Participation in athletics is often times portrayed as a staple part of the American high school experience. Whether students partake in a team sport, or they fill the stands in support for their school, athletic programs can define a legacy for a graduating class or bring a community together. However, sometimes McNicholas students spend hours outside of the classroom honing an athletic craft which their classmates may not always have the privilege of witnessing. Senior Kate Custer is one of those students and has been Irish dancing since she was nine years old.
Traditional Irish dancing originated over two thousand years ago, and its evolution can be seen throughout shifting populations and historic invasions. Despite its long history and prevalence in the Irish culture, Irish dancing often goes unnoticed in the realm of American high school sports.
“I started [Irish dancing] at an old age,” Custer said. “My cousins Jenny and Diane used to dance and sometimes they would have competitions in Cincinnati. They would stay at our house and we would go see them compete. The dance wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before and I was very intrigued.”
Irish dancing is characterized by its quick movement of the feet and legs while maintaining a stiff upper body. It is a sport of precision, fine details, control and immense strength, which can be performed solo or in a group.
“[I] usually spend 6 hours at class, but right now we are preparing for the mid-American regionals called Oireachtas. So right now, it’s 9 hours a week,” Custer said. “I don’t know who I would be without dance. Dance is a way for me to escape the stresses of school, not that dance itself isn’t stressful sometimes, but I’m doing something I care about.”
Irish dancers move through the ranks by competing and winning at competitions. As Custer advanced through the levels, she became plagued with knee pains, and would have to put her dancing life on hold as she tended to injury that took her out of her sport indefinitely. “The longest I had not danced was a month and hearing that I might not dance was devastating. A year went by before I even stepped back into the studio the summer before my sophomore year.”
“When I dance, everything else in my life fades away. It’s just me and the rhythm,” Custer said. “I think dance has helped me as a perfectionist because no dance can ever be perfect. There is always something you can do better and that’s okay because even world champions don’t dance perfectly. They make mistakes too.”