In 1999, my grandma signed me up for my first Irish dance class. To be completely honest, I don't remember that first class in the slightest. I was too young to realize how pivotal it was.
Today, I am 22 years old, and I often wonder who I would be had I never gone to that first class all those years ago. I cannot (this is not an exaggeration) imagine my life without dance. In fact, I can't really imagine myself as a person without dance.
As cheesy as it sounds, Irish dance has made me the person I am today. In honor of St. Patrick's Day, here are 10 things every Irish dancer knows to be true:
1. You never half-ass anything.
Irish dance is one of those things you have to give yourself to completely. It isn't something you can half-ass. You give your body, you give your time and you pretty much give your sanity.
You can be a dance parent, a dance teacher or you can be a dancer, but any way you put it, Irish dance consumes you. As I grew older, I learned this the hard way.
There were lots of things I gave up in order to continue with this sport, but I gave them up on the quest to become the dancer I always dreamed I could be. This has carried over into other aspects of my life.
Introduce yourself to Irish dancers sometime. You'll find they are some of the most passionate people you'll ever meet because they give themselves completely to their passions in life. Dancers accept nothing less.
2. You're in love with teaching.
When my best friends and I finished dancing in the fall of 2012, we were done. So done. All done. The most done. Any kind of done you can think of.
We'd been dancing most of our lives, and we were ready to do something new in college. We basically made a point to get involved with people who had never seen Irish dance in their entire lives.
Then, I was invited to dance on a team for the national competition in California. And just like that, I was pulled back in. I told myself I was only coming back for one last competition, and then I would be done for real.
Then, I was asked to assistant teach. Now, it's 2016, and I've fallen deeply, madly in love with teaching Irish dance.
It's possibly the most infuriating, time-consuming, tiring and overall stressful endeavor of my entire life, but the little moments you get to share with your students make it all worth it.
You'll never forget the moment when they're getting so frustrated with a dance step, and then something clicks and they glow with happiness.
It's like being a fly on the wall, watching over beautiful little moments in the lives of children.
3. You learned your best isn't always the best.
Dance competitions kind of suck. You spend all day at the competition venue with your wig fully secured between two combs. You're rehearsing backstage in a stiff, sparkly, puffy dress that's the equivalent of a body cast, and you're basically just done with everything and everyone. You just want to dance and go home.
You dance a reel, and it's perfect. It's the best you've ever danced it. Everyone agrees you won, but then you check the results.
You didn't even place. Someone else danced better than you. Yeah, it sucks. It really sucks.
But, that's life. If you're best wasn't the best, you practice, fix what needs fixing and come back later to prove just how good you are.
4. You know someone else's victory is sometimes more important than your own.
You'll always remember the moments you won, but you'll also remember the moments you were with your friends when they won. At one competition, my two best friends and I placed first, second and third, and I have never been more excited to be in third place.
Getting to look up at them beaming down at me is something I will never forget. I almost value this memory more than any memory of placing first myself.
5. It's not the destination, it's the journey.
Dancing day after day, year after year is a journey. You'll face hurdles, fight battles, laugh and cry.
After years of dancing, you begin to realize it isn't always about the final destination (which, in many cases, is a major dance competition), but rather, it's about the people and things that got you there.
It's about the friends who stood by you while you cried because you were tired and in pain, the moments you laughed so hard you were in tears and every moment in between.
6. You do everything with confidence.
Stage presence is a huge part of competing. Are you standing tall? Are your arms straight at your sides? Mine never were, but you can bet my flimsy arms were confident ones.
As a dancer, confidence is key. Even if you're completely terrified to do something, if you approach it with confidence, no one will know you're terrified.
People will see you as a tower of strength and a force to be reckoned with. It's a vital trait for any dance teacher because even when nothing is going according to plan, you can handle it boldly and confidently.
7. When things don't go according to plan, you're able to adapt.
In Irish dance, nothing ever goes according to plan. And when it does, you're sitting there waiting for the other (hard) shoe to drop.
People always mess up choreography, forget to come to a show or go to a competition and almost miss check-in because they were tanning their legs. Irish dancers are prepared for anything because they know at any given moment, something can — and will — go wrong.
The mishaps stop surprising you after a while, though. I've grown up watching others adapt to these situations, and in turn, I have learned how to adapt myself. In all honesty, if you can think on your feet and make a new plan in the middle of an Irish dance, you're set for any form of chaos.
8. You know anything can be solved by listening to "The High Kings."
Ask any member of the Irish dance community how he or she motivates him- or herself, and the person's answer will involve "The High Kings."
Sometimes, there is nothing that helps you celebrate, grieve, bond and reflect quite like listening to the smooth, stoutly voices of four Irishmen and their instruments.
9. You know that everything in life happens and ends all too fast.
When I was in the middle of my dance career, it felt like it could go on forever. And then, at the very end of my dance career, I was invited to do the Scattering at Milwaukee's Irish Fest. It is Irish culture in its truest form, so I danced.
It was like that last firework on the Fourth of July that feels like someone shot a cannon right into the middle of your ribcage. My best friend took my hand, gave me a twirl and I lost my heart to the stage, the lights, the crowd and the rhythm of my feet.
Something ended for me that night, but something new began. I started the next chapter of my life: college. I left behind being an Irish dancer, and I became an Irish dance teacher.
10. Your Irish dance friendships last a lifetime.
Irish dance has given me the chance to meet people from all over the world, but most importantly, I've met two of the most important people in my life.
Going to dance competitions, dancing in the same line at every dance class, helping each other through injuries, taking the podium and holding hands while listening for our numbers to be called turned us into three very different, detailed, passionate and unique volumes of the same novel.
So, March is here. As a student, midterms are breaking my back, and dance shows are twisting my arm. I am tired and am currently sitting in the library beside the very girl who pulled me out to dance for the very last time.
What I can't possibly begin to describe is how grateful I am for the experiences Irish dance has given me. At the end of the day, I am so honored and forever in debt to Irish dance for making my life something worth happy crying over in the middle of a packed college library.