Pettigrew and Tadavarthy Irish dance to reach individual and common goals

[Irish dance] requires a characteristically stiff upper body that gives no hint to what the dancer’s legs are doing, as well as skills like turnout and flexibility.

Submitted by A. Tadavarthy

[Irish dance] requires a characteristically stiff upper body that gives no hint to what the dancer’s legs are doing, as well as skills like turnout and flexibility.

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Sharp noises ring through the air, rhythmic and powerful, intertwining with lively Gaelic music.  The noise builds and builds until with a final crash, there’s silence.  This is Irish dance.

Irish dance originates from Ireland and uses both soft shoes,  called ghillies, and hard shoes, called jig shoes, in a dance that is intensely rhythmic.  It requires a characteristically stiff upper body that gives no hint to what the dancer’s legs are doing, as well as skills like turnout and flexibility.  It can be performed in groups or as a solo, and is mostly a competitive dance form.

As Irish dancers, both junior Lillian Pettigrew and 9th grader Anjali Tadavarthy face a different set of criteria for what makes them succeed than for regular athletes.

“[Dancing] requires a lot of… self discipline and strength, but you’re also making art so you have to like look pretty while doing it. … it’s like a combination of…sheer power, and making it look appealing to an audience,” Tadavarthy said.

[Dancing] requires a lot of… self discipline and strength, but you’re also making art so you have to like look pretty while doing it. … it’s like a combination of…sheer power, and making it look appealing to an audience.”

— Anjali Tadavarthy

It also requires dancers such as Pettigrew and Tadavarthy to dedicate hours per week in the dance studio and at home.

“This fall I’ve started going to an extra class more regularly.  It’s still only three times a week, which isn’t as much as some people. but that makes it four and a half hours,” Pettigrew said.  Pettigrew dances at Rince na Chroi (pronounced Rinka na Cree), which is based in Saint Paul.

Tadavarthy dances at O’Shea Irish Dance, another Saint Paul Irish Dance school.

“I dance […]  8-10 [hours weekly] depending on the week,” Tadavarthy said.

Outside of class, Pettigrew has discovered a new way to practice that she can do anywhere.  Using her hands, Pettigrew recreates steps and movements from dance routines.

“A lot of what I do … is I’ll be practicing with my hands ‘cause the first step is to really get it into my head … it’s like practicing 24 hours a day,” Pettigrew said “But … if you count only [full body] practice it’s like half an hour a day.”

However, this routine doesn’t last the entire year says Pettigrew.

“When you’re preparing for shows, that’s the time when things really kick in and you’re generally doing a lot more work outside of classes,” Pettigrew said.

Unlike Pettigrew, Tadavarthy does competitive Irish dance as well as shows.  Competitions come in different levels, ranging from Nationals to Worlds.  However, the intense competition comes with high levels of stress, partly caused by the pressure to perform well Tadavarthy said.

“Right before competitions is really stressful because we have to do our best and there’s a lot of pressure,” Tadavarthy said.  Tadavarthy’s coaches place part of this pressure on her, but a lot of pressure comes from herself.  Even with the high expectations her coaches have, Tadavarthy loves learning from them.

“[The coaches] push you to be better… I can’t imagine having a coach who… wasn’t pushing me to get better,” Tadavarthy said.

Regardless of the time of year and the shows coming up, there are always things to improve as a dancer.  For Tadavarthy, excelling in competitions by advancing to higher levels is her main short term goal, besides overall improving.

“I like to do regionals and I’d like to recall,” Tadavarthy said.  Recalling is when a dancer qualifies for the second round within a competitive level.

Pettigrew had similar interests and though she doesn’t compete, Pettigrew has goals of her own.

“There are all those little independent goals where I want to get that trick, or get my leg up higher,” Pettigrew said  “But I think more long term I want dance to stay a part of my life in some way.”  

Looking towards the future is always part of the dancer’s experience; deciding how much you want to dance, finding ways to balance dance with school, and choosing if you want to dance as a profession are decisions every dancer makes.  For Pettigrew, dancing isn’t really a potential profession.  However, she still wants to integrate dancing into her life.

“I’ve started playing with some choreography and writing steps myself this year, which I’ve been enjoying, and I’ve been thinking I might want to work with my studio for my senior project,” Pettigrew said.

“I d love to go to Nationals, and Worlds, and just keep dancing,” Tadavarthy said. “I’d like to continue [Irish dancing] through high school.”

Irish dance demands a lot from its dancers, from the amount of time it requires to the pressure it puts on them,  yet dancers such as Pettigrew and Tadavarthy hoping to balance dance with other aspects of their lives are able to succeed.