Colin Dunne in his Concert. Photo by Maurice Gunning, Courtesy Dunne

Colin Dunne Is in an "Intense Relationship with Dance"

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.

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5 Self-Soothing Exercises You Can Do to Calm Your Anxiety

Physical stillness can be one of the hardest things to master in dance. But stillness in the bigger sense—like when your career and life are on hold—goes against every dancers' natural instincts.

"Dancers are less comfortable with stillness and change than most," says TaraMarie Perri, founder and director of Perri Institute for Mind and Body and Mind Body Dancer. "Through daily discipline, we are trained to move through space and are attracted to forward momentum. Simply put, dancers are far more comfortable when they have a sense of control over the movements and when life is 'in action.' "

To regain that sense of control, and soothe some of the anxiety most of us are feeling right now, it helps to do what we know best: Get back into our bodies. Certain movements and shapes can help ground us, calm our nervous system and bring us into the present.

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