Thursday, November 19, 2015

Dances With Ghillies

Following on from the previous post, wherein I was ejected from The Cult and began finding myself…

And so, I became an Irish dancer. I didn’t mean to. It happened in the same sort of way that I became a folk singer, and as a direct result of it.

Sometime in my mid to late twenties, I happened to walk into a bar where a guy was standing on stage strumming a guitar and singing rowdy songs. The crowd was loving it. I ordered a beer, watched appreciatively for a while, then thought, “I could do that.”

Happily, the bar hosted an open mic night on Wednesdays, so the following week, I returned with my guitar and signed up. Six months later I was getting paid gigs.

My preference was for light rock and folk, heavily leaning toward Irish drinking and rebel songs. They were infectious, the crowds loved them and there were a lot of Irish pubs in the area whose main criteria for hiring entertainment favored enthusiasm over musical skill, which suited me perfectly.

(ASIDE: although I was billed as an Irish folk singer, my signature song was an original composition titled, The Marsha Song. It was often requested, and although Marsha wouldn’t speak to me for several days after she heard it, she eventually saw the funny side.)

As you might imagine, I was heavily booked around St. Patrick’s Day, when all the Irish by descent, Irish by association and Irish by imagination called in sick, died their hair green, painted a shamrock on their cheek (the facial kind, although, really, one can’t be sure) and spent the day in any bar with a remotely Celtic theme (and if they were too crowded, a TGI Friday’s would do) drinking green beer and singing songs about the IRA.

Often the festivities included visits from pipe bands and, occasionally, Irish step dancers. The dancers always amazed me. I loved the rhythm, the movements and always watched with deep admiration bordering on awe.

Fast forward a dozen years or so, to a moment when I happened to look at an adult education flier and saw “Irish Dancing for Beginners” advertized and thought, “I could do that.”

I loved it, and became fairly good at it, so much so that I – and most of the class – joined the Irish dance school that had sponsored the class and became their first adult dance team. I was in my element (it was 98% women; really, what is not to like?); I made friends, I had fun, I bought ghillies and learned that there was such a thing as sock glue.
Ghillies. They come in soft and hard shoe varieties, as well as more masculine versions.
We competed in feiseanna (a feis is an Irish Dance competition) and the Eastern Regional Oireachtas (a mega-feis for the eastern US) and came away with a fistful of medals. My crowning moment came when I was picked to be on the team that danced on stage with The Chieftains when they played at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady

The Girls Dressing Room.
The Boys Dressing Room.
I was in a four-hand reel with another woman from my school. We practiced together, but on the night we were paired with the professionals. My partner was Cara Butler, the lesser famous sister of Jean Butler, who was the lesser famous partner of Michael Flatley in the very famous Riverdance.

Colleen, from my school, with our partners, Donny Golden
and Cara Butler (they are the tall ones).
We had a ball, and I managed to not embarrass myself.

Eventually, I became so enamoured of all things Celtic that I took up the bagpipes and then looked around for something else to do.

Not incidental to this story is that fact that, over the years, my incremental raises and promotions had begun to add up and, coincidentally, I was finally satisfying the many obligations accrued from a failed marriage, bad habits, reckless borrowing and a generally poor understanding of financial management. It was as if the money tap was suddenly turned on, affording me opportunities I could heretofore only dream of. So I thought, “Ireland. Yeah, I could do that.”

I am afraid that, once again, I am going to have to refer you to my book, Postcards From Ireland, where the whole story is revealed in greater detail than I can go into here. Suffice it to say I was extremely naïve. I booked a flight to Shannon, and nothing else. I was soon to learn about immigration control officers (and the fact that they take their job quite seriously indeed), come to the astounding realization that, just because a country speaks English, it is not a carbon copy of the US, and discover that my carefully guarded bachelor status was in danger of coming to an end.

But those incidentals were in the future. I spent the weeks before my trip sitting in the sun on my balcony, drinking beer, smoking cigars, enjoying my freedom and thinking that life could not get much better than it was.

Once again, I was dead wrong.

This concludes the Things I’ve Done portion of this blog and  I promise  we will shortly return to the more traditional Things I Am Doing Now episodes. It’s been a fun trip (for me, at least); thanks for coming along.

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