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!!!