Irish Dance Society

Irish Dance Fitness: A monstrous hybrid or a modern approach towards Irish dance?

Interview with Derianna Thomas, the president of the Northumbria Irish Dance Society

By: Dasha Werner

Derianna Thomas is the president of the Northumbria Irish Dance Society and she has been part of the Irish Dance Society at Newcastle University since 2014. She started the Northumbrian Irish Dance Society last year. The Northumbrian society offers a variety of Irish dance activities, however, the most interesting one is the Irish Dance Fitness which takes place every Thursday at 18:00 at Northumbria University. Thus, I decided to meet with Derianna and ask her a few questions about this interesting blend of those two seemingly different physical activities.

In the beginning, I decided to ask Derianna a question that concerns most of us when we hear about Irish dance fitness: “Why Irish dance and fitness? It seems strange, Irish dance? Fitness? They are so different!”

Derianna explains that the society started fitness class two years ago and that it is very helpful for the dancers. “Irish dance requires a lot of fitness because it’s so exhausting to do all of the dances for the show, and we’ve got twenty dances for the show this year. We really need to be fit,” she says. “Everyone can come to fitness, and if he does not go to the Irish dance, that’s absolutely fine. But we do find that most people who come probably end up starting the beginner’s class anyway”.

“Is it mostly girls?” I ask, in regard to social prejudices and stereotypes.

“Yes, it’s mostly girls but we do have some boys. At Newcastle University one of our presidents was a boy. He was an amazing Irish dancer. We do have three or four boys this year. It’s exciting when we have boys. The most famous Irish dancer is Michael Flatley, who is a guy, so we’re trying to get boys in”.

“Many people have a conservative view that folk shouldn’t be mixed with modern arts. What’s your opinion on it?”

“I think it’s good when folk culture evolves, especially in what we do in the Irish Dance society. We do a combination of traditional Irish dances and modern music as well. And we’ve got songs by Beyonce and we’ve got music from Michael Flatley’s shows, which aren’t traditional Irish dances either, they are a performance dance which is also different”.

“Before you mentioned you do performances. When and what do you perform?”

“So, our show this year is on the 25th or 26th of March in Domain. Doors open at 19:00, it starts at 19:30 and will continue to about 21:00 or 22:00. And we go through all our shows there. We also do flash mobs around Newcastle and we sometimes film them on our Instagram and Facebook, which is very exciting. We weren’t available to do it because of the pandemic”.

Furthermore, Derianna tells me that every group performs, so that everyone gets a chance, even the beginners. Members perform with a class on the level they think they fit the most, however, advanced classes have more dances, whilst the beginners have approximately three or four dances, which is also a lot for less experienced dancers. What’s interesting, besides being majorly focused on Irish dance, the society also involves itself within the Irish community. “We mainly do the dance, but visit the Irish centre quite a lot”.

Derianna encourages undecided potential members of the society that it is never too late to start Irish dance. She herself didn’t start dancing until she was fourteen or fifteen. “Some members have previous experience, but a lot didn’t start Irish Dance until they were at uni and they worked their way up the classes. Some people did other dances and if you’ve done tap dance before you can skip the beginners”.

The fitness is held by the Irish Dance president of Newcastle University who is very experienced and does fitness for life which brings a lot of professionalism to the class “She makes it fun and the fitness is never boring,” remarks Derianna. It is open for everyone from Newcastle and Northumbria University and a free taster is available. “It’s perfect for taking care of our physical condition after lockdown and it’s so nice to see people in person and exercise with them!” During the pandemic, the classes took place online via Zoom, however, we experienced issues such as lagging, glitches and most important of all – not being able to be that bouncy when dancing”.

“What are the future plans of the Irish Dance Society?”

“We are planning a Christmas dance clip which will be published on YouTube. And of course, St Patrick’s day will be a big day! We will be everywhere! We’re organising it for the first time with NU Student Union. Also, on 8th of April we will celebrate with other dance societies the International Dance Day”.

Encouraged by this positive image and welcoming atmosphere, I decided to participate in one of the Irish Dance Fitness classes. Comfortable sportswear and light sport shoes are required, however, sometimes the members exercise only in their socks. The fitness began with a short warm-up with the aim to prepare every body part for physical exertion. Later on, the teacher moved to a series of exercises that lasted for several seconds, with short breaks between them. We focused on kicking, an essential element of Irish dance, and punching, which stimulates the back muscles. After almost two years of avoiding intense exercise, I managed to survive until the end of the class. I felt very comfortable as nobody judged my physical condition and the teacher didn’t force the participants to do anything beyond their capabilities. If someone couldn’t fully do one of the exercises, an alternative was proposed. When we caught our breath and drank hectolitres of water after the fitness exercises, we started practising Irish dance steps and moves. I’d never tried Irish Dance before, but everything was clearly explained with individual attention paid towards each participant.

The Irish Dance Fitness breaks the stereotype of fitness classes where every weakness is brutally mocked and the goal is achieved through blood, sweat, and tears. Instead, it reminds me of the peaceful and patient Irish attitude towards life. I came back home exhausted but with a huge smile on my face and even bigger satisfaction.

I can firmly recommend Irish Dance Fitness for students who want to try a new type of physical exercise or who want to work on their physical conditioning after lockdown. As with every sports activity, it requires a lot of effort and self-motivation. However, it is a very interesting experience. The Irish Dance Society is open for new members and everyone is welcome. It is never too late to change our lives or make our dreams come true. And who knows, maybe you can become the next Michael Flatley?

Don’t forget to check the Irish Dance Society sites for the latest updates and events!

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