My relationship with dance has been an ever-shifting thing. I grew up in Birmingham, England, to Irish parents, and dance was wrapped up in my second-generation Irish identity. In the 1980s, it was difficult to feel at ease with being both English and Irish—you felt like you had to choose which side you were on. Everything about dance was my channel for proclaiming my Irishness.
But those nationalistic agendas fell away around 20 years ago when I moved to Ireland after performing in Riverdance. That was probably the ultimate statement of Irish identity, and as a result, I was oversaturated with it and pulled away toward a more solo and personal practice. In 2001 I got my master's degree in contemporary dance.
Now at 51, I'm just following my impulses. I'm not trying to make Irish dance more accessible, or update it, or break boundaries. I'm not waving the flag—I'm just looking for what's of interest to me. Somehow, that always leads me back to the studio.
I'm in an intense relationship with dance. I don't mean to over-romanticize it. Sometimes the relationship is functional and sometimes it's entirely dysfunctional. Some days I go to the studio and leave completely frustrated. But I know myself through it—I feel alive and connected through it.
I often wonder how long I can sustain this. I don't really want to be dancing into my 60s, but I said that in my 40s about my 50s, and here I am. You change your expectations over time. Sometimes I feel a sense of shame or embarrassment when I run into people I haven't seen for a long time and they ask me if I'm still dancing. It makes me feel defensive, and I start to ask myself why I'm still doing it. Should I have grown out of it? I guess I continue to dance because I can. But honestly, I haven't really found any other way to live my life that nourishes me in the same way.