“Are you okay?” Emily asked.
Grabbing the ballet barre to support myself, I attempted to stretch out my right leg. My thigh felt like a vise was twisting it tighter and tighter. The pain was so intense, I was afraid to breathe.
“Try walking it off,” Katie suggested.
I hobbled out of the dance room and nearly collapsed on the hallway floor. Through the door, I saw Katie and Emily teaching the rest of my classmates a new jig step. Massaging my cramped leg, I watched those energetic adults and wondered how I, a forty-seven-year-old Black woman with no dance experience, ended up in an Irish dance class.
Considering my fascination with Irish culture, it was inevitable. I often tell people I love all things Irish, especially my husband. When I heard that a nearby Irish dance school offered beginning lessons for adults, I couldn’t resist. I quickly enrolled at Rince na Chroi (pronounced “Rink ah nah Kree”) School of Irish Dance located at Concordia University in Saint Paul.
At the first class, director Katie Stephens Spangler and assistant director Emily Wolff stunned the neophytes by saying “all students are required to perform.” They mentioned several other important things, but most of their words collided with a nagging voice in my head. “I can’t dance on a stage. The audience is going to laugh at me. They’ll take one look at me and think, ‘She’s old; she’s out of shape; she’s off-step; she’s . . . Black.’”
Four months after that excruciating leg cramp, I was standing on the center stage in downtown Saint Paul’s Landmark Center. It was the annual Day of Irish Dance/St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Thousands of people blanketed the main floor; hundreds more lined the balconies. And there I stood with my class, in our school-crested outfits and our curly wigs, ready to dance.
The band began to play. After months and months of practice, the beat was so familiar that I immediately began to lose myself in the music. The audience faded away and I danced—I danced as the saying goes, “like no one was watching.”
After my dance, I stood near the stage and watched the advanced dancers perform. The precision of their choreography and footwork was artistic. While I was standing there, a burly Irish man walked up to me. “Hi, I saw you dance earlier,” he said.
“Oh really,” I replied, wondering what he would say next.
“Yeah, you were really great,” he said. “My buddy and I both thought you were great.”
“Thank you,” I said with a smile. I walked off beaming with pride.
Deb Pleasants is a full-time wife/mother and part-time writer/journalist. She often writes for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. She also writes poetry, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. When not Irish dancing, Deb enjoys biking, camping with her family, and attempting to solve The New York Times crossword puzzle. She’s lived in Saint Paul’s Lex-Ham community since 1998.