When I was a girl my family always went to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Seattle. Mom and Dad were proud of our Irish heritage, making St. Patrick’s Day one of the High Holy Days of the year. The parade ended at Pioneer Square where we listened to a few speeches and then, my favorite part, we watch some Irish dancing.
It always took my breath away to watch the dancers; I was memorized by the movement, the flow, the grace, the fluidity of these dancers. Tears welled in my eyes from my longing to be one of them, to feel my body move in that way. We didn’t have a lot of money so I knew to not even ask. Besides, traveling half an hour for a lesson of any kind was unheard of in my family. We went to the piano teacher up the street and ice skating lessons two blocks away. So I held my love of and fantasy of learning Irish dancing all to myself.
In high school, before my accident, I was one of four dancers in the school play, Brigadoon. We were taught a Scottish Reel to perform during the play. This was the closest I got to Irish dancing. During practice I developed shin splints and had to ice them for relief. I didn’t play sports as a child, never took dance lessons, so this was the first thing that allowed me to really be in my body. The shin splints were an added bonus only because they made me realize that I had to take care of my body and that my body had limits.
A few years later I lost my leg. I spent a few years readjusting to my new body and then, with full force, I spent a number of years trying lots of activities that allowed me to be in my body, to experience it fully, to test it’s capacity and it’s limits. I skied, I tried skydiving and scuba diving, I backpacked, I kayaked, I rockclimbed, I sailboarded. Though only a few of the activities stuck as ones I loved, trying all of them gave me the opportunity to find my body and see what it was made of.
Without any prodding from me (it’s all my brother-in-law’s doing), my daughter started Scottish Highland dancing when she was six years old, four years ago. She competes regularly and had a competition today. While the whole dance form and the competitions are sometimes too restrictive for my taste, I am so pleased that my daughter started learning – at such a young age – how to be in and how to use her body. She has developed such grace and poise from this practice, from being on stage and being judged. I hope she’s developing the life long habits that I took so long to learn.
While Scottish Dancing is different than Irish dancing, I get to watch my daughter deftly and gracefully move to the ancient beat of the mournful bagpipes. And this is enough.