Rooted in Community

From April 9-14, I was at the Leitrim Dance Festival in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, Ireland.  It was my first ever trip to Ireland and my first time at a traditional dance festival.  I knew what I had hoped to gain from the experience and after a few weeks at home, I realize that I encountered and gathered so much more!

What first struck me was the welcome I received.  My entire experience of old-style Irish dance to that point had been online, mostly through videos, but with a few zoom classes, which don’t offer much opportunity for connection.  People were kind and I was immediately enfolded into a community of dancers passionate about dance, its history, and the community surrounding it.  This particular festival was lauded by many of the participants as the best one for dancers to meet and connect in meaningful ways.

As the festival unfolded and our instructors shared their repertoire and stories, it was clear that dance has deep roots in the community.  Suddenly, the readings I had done previously intersected with the lived history of the people I met.  This more than anything feeds the mission and vision of Kaleidoscope Studio: dance for all occasions, for all people that is rooted in community.

Over the past 70 years or so, community has been pulled apart, like a lose thread in a garment; a slow unravelling that has resulted in a lot of string and very little sweater.  Cities have grown and isolated activities have increased.  Consider the advent of the home radio, which gave way to the television, which has given way to online streaming on individual devices.  On top of that, participation in what were historically community-based activities, such as music and dance, have become highly performative, moving away from social engagement towards personal achievement.

What if music and dance became less about presentation and more about engagement?  What if we could shift out of our expectation of being the best at something to thinking more about being together in something?  Every night of the festival, Cryan’s Teach Ceoil hosted a session — which included music and dance.  I watched my new friends with awe as they stepped up to dance or joined in with their instruments.  Those evenings were filled with laughter, conversation, music, and dancing.    

One of my favourite stories about my grandparents is how they would load the piano into the back of a truck and head out to whatever social gathering was on for the night.  There was music and dancing, laughter and stories – in short, a community of people gathered together.  I recently had a conversation with one of my former dancers who shared that even now, three years after her last class, she will find herself stepping about, working rhythms through her feet.  I would love nothing more than to get her and others like her out to dance again!  The challenge for me and the studio, and I invite you to join me, is to take steps towards creating a community that revels in music and dance together!

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