’t have a turret for example. And my dad had a house in Newry, my granny's house, with 4 bedrooms.

Everything was hectic at the time. I also was working two part-time jobs on top of school in order to preserve my lifestyle. I worked for my parents as a receptionist and also worked in the Culloden Hotel doing banqueting. So despite my parents separating and maybe not being as well-off as what we were, I still had quite a lot of money. This is really when I was able to buy myself designer clothes and had money for going to box/skye/rain/parlour at the weekend. I think this strangely was used and against me and still is - by people in irish dancing and family friends. They thought I was more spoilt than my sisters when in fact the reason why I had more expensive clothes was because I had usually bought them myself!


We lived in Dundonald temporarily when the new house was being renovated. It was for about 3 months over Autumn and Christmas. My mum didn’t want us to have anymore parties in the old house, but allowed me to have a party for my seventeenth in my new house. A lot more people came than expected, they thought my party was going to be in my old house, the police came eventually and told people to leave. I had made friends with Gemma and Fiona by this stage and Gemma and I went out to “The Potthouse” which is “21 Social” now.


I was always quite obsessive about irish dancing, from day one, however
Since moving to Royal Tara I had become even  more. I really wanted to win an open championship and get placed in the festival majors as such. I was entered for both Ballymena FDTA and Hollywood open, however they clashed, although the Royal Tara teachers would of wanted me to attend Ballymena, due to my sister being on the same day as me and it being local to myself I attended Hollywood.
It was over 16 and the first time I danced in the “seniors”. I did very well, I won the hornpipe and was top 3 in every other solo. I came third in the championship.I thought I should of won, if I am being completely honest, I had finally gotten the timing of my “magician's cloak” right and Ruth had changed parts of it to suit me better, though I was happy enough with 3rd and that I had won the hornpipe. Marree Houston was adjudicating, who was the original Loughgiel teacher, she would be quite traditional and gave 1st to Sharon McConville, Irene Mccann (they would be very friendly and have similar styles) 2nd to Joanna Neilly, Aisling - Joanna would of been about 6 year older than myself and although she was a great dancers in festival preference often goes to the older seniors. The adjudicator felt my set dance whilst technically good but lacked interpretation - light and shade.


The previous year was the first time the Festival European Championships had been held.  A festival teacher, Catherine Bartlett had set up a school in South West England and use to commute to Northern Ireland to festivals. However the past few years she had also began entering her dancers to more local open platform competitions - which allow you to enter regardless of your organization.  The Europeans were festival but held on an open platform, thus both festival and open platform dancers were allowed to compete. Which intrigued me as you were against new competition and differing styles as well as being an international competition which had never been before in festival dancing.

Royal Tara when entering something new, only sent a couple of their top dancers at first and as I had just joined the school I could not attend the first year, you had to qualify also - place top 6 in an Open Championship in the previous year. Kirsty Jordan, Jenna Hammil and Gillian Hodge attending the year previous and came 1st, 1st and 4th. As far as I am aware the winners were as well as Royal Tara’s dancers winning, other festival dancers won also for example Judith Keyes (Tir Na N’OG) won also.

This year a few more of us were allowed to attend. Kirsty, Jenna and Gillian went again, along with, Ryan McCory, Christy McRandle, Clare McKay and myself. The competition was over two days. The first day the solos took place and the second day the championship. On the first day I didn’t do very well - I didn’t place 1st or 2nd in any solos, and didn’t place at all in some of them. Gillian and a girl from Tara Dance Academy, Dublin, CRG were winning the solos.

The championship consisted of reel, traditional set dance and modern set dance. This is part of the reason why some festival schools did not attend. There does not normally tend to be a traditional set dance inclusive in festivals. Traditional set dances from my understanding are the originally choreographed for the set dance music, they are a faster tempo and include traditional movements such as boxes and rocks, they have variations but in general everyone regardless of school has the same dance. I think this is a brilliant idea to incorporate into any championship as it identifies who has good basics and who doesn't. In modern Irish dancing, especially in recent years so many dancers who are even on the podium in the CLRG worlds basics are disguised - which I disagree with.

In the modern set dance the set dance had to be selected from a “set list” of set dances tunes. I liked this also because it put us all on the level, I felt some dances benefited immensely from having “special music” I noticed in particular the “Dominic Graham’s”, in a lot of age groups would “pop out of nowhere” once they had been given one of his original set dances. With no surprise he did not send any of his dancers over.  Nearly all the Royal Tara dancers sent over set dance was an original tune, however we found a normal set dance which the choreography fitted into and learnt a traditional set dance. I learned the traditional blackbird and danced my “Magician's Cloak” into “King of the Fairies”.

I kept on getting my traditional set dance wrong and Jenna Hamill had to go over it with me before I danced it. Clare McKay had previously stopped during hers, despite doing well the day before, so I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to me. I noticed a lot of dancers were getting the timing wrong during this dance during the lead up also so made sure I got that right before performing it.It was double age groups under 9, 11, 13, 15. 17 and senior with about 20-30 dancers who qualified in each group. It went really well and my modern set dance went really well also. I remember watching the other dancers, and thought it still be between Gillian, the other girls and another girl from an open platform school. However, I did notice the girl from CRG lost her timing and Gillians open set dance wasn’t as good as usual, she danced her “Carrickfergus” into “Madame Bonaparte” and it seemed to lose momentum.

I remember the results coming out. They called them out from the stage as we sat in the audience, they only placed the Top 6 so not everyone got placed. 6th was a girl from Seven Towers, 5th The CRG girl (bit of a shock - but she had lost her timing) 4th, A girl from the host school, at this point I accepted I hadn’t got placed. I thought even though I had danced well, since I didn’t do that well the day previously, I hadn’t done enough to get placed and was starting to feel quite disappointed.

Third was the girl from the open platform school. Second Gillian, then first……. Me!!!!!!!!! I was in complete shock,  felt like I was going to faint, I wasn’t expecting to win it whatsoever!!! I had never done this well in a festival “major” before and to win with the biggest title and with dancers from other organizations also was amazing. I was so happy, transferring to Royal Tara was really worth it, I was now a European Champion and had beaten the current Ulster Champion and highest place in my age group in the Northern Irelands also. It was a great day for Royal Tara, as well as myself winning Kirsty Jordan, Jenna Hamill and Ryan McCrory won also - who have all now danced in An Coimisiún and been successful. Despite all the adversities of the family drama, bullying in school and having an initial unsuccessful year of competition with Royal Tara, I had made it through the rain, I had stood up once again and I was now a European Champion!!!

Monday, 12 June 2017

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. Part 10 , 11 & 12 combimed.

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. Part 10 - My first year with Royal Tara, My parent's separation, crazy teenage parties, clubbing at 15 and my sister's suicide attempts. 

Eventually, my mum agreed to collect Suzanne and I, and her mum leave us up. I remember going to the class in Carrickfergus, Suzanne and I had split up but remained friends. It was in Sunnylands Community Center, which is a loyalist estate and was quite scary for me - especially being a Catholic and from quite a privileged background. The school's pupils come from a wide range of socioeconomic background and clashes between myself and some pupils enfolded. Most of the pupils in my own class were nice to me though - Suzanne, Kirsty (Jordan - Doherty-Petri), Ciara, Gillian and I were in the Carrickfergus class together, it was the pupils in the Larne class mostly which created the problems.  Kirsty often taught me steps - she had been dancing since she was a baby as all of her older siblings danced and were very good dancers, in particular, the eldest Kerry.

The teachers put me in “Reel shoes” and completely changed my style to make myself more masculine. Although a lot of festival adjudicators did not like this and saw it as “feis” and that the Royal Tara teachers were maybe being influenced by their son (Curtis Long) dancing for a feis school. They gave me a very technical set dance and it was a bit faster than what I was used to, hence why I struggled with the timing of it the first year, this is probably which I didn’t get many good results in the championships . Though I did do very well in my heavy solos - I was usually 1st or 2nd in that.  

Although I qualified in my first year for the Ulsters, which was quite impressive, I didn’t get placed, though i wasn’t that surprised because my timing in my set was going a bit. Same for the Northern Irelands, however, something kind of dodgy happened to me at the Northern Irelands  - I stopped half a step short in my light round, despite dancing till the end of my second step, which was what I was told to do. I wasn’t sure of what to make of this because some people have side steps etc in festival dancing which makes that more confusing.

Gillian won the Ulsters that year and I was very happy for her, despite that she had started to be a bit strange to me in class. She refused to do a three-hand with Suzanne and I was one example.

The result was 16-17 1st Gillian, 2nd Ashleigh 3rd Holly (she was given Lauren Smyths set dance “The Whirlpool”) & Catherine Lamont 4th Nicola Mitchell, Alice Nickell and Victoria McNamee 5th Conor Smyth. Natalie McAlister wasn’t placed which was a big shock.

Northern Ireland's: 15-17 : 1st Juliet Stirling 2nd Gillian 3rd Niamh Hunt 4th Conor Smyth 5th Suzanne Gray 6th Holy Sweeney and Megan Mccullough 7th Victoria Mcnamee 8th Natalie McAlister. I actually thought Niamh deserved to win that day. We got along okay after junior school - we had matured.


During this period of time my parents separated, it wasn’t that much of a shock to me, after my dad's mum died the things that my parents had been fighting about came to an eclipse. They separated temporarily for a while and got back together, my mum left on christmas day a year or two prior to this. The next year would prove to be crazy.  

I was allowed to have a party for my sixteenth - I could invite 50 people. It turned out to be 100s. Fireworks going off, lots of promiscuous behavior amongst teenagers, people crowd serving in my living room, one of my friends drank a whole bottle of aftershock and asked people to kill him. It was like something in a movie, it was like a “Skins” party. It was strange because people who I hadn’t seen in years had came and changed so much, it seemed like yesterday when i knew them as children and this seems like yesterday to me. It wasn’t a “sweet sixteenth” it was the sixteenth party from hell, but it was  a great party. I had lots of parties like this during this year and so did my sisters - none as crazy as that one though.

However my younger sister went a bit off the rails for someone her age. I think she found my parents splitting up harder than me and she acted out as  a result, she had been self-harming and then she tried to commit suicide twice. Even though she was "acting out", she was also being influenced by a movie she watched called "thirteen" - acting really silly and self-harming because she thought it was "cool". I didn't tell anyone about it at the time though.. She retained her title, and was very lucky she did. I think due to their being concerns over her well being at the time, it might of helped. My youngest sister got placed that year also - she was still in primary school.

This was all ongoing during my GCSE year of school. I hardly put pen to paper I was either on bebo, partying and going out clubbing - I actually went to "Skye" (an old nightclub in Belfast) the night before one of my exams. I use to be able to get served and get into clubs despite not usually having an ID and probably due to a mixture of reasons I was more interested in this than my GCSES - I was more interested in how many girls I could pull and how many shots I could take than how many As I could get. I was quite the "playa" and my v plates had definitely gone at this stage, between the ages of 15-17 I had been to virtually every club in Belfast. I somehow managed to still pass them all though, despite not even applying for extenuating circumstances. Though I was angry I didn't get all As, because I thought could just wing them.

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession.

Part 11: Continuation of Bullying in St. Pats from the end of 3rd year and with my crazy GCSE class (11-2), being forced to go to counselling and the start of my Tanorexia.

Bullying in my Junior school class was awful and some of the girls and boys were not impressed that I had a girlfriend before most of them or anything like that. One day when I texting Suzanne waiting in line to go into class, Emma  took my phone off me and then attempted to send nasty messages off it. She was an Irish dancer from An Comhdhail and she hated festival said it was “ a load of crap”, making fun of my "kick out to the side" in my King of the fairies. I snatched the phone back off her and it all kicked off we were screaming at each other for a good hour throughout our English class. 


Your tutor class changes after junior school depending on your GCSE subjects, and for the compulsory subjects, you are taught together with them. I knew that I didn’t want to be a doctor or anything like that so I choose single-award science and did what I thought would be “fun” subjects like Home Economics and Drama. Most of that class did geeky subjects.

The new class was mental,  it was quite a fun class to be in, but the teachers had a hard time controlling us. It was a bit of shock compared to 8-1, but at least they didn’t shout at me when I didn’t do my homework - nobody did their homework in that class. I can remember when our class had our religion coursework due, none of the class had done it and Ms. Hughes yelled “Take out your homework diaries, you lazy lot”, it was funny because it sounded like a biblical quote, something Jesus would have said to his disciples after that failed because they didn’t have enough faith. Most of that class were nice enough to me, accept from one group of boys a German boy  who had bit of Karma come to him very quickly. He videoed a girl in the year above me having anal sex at a party, without her knowledge and he accidentally shared it with a teacher, then he got suspended. Then his friends, one of them was in my primary school class, but he was also stoned a lot of the time.

Although some of my GCSE teachers hated me, I think they just saw me as being really spoilt and lazy and that frustrated them. It didn’t help that I was left to school in the Chrysler whilst most other people got the bus. My dad worked for two premiership football club and boys in my class said to me how it must be really cool, but I didn’t care - I hated football. I didn’t enjoy any of the sports they taught in PE - which was normally just football or gaelic football - I normally refused to play. It was really frustrating for me because i was one of the fittest in the class, I always finished top 3 in the cross country which we had to do at the start of PE some lessons. Although they didn’t ever allow me on the cross country team because the PE teachers didn’t like me either - “He thinks he’s something special” I can recall Mr O’Neil saying.

My maths teacher at GCSE despised me, Miss Nancarrow. She once shouted at me when i wasn’t in class - “Adam you're annoying me”  - I was at a festival. She marked all my 7s wrong and said they looked like 4s - I corrected her by showing that I put a line through my 7s, the old fashioned way, so you would know the difference, she refused to remark my papers.  She didn’t teach our class the higher paper so myself and two friends had to learn the rest of the syllabus a week in advance of the sitting the exam.  Only 2 people got As in that class from my knowledge, I got a B but close to an A, and I am pretty sure if she had taught the higher paper i would of got one.

I wasn’t exactly “roudy” but I was cheeky, well apparently questioning figures of authority is “cheeky”, i still can’t understand this. So a lot of other teachers like my Home Economics teacher, Miss McGeeney, I didn’t stick to her recipes on what was on the syllabus. and my business studies teacher Miss White - i was told to “put that in your pipe and smoke it” by her.

I had become quite atheist at this stage, I got the highest in the English talking and listening exercise for my "Speech" when i criticised the inconsistencies in the bible and was  the first to refuse to receive communion in school mass (recieving lots of dirty looks for doing so) and was asking my religion teacher controversial questions - this resulted in her putting me in counselling. Which is strange because even though i denied that I was depressed in any way, under the surface with family events and bullying i was very depressed. So she was right in a way to do that.  I also had to tell that my friend was self-harming and was suicidal so he had to get counseling too. Evtually they let me out of counselling and I use to sing Amy Winehouse "Rehab" and change "rehab" to "counselling" - "they tried to make me go to counselling but I said no, no no." - my daddy thought I was fine.

I was almost expelled for having my blond highlights done, but I swiftly pointed out to the vice principle (Miss Sullivan) that it was "sexual discrimination" because of plenty if girls had their hair dyed, eventually after debating for some time she just told me to not have it dyed again.


During this time, from being on holiday I noticed that when i had a tan, my acne looked a lot better. So I began an obsession with being tanned, I would use the sunbeds at least every week, i would tell my parents I was going for a run, then cycle down to my nearest tanning salon, beside Sydenham - over a mile away from suburbia, and use them. Johnsons Holiday Skin lotion came out at this time, I didn’t think it was the same thing as “fake tan” though, I just thought it helped you be tan, and I was using it also and one day, non-school uniform day I was ridiculously tanned and everyone was nasty to me because of it - including Miss Nancarrow - who was always bright orange herself.

When i received my GCSE results 6Bs and 3 CS my parents were really angry. I actually did quite well in the exams, so I was right in some way I could just wing them.  I did attempt to revise for some of them, for example Religion but my file was such a mess that I gave up and decided to watch “Carrie” - that was on TV the night before, maybe the whole being possessed by the devil helped.  It was my coursework which let me down a lot. I was too lazy for it, and couldn’t be bothered re-editing it over and over again, for example, my lowest grade was Home Economics 50% coursework. As a solution, I didn’t do any subjects with Coursework in them for A-Level. I got enough points to get back in thank-god. A surprise was my B in french, Madame Caufield said to my mum that “we are  hoping Adam will just pass this subject”, she was a lot nicer to me at GCSE and was really happy I somehow, despite doing some foundation papers, managed to get a B.  About a third of that class didn't get back into school, I found out recently that one of them, Sinead, is now  a teacher, which is quite surpising, but at the same time you could tell she was very clever, she just wasn't that interested in studying at that time and obviously neither was I.

Part 12: Summer of 2007 - Malaysia with the family for my Granda Tans 70th, my first tour with Royal Tara, Prague for my Aux Pairs wedding and  London to see Prince.  And no fellow St. Pats Alumni - you did not like Prince in 2007, you liked Eminem or Green Day.

For my grandad's 70th the whole of my extended family went away to Malaysia for 3 weeks. We stopped in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on the way there - which has the biggest shopping center ever.  Then we went to Ipoh, Pangkor Island, Kuala Lumpur but spent the largest segment on Penang. We had a fantastic time and the older cousins and myself use to go to  a club in Penang and they use to play “Umbrella” and they use to bring out umbrellas. I also pulled a local "model" one night when I was in that club.

I remember the whole family at grandad tan 70th played “Yamm Sinn” we did shots of tequila whilst doing it. All the kids did irish dancing, for our Malaysia family, and I can remember I was too drunk to dance in time and was really upset. I started crying because I thought to myself that in ten years time, that was when we were planning on coming back, Granda might be dead and then other cousins started crying. My prediction was right - some of my family are going to Malaysia literally tomorrow to bring his ashes back home. 

One night I can remember I got really upset because I didn’t want to go back to school and my parents were going to make me. I told my older female cousin I didn’t want to go back and I wanted to go to stage school or do a music and dance course. I hated school.


From my knowledge, I was the first pupil ever to be asked to go away on tour with “Royal Tara” in their first year. We toured in Spain, Portugal, and Tenerife with other folk groups. I thought this would be fun and an excuse for a holiday, although it also turned out to be a bit of a nightmare at times.

I started to get bullied by the girls in my age group Gillian, Nicola, Kerrie and Nicole and the assistant teacher Lesley. Only I and Gillian had qualified for next years ulsters at “Glenravel” FDTA and I think this might of been part of the problem, however also being allowed to tour on my first year in the academy and culture clashes also didn’t help. I felt they stirred up a load of shit between myself and other pupils and the teachers, in particular, the “teachers pet” Jenna Hamill, who sometimes would have been against my sister - they stated that the only reason my sister and her friend Katie had beat her at Bangor was because they were from there, I obviously defended my sister against them. There were a lot of arguments. I made friends with some eastern European girls and they hated them as well.

I can’t imagine how stressful the whole predicament was for the teachers. Bringing 30 teenagers away on tour. Especially considering how easy it is to access alcohol in the continent. One night some of the teenagers got drunk and Ruth banned the girl from going out. But the boys who were my age and a bit older still managed to sneak out. This infuriated the girls more. 


It was my old Aux Paris wedding in Prague that summer. It was beautiful, we went sightseeing as well and went into a “Sex Machine Museum” - if you want to make sure your teenage son/daughter doesn’t get pregnant bring them there; it is sure to put you off sex for life.


My big sister and I then went to London to see Prince in the 02 arena. I had loved Prince for a long time. I got his greatest hits for Christmas a few years prior to this and couldn’t stop listening to him. My favorite was “When the Doves Cry”, “ I wanna be your Lover”, Let’s go Crazy” “little red corvette”. It really angers me now that only in a recent year people my age and younger started to like him. He was amazing though strangely we thought he looked a bit ill. Jade's friend and I had an entire suite to ourselves. I'm so glad i got to see one of my favorite artists before they died nearly all of them have died since: Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Michael Jackson and Etta James are some of my favourites to name a few. I hate that now people my age that claim they have "always been a Prince fan" when they havn't -  no fellow "ST. Pats alumni" you do not like Prince, Whitney Houston or Motown music - you like Eminem or Green day. And that's the way it goes for me, whether it be in Irish dancing, family, work or school life - I start doing something first get made fun for it then everyone starts to copy me and someone else get's the credit.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. Part 7, 8 & 9.

A brief Autobiography: How Irish dancing went from being a hobby into a passion into an obsession. 

Part 7, 8 & 9.

N.B this is all written from my perspective, everybody sees things differently and I don't claim my opinion to be fact. 
There were two festivals prior to summer after that - I missed my Piano theory exam because it classhed with the first one - Belfast Lagan. It was Alice Turner (Ollar) adjduciating and I got nothing all day again. Ashleigh won the championship, Gillian was 4th, then I remember Natalie did well with her two other Newcastle Dominic Graham friends, some of the solos were a double age group and some weren't. Daithi Fisher was there and he was winning with Hannah from Bentra - Hannah was a great technical dancer, good placement of feet and good at hitting her beats/clicks. I think Daithi then moved to CLRG after this to Doherty-Reid.

Belfast Mulholland was adjudicated by Donna Hamilton/Reid - she danced for Lilas Reilly/English.  The lights were separated into Champions and non-champions and the heavies were both togther then championship boys and girls. Chloe from Bangor, won the Champions dances and Charlotte from McKay (she had moved from Ollar), won the reel in the non-champions and I won the cup for any light jig for my single jig. Then when the champions and non-champions were into together I got second in my hornpipe - you see how with the champions together I was beating most of them and how frustrating this was. The Girls Championship was won by Liza from Kathy O’Connor, who was a non-champion for her Blackbird was very interpretive and I won the boys. I watched Zoe's section at this festival, her friend Jessica Carity won the under 10 championships and Zoe got 4th, I think Fiona won everything.

I became a bit of recluse socially for a year or two. I stopped going to my youth club and most of my other hobbies except Irish dancing, piano and scouts and was being very bullied in school. I started to play “The Sims” a lot and “Roller Coaster” tycoon. I was frustrated with everything: school, socially, Irish dancing, family. And I became very miserable and lazy. I started to get very bad acne and my dad would call me “Zit Face”. My dad did everything to try and stop my zits, he thought it was all diet related from eating too much sugar, which yes it definitely can help, but it was not considered that acne can also come on through stress or one’s diet can be affected by stress and that is what i believe it was mostly related to.


Hollywood festival was back on that year, Sylvia Rice was adjudicating. Again it was separated from Champions and Non-Champions. Laura Norris won most of the champions dances, Gillian won her hornpipe. I can’t remember who was winning the non-champions, but I wasn’t doing great. I remember Lai Yan, from Kath O’Connor was back dancing again and she did well. I remember Jacqueline Jones danced and I hadn’t seen her dance in a good while.  I think Chloe Fraser won the championship, and a few of the McKay girls got placed. I think I got something in the single jig and second in the hornpipe.

That was the year we went to Australia, it was a great holiday, though of course plenty of arguments. We went to Sydney, Tasmania and Melbourne and a surfing town. When I got back that was the first time people accused me of wearing fake tan - i wasn’t, I was just very tan since it was summer in Australia.  I bought all my friends presents from the quiksilver shop in the surfing town. I remember my dad shouting at me for having spray on deodorant - I wasn’t allowed to wear it because he informed me it might give me cancer.  


The next festival was Bangor Confined, Haley Graham was adjudicating. I didn’t do that well in my light dancing but I won the hornpipe. Conor Smyth won the championship, Suzanne Gray was second Chloe was 3rd and I was 4th.  I was sitting beside Suzanne that day and we were getting along. She went to school with Rhiannon to get her my number for me. At this stage I was finally allowed to share a mobile phone with my big sister - my dad had not allowed us to have them due to being bad for you. I think this was a further reason for contributing to my bullying.

Suzanne and I went on a date to Newtownards cinema and McDonald's, very glamorous. Two of her friends stalked us. During our initial date I said that Niamh was in my class and she was very angry at us going out “You're not going out with her - you're a fruit!” and I told her that she was an “Ulster Champion” after asking about the FDTA, she told me she wasn’t and that she had won the Ulsters 3 times and that Lee use to win it if she didn’t - he was a boy from Seven Towers who had quit. I was quite surprised by this after the bullying I felt I had endured from her.

 Part 8: My Granny Magee's funeral and some questionably biased results at the 2005 festival Northern Irelands

Around this time, my Granny Magee past away. She had a bad fall a couple of years previous. She was taken into care and we use to visit her in Newry, she would tell us she’d been out and about and we knew she hadn’t - she had a bit of dementia. She was a very funny character, very bossy, and use to give me sweets and tell me not to tell my dad.  I remember her wake like yesterday I sat in my Uncle Seamus kitchen and I mainly talked to Una, who I really liked and her youngest daughter Mary-Jayne. My dad was angry with me for what I was wearing - I wore a black shirt and dark jeans. He was annoyed I wasn’t wearing a suit - I hadn’t been bought one to wear.  He always seemed to find something to criticize me regardless if it was my fault or not.

I attended Knockagh festival after and did very well in it - there was not a championship but a set dance competition. I got top 3 all day - from what I remember Claire (from Knockagh) and myself were winning. I was still doing the “King of the Fairies”, so Denise got me to do my heavy jig set dance for a change for a while “The Pipers Dream”  - it was really quirky choreography with fast boxes and I liked it but very short.  I wanted “The Reaper” but she kept on saying that she didn’t like the set and it was too long and too mature for someone my age. Zoe and Tulla both did well in their sections also.

Ballyclare was next I think, Leslie Baird was adjudicating. He was a Mulholland and he adjudicates in WIDA now also. His adjudication is quite fair he likes clean cut, smooth dancing rather than wild dancing. Juliet Stirling was winning and Carly Thompson and Suzanne were doing well - is was a double age group then split for the championship. Chloe and I use to go to school together and sometimes we would share lifts to festivals so we would have been quite friendly and we weren't getting anything that day. Though we both got 6th in the championship.  Natalie McAlister won. I can remember this was the first time Gillian did “Carrickfergus” or the first time I watched it - she was 4th In think and didn’t do very well other than that. I think Juliet won the younger championship and Suzanne was 2nd. I watched Zoe's section also, she didn’t get anything. Fiona Gleeson I think was winning and Sharon McGurk was doing well. Jenna Hamil mostly got 2nds.

Portadown Festival was next. Jackie White was adjudicating again I was angry about the Champions/Non-Champions split there were dancers in the Champions who I normally would have done better than. But I did well, I got something in all my solos, but not in the championship. I remember I had to stop in the hornpipe and asked for my music to be a bit faster as did Suzanne in hers. Victoria McNamee won everything. Niamh didn’t get anything as far as I can remember.

I can remember Jackie saying something along the lines of “I don’t know if I really like this or not” in regards to Gillians “Carrickfergus”. Denise would make comments like this often: “I don’t think Aoibelle the fairy women is very interpretive”, “Haunting the Castle is just a copy of the spell - something witchy”, “Deirdre's Lament is more like Deidre’s tantrums”. These are just a few things I can remember her stating in regards to these set dances Royal Tara and some other schools were doing.

She also made comments frequently about Stephanie and Fiona who were Zoe's competition, stating that she hated watching them as their dances weren't interpretive and were because it was “All about winning the Ulsters”. I can remember around this time Fiona had started to do the Slip Jig and I really liked it and she stated that was because I was “feisy”. I believe this was all said behind their teachers back. It use to annoy me also that she hardly ever watched my section despite being her first prize winner, first champion (with just boys in it) and I was help teaching in her class for a couple of years and wasn’t paid for it.

Julie Graham adjudicated Bangor open, I didn’t do very well - she didn’t ever go for me. I think Amy Lambe might of won the reel and Juliet won the championship - Niamh came second. The musicians messed up Gillians music and Julie thought she made a mistake. Suzanne and I would sometimes talk at the festival but i was very shy at this stage. We didn’t get to go on that many dates as she was always busy due to having so many hobbies. As far as I was aware the girls in school didn’t like her because she was good at so many things and was a bit of a swot. I watched Zoes section also, she got 6th in the championship, I think Jenna Armstrong won - she had just won the Ulsters and was dancing "Haunting the Castle".
The Northern Irelands that year was a bit of a “farce” in my view. Even though i was dancing for a mulholland school I thought it was really unfair on the other schools. The adjudicators were Donna Revie (Muholland/Bangor),  Donne Reid/Hamilton (Muholland/Bangor) and Patricia English (I’m not sure). This was Tullas first Northern Irelands and there was maybe 50 under 9s.  I can remember who placed who which will probably shock you.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Revie
Patricia English
Ellen (DG)
Christy (RT)
Rachel C (RT)
Lara (KOC)
Ellen (DG)
Ellen (DG)
Lai yin (KOC)
Lara (KOC)
Courtney (DG)
Jude (RT)
Coturney (DG)
Jude (RT)
Shannon (LR)
Ballnefiegh ?
Deborah (Ais)
Niamh (Ais)
Laura (Bangor)
Paige (RT)

The result was 1st Ellen 2nd Christy, Rachel C, Lara, 3rd Courtney 4th Jude 5th Lai Yin 6th Shannon, Ballnefeigh, Deborah 7th Laura, Niamh, Paige

This is when they are young and there isn’t much interpretation or style going on to be subjective with and i couldn’t make sense of it. I watched the whole section and I thought Jude Murphy was amazing - she had won the Ulsters in her section and did Aoibhelle the Fairy Women which was easily the hardest set dance in the competition, she lost her timing a bit, however, due to her set dance being so much harder I would of let her away with it - She came 4th.  Judith Keyes should of been placed in my eyes that day. Denise thought Niamh should of been higher but she only was doing a begginers Pipers Dream compared to Jude who was doing a senior set dance.

My section was after I danced really well and thought i should have recalled and was told many other people said was robbed but i didn’t, but neither did Gillian, Chloe Fraser, Megan McCullough and i can remember Dominic was annoyed Victoria McNammee didn’t either - we gave Dominic a lift home because he didn't drive. I don’t think Catherine Lamont got one either.

The result was

Donna Hamilton
Donna Revie
Patricia English
Niamh (KOC)
Juliet (IM)
Hannah (BNF)
Juliet (IM)
Conor (LR)
Juliet (IM)
Hannah (DG)
Ashleigh (BNF)
Ashleigh (BNF)
Ashleigh (BNF)
Nat (DG)
Conor (LR)
Niamh (KOC)
Hannah (DG)
Nat (DG)

1st Juliet 2nd Niamh 3rd Hannah and Ashleigh (BNF) 4t Conor and Natatlie 5th Hannah Todd then after than: Sophie (IMC), Amy (IMC),  Sheilagh  (Bangor) and Suzanne (RT) got a recall but some were placed and some weren't. In the two blanks. Suzanne definitely wasn’t placed, they played her music wrong for her "Walk though the Glenn" - she was really angry. I remember going to get my comments and Donna Revie didn't have any and I said something like "No comment. Great!" and Gillian laughed at this.

I can remember the musicans played Hannah (BNF) “The Fisher Man’s Creel” wrong but played it fine for Juliet.Hannah was the Ulster champion in her age group and that is a very strange coinicide.  I really didn’t agree with the adjudication that day - I think part of the problem was there was about 15 of us on a similar level but I think it was biased in my opinion.

The  Zoes age group.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Revie
Patricia Enlish
Stephanie (LR)
Stephanie (LR)
Aisha (DG)
Katie (KOC)
Fiona (LR)
Fiona (LR)
Chris (McK)
Zoe (Ais)
Jenna (RT)
Zoe (Ais)
Emily (DA)
Twin (ST)
Kerrie (Bangor)
Katie (KOC)
Chris (McK)
Twin (ST)
Jenna RT
Luke (RT)

The result was : 1st Stephanie 2nd Fiona 3rd Aisha 4th Katie 5th Zoe 6th Chris 7th jenna 8th Twin 9th Emily 10th Kerrie 11th luke 12th Jenna (ballnefeigh), Sarah (ST) Twin 2(ST), Kerrie (KOC), Shannon (LR)

I was really happy that Zoe got placed and Stephanies recall "The Princess Royal" was fantastic but other than that some of the results were questionable in my eyes. Jenna Armstrong had just won the Ulsters and to not be placed and Jenna Hamill definitely should not of came 7th, I don’t believe she necessarily deserved to win that day but she shouldn’t of been any lower than 3rd or 4th. Donna Hamilton didn't place her and her adjudication between all three age groups it seemed apparent that she was favouring the mulhollands and their friends.  Denise though made a bit of fuss over Kaite beating Zoe because she made a mistake in her Deep Green Pool - I knew she had also because I knew the Mulholland choreography as my big sister Jade did it. But my thought was, you wouldn't necessarily of known if the other girls had due to this.

Part 9: My last year of competition with the Aisling school of dance and my decision to transfer to Royal Tara.

The next year of Irish dancing festivals did not go well. Denise couldn’t get a set dance to suit me and wasn’t teaching me any new material. I eventually learned a "Youghal Harbour" but I think it was mainly choreographed for Joanna Neilly, and I helped choreograph my own lead around in the reel.  I only seemed to do well at competitions that were not adjudicated by Denise’s friends, for example, I did well in the following Belfast Lagan, adjudicated by a feis adjudicator and Bangor open by an adjudicator from Larne - I placed top 3 in most of my dances in these competitions. All of Denise's friends stopped placing me on and on the contrary, the opposite happened for Zoe - they starting giving her championships and the following year she won the festival Northern Ireland's -  She danced brilliantly though and deserved to win, from a muholland festival irish dancers perspective.

It seemed like no coincidence and very unfair that they made all the age groups into single age groups, Zoes was (12-13) up to mine which was a double 15-17 then over 17s was senior. I didn’t get a recall and I should have done. The result in my age group was 1st Robyn Friel 2nd Deborah Gwynee 3rd Rachel Smyth 4th Natalie McAlister & Gillian Hodge 5th Vitoria McNamee 6th Catherine Lamont 7th Emma Dines. I know I should have maybe been between 4th-6th. I beat Gillian in Bangor and Belfast Lagan and prior to this would have done similarly to Victoria and Catherine, the girl in 7th would of not of beat me, from my recollection anyway - her "Little Heather Hill" had nice intepretation, but she wouldn't of been of the same sort of technical standard as myself. The top 3 all danced very well and were in the older age group.  I remember at my last Belfast Mulholland festival, Patricia Mulholland niece was in watching and said I should have been winning. Margo (the piano player) made a real snarky remark about it and said she thought she owned festival (talk about the pott calling the kettle balck) and was an alcoholic.

I soon decided after this to move to Royal Tara.My mum wasn’t very happy about this and said that she wouldn’t have anything to do with my dancing and I would have to get myself there and back. Suzanne said she could give me a lift since she was from Comber and literally drove past my house - the class was in Carrickfergus, which for a festival Irish dancer seemed like quite a distance to travel to class.  Denise actually spoke to June (the original teacher - the granny) about me moving. I remember I was really excited and was practicing doing the bicycle jumps on holiday which I saw Gillian do at Belfast Lagan and Suzanne showed me when she was a bit drunk at one of my small house parties. It was a really hard move for me but I knew it was the right one.