It was Saturday, April 11, 2015, and as we marched past Radio City Music Hall as part of the New York City Tartan Day Parade, I had a moment. You know, one of those moments where you realize everything has lined up perfectly and you’re just having THE BEST time? There’s no way to explain it without sounding like a giddy school-girl. Nothing could have wiped the smile off my face, and it’s all thanks to the Celtic Cross Dancers.
A few short months prior to this pivotal moment, there I was, approaching 30 and slightly deflated that I had already reached this milestone birthday. I had a good job and a nice home with my boyfriend. I was checking off the boxes on the prescribed to-do list of life, and yet, as my birthday loomed around the corner, the panic set in.
Something was missing. Was I contributing enough to the world? Was I doing what I loved? Was I living life to the fullest?
I had gotten so wrapped up in career and house and mortgage bliss that I had forgotten to actually take care of myself. That’s when I stumbled on the website for the Celtic Cross Dancers and apprehensively sent a note to ask if I could join them.
Irish dance had been a big part of my life from the time I was 10 until I went to college, when I stopped dancing and competing cold turkey. The morning of my first Celtic Cross rehearsal, it had pretty much been a decade since I last laced up my ghillies. I was so nervous. Would I be good enough? Would I like the other dancers? What was I doing—was I crazy?
My nerves settled as I looked around the room on that sunny Sunday morning and saw the other dancers sipping their coffees, laughing and joking, all from different walks of life and of varying dance abilities and backgrounds. Let’s be honest: I could barely get through the warm up and was sweating like a Highland cow in Hawaii, but with each beat of the music, my outlook on life cheered up.
Celtic Cross is a performance group of adult dancers who showcase Highland, Irish and Ottawa Valley Step Dancing. Keeping the customs of each dance form intact, we highlight the differences (and similarities) between the dance forms with traditional and contemporary choreographies. For those in the audience, it’s a great introduction if you know nothing about Celtic dancing, and for those who do know a thing or two, it’s a great chance to see not only how different these dance forms are but also how they connect and overlap in a beautiful way.
Growing up as an Irish dancer, there was always a bit of a friendly rivalry with the Highland dancers—which dance form was better, which was harder? When I would tell people I was an Irish dancer and got the response, “Oh, like with kilts and swords and stuff?” I would get so angry and wonder how they couldn’t know the difference.
Now, as an adult beginner Highland dancer, I can tell you that neither is better, neither is harder—they are just different. They use different muscles, different timing, and different coordination. With Scottish roots on my father’s side and Irish roots on my mother’s side, I truly believe that I’m now fulfilling some sort of tiny prophecy to keep the traditions of all of my ancestors alive and thriving. I am a Highrish dancer, and I’m proud.
A little more than a year after my first Celtic Cross rehearsal, I am in great shape, both physically and mentally. My brain and body are always in high gear learning new steps and choreographies. We have travelled to New York City for the Tartan Day parade, but we also travel to the local retirement homes to perform (and everything in between). We dance, we laugh, and we reward ourselves with beer, of course.
Sometimes there are so many gigs in a weekend that my feet turn into potatoes, and my entire body aches. But it’s a good ache. It’s the ache of a full heart that only happens when you’re doing what you love.
And it’s all thanks to the Celtic Cross Dancers.
Celtic Cross Dancers is an Ottawa-based performance group. Find out more at http://www.celticcrossdancers.com, or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.