More than a poofy skirt and curls

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More than a poofy skirt and curls

“[Irish dance] definitely strengthens my nerves and helps calm my brain down,” Morgan Hooker, freshman, said. “I’m stressed with school too, so I can use some of the techniques that I use at dance with school. Without Irish dance I don’t think I’d be as mentally strong.”

“[Irish dance] definitely strengthens my nerves and helps calm my brain down,” Morgan Hooker, freshman, said. “I’m stressed with school too, so I can use some of the techniques that I use at dance with school. Without Irish dance I don’t think I’d be as mentally strong.”

Sophia Beckmann

“[Irish dance] definitely strengthens my nerves and helps calm my brain down,” Morgan Hooker, freshman, said. “I’m stressed with school too, so I can use some of the techniques that I use at dance with school. Without Irish dance I don’t think I’d be as mentally strong.”

Sophia Beckmann

Sophia Beckmann

“[Irish dance] definitely strengthens my nerves and helps calm my brain down,” Morgan Hooker, freshman, said. “I’m stressed with school too, so I can use some of the techniques that I use at dance with school. Without Irish dance I don’t think I’d be as mentally strong.”

Two hundred eyes rest on Morgan Hooker, freshman. Three sets of these eyes belong to judges who are sitting, pens in hand, bodies leaning forward, eagerly waiting to point out every one of her imperfections. Morgan looks over her right shoulder to find her competition – two other dancers. Her nerves begin to kick in, and she feels her throat tighten and head start spinning. Before she knows it, the performance is underway.

According to Morgan, people commonly think Irish dancing does not require much skill. But Morgan, who has been Irish dancing for seven years, says the sport is quite the opposite.

“It’s just a misconception that [Irish dance] is easy,” Morgan said. “It’s hard because you are supposed to make it look easy, but it requires a lot of strength and flexibility. You have to be very technical with it. It takes a lot of different muscle groups.”

When Morgan was young, her family attended a Irish dance show at the Fox Theater called “Riverdance.” Morgan said all the sounds and formations interested her older sisters. This inspired her older sisters to join the Clarkson School of Irish Dance, and when Morgan was old enough, they persuaded her to follow their lead.

I like being a part of a team that can make something visually appealing, but technically perfect at the same time.”

— Morgan Hooker

“I like that it’s different from a lot of other sports,” Morgan said. “I like being a part of a team that can make something visually appealing, but technically perfect at the same time.”

Morgan competes about once a month at both regional and national competitions. They typically last from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but the dance itself only lasts a couple of minutes. Morgan said there is not only a lot of waiting, but also a fair amount of nerves.

“For a long time I wasn’t able to control my nerves,” Morgan said. “It would affect the way I would perform. Everybody gets them, but for me they seemed a lot worse because I had anxiety about how I was going to do.”

Morgan said she has learned to deal with these nerves by focusing on her sets and blocking out the other dancers. Candace Hooker, Morgan’s mother, noticed the positive effect Morgan’s nerves have had on her.

“It’s made her mentally strong,” Candace said. “Irish dance is extremely competitive and commanding. She’s learned how to compete, to take the good days and bad days, and keep moving forward.”

Candace said numerous dancers spend three hours, five to six days a week in the studio perfecting their techniques. Due to all this time dancers spend preparing, judges do not grade easy. Dancers do not get much praise from judges.

“In Irish dance, there’s not a lot of positivity,” Candace said. “When you do well at a competition, you still get notes from the judges. [The notes are] 95% ‘this was wrong.’ So even if you have a trophy at the end, you are just constantly working at getting better, [which is how] she’s learned how to deal with a lot of negative and constructive feedback and not a lot of ‘wow you are doing great.’”

Chris Hooker, Morgan’s father, has noticed Irish dance’s effect on Morgan’s life. He said the challenges of the sport have helped develop her hard work ethic.

“It’s not one of those sports where you earn a participation award,” Chris said. “You have to work for earning medals and moving up, so she’s learned to work hard, make goals for herself and get there.”

Morgan and her parents acknowledge how busy her schedule is. She balances Irish dance with cross country and school. She said even though accomplishing all this is hard on her body, it helps lower her stress, which is why she has no desire to quit dancing anytime soon.

“[Irish dance] definitely strengthens my nerves and helps calm my brain down,” Morgan said. “I’m stressed with school too, so I can use some of the techniques that I use at dance with school. Without Irish dance I don’t think I’d be as mentally strong.”