Every Tuesday night, from seven to eight P.M., I fly.
Not literally, of course. Though sometimes I do wish I were Supermom: capable of cooking, cleaning, playing, and flying at the speed of light!
No. I fly the only way I know how, by Irish Dancing.
I am an adult Irish Dancer and I love it. On Tuesdays, I can’t help but grin in anticipation for the evening ahead and I play Irish music all day long, exciting myself even more.
At the dance studio, I slip on and lace up my tight leather shoes and stretch my body, clearing my mind of all the stresses of the day. My shoulders relax and I breathe deeply, letting the music from the class before mine pour into my thoughts and prepare me for my class.
I started Irish Dancing as an adult when my youngest son was 13 months old and it wasn’t easy at first. Despite having danced as a child and teenager, it still took months for my body to become used to the high energy dancing. On top of that, I had three young children to take care of. Now, less than two years later, with my children growing up and my body strengthening and slimming down, I have moved up into the Novice level. In class, we have just started learning advanced steps and my legs propel me across the studio floor, leaping and kicking high.
Irish Dancing has opened up my life in so many ways. I had my twins when I was 21 and it wasn’t easy; I was physically and emotionally drained from taking care of two newborns. My husband and I worked hard, but we had trouble meeting other parents and making friends. I believed that it would be easy to make friends with other moms, but I was in for a rude awakening; having children in common with someone doesn’t always make for a solid friendship.
After a few unpleasant experiences, I began to lose confidence in myself as a social person and I sometimes felt lonely. My three children are wonderful, but they keep me very busy and I needed an outlet. Irish Dancing came into my adult life when I needed it the most and helped me become more confident in myself socially and physically. I made friends with my teachers and the other dancers in my class and we have even participated in Irish Dance events as a family, which has been great for my husband and kids.
Almost two years later, I can say that I am a happier person and parent, as well as a healthier one. I am not thin by any standards and I’m proud to call myself a curvy dancer, but at the same time Irish Dancing has inspired me and my family to adopt a healthier lifestyle and we are all feeling better because of it.
In a society dominated by looks, the changes brought on by pregnancy and childbirth can be hard for some women to accept or feel comfortable about. After having my third child (which was my second pregnancy) I found that it was harder to lose the baby weight and I felt heavier and unkempt. Instead of treasuring my body for nurturing and growing children, I felt self-doubt about my looks and sense of self.
I vividly remember the head teacher of my Irish Dancing school telling me one evening in class that my face was full of doubt when I danced. I was upset by those words, not with my teacher, but with myself because he was right. There was a part of me that hated looking at myself in the dance studio mirror. I loved dancing; I felt freed by the graceful steps and my heart lightened by the fast-paced and cheerful music. However, I wasn’t happy with myself and I knew that needed to change if I wanted to be the dancer I knew I could be.
I decided to work on my posture; before starting one of my dances, I would stand up straight and push my considerable chest out as high as I could. That helped me start dancing with confidence and a straighter back. Then, I cut my hair into a fresh pixie cut which accentuated my face better; I wasn’t hiding behind frizzy bangs and messy ponytails any more. My neck was bare to the world and I was proud of it. I tried practicing more at home and working on different exercises to help strengthen my leg muscles, as well as going on walks with my kids.
After a few months, I noticed a change. I looked deep into my mirror self’s eyes and liked what I saw. I liked this young woman with short hair who thrust her chest up into the air, readying herself to fly across the dance floor. She knew what she wanted and was working hard to get it.
Life is not easy; I have three children under the age of five at home and I am exhausted almost every day. Yet, preparing for an Irish Dancing competition, known as a Feis, or readying myself for class once a week fires me up. I feel rejuvenated and excited about all the possibilities of the future; one of my goals is to spread the word about Irish Dancing for adults and even start an adult troupe one day, open to all ages and all body types.
I chose not to let doubt win and take over my life. I can meet my eyes in the mirror now, which was hard for me to do for so many years. I have a daughter and I don’t ever want her to feel that she can’t do something because of her body type; I don’t want her to feel defeated or doubtful because of how she views herself or how others view her. I want all three of my children to grow up trusting in their sense of self and brimming with confidence.
Every time I dance, I dance with wings of hope, courage, and freedom, and I fly.
About the Author
Ophelia Leong is wife and mother who loves to write and Irish Dance in her spare time. She has been published in Mamalode, Unbroken Journal, Mothers Always Write, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Eunoia Review, Mixtape Methodology, Beyond Science Fiction, and others. She recently won Mothers Always Write’s 2015 Holiday Poetry Contest with her poem “Christmas With Little Ones.” Follow her on Twitter @OpheliaLeong and check out her blog ophelialeong.blogspot.com