Author: Jacob Goldstein
When it comes to hidden talents, students at Occidental could give Superman a run for his money. The college abounds with athletic stars, published authors, and professional singers or musicians—although it would be hard to know about these accomplished students just by walking around campus. Sophomores Alex Bair and Katie Davis are a perfect example of Oxy’s hidden talents. In addition to being bright, accomplished students, Alex and Katie are also Championship-level Irish dancers.
On Sunday, October 18, Bair and Davis competed at the Western Regional Oireachtas Championships, the qualifying competition for the upcoming world championships in Irish dancing. The competition was held at the LAX Marriott, and featured dancers of all ages from the 11 western-most states. Bair and Davis, like all the dancers at the event, are “championship-level” dancers, meaning that they qualified for Oireachtas Championships by either winning or placing at several smaller competitions. The system is analogous to getting a new belt in karate—having won their way through the bottom five levels of competition, the duo have now reached the “black belt” level, so to speak.
Although Davis—a theater major and AHVA minor from Portland, Oregon—has qualified for the Oireachtas Championships in previous years, Sunday marked her first time actually competing in the event. She was pulled into the world of Irish dancing at age seven after watching Riverdance, an Irish dancing show that became a cultural phenomenon during late ’90s. “I always really liked dance, and when I saw Riverdance, I decided to take up Irish dancing.” Davis said. “I just started on a whim. I really liked it-then it took over my life!”
For Bair, a theater major from Denver, Colorado, the competition is nothing new. She has competed at the Oireachtas Championships several times before. Irish dancing has always been a family affair for Bair, who started dancing at the age of eight. “I stated Irish dancing after watching two of my cousins, who have been dancing for 20 years,” she said. “My family is Irish, so it’s a cultural thing as well.”
Competing at the Oireachtas Championships is quite an achievement, so it is not surprising to learn that Bair and Davis balance their college life with a rigorous practice schedule. To prepare for the event, the two have been training between four and six hours per week at The Cleary School of Irish Dance in Pasadena. The instructors at the Cleary School not only help them perfect their steps and technique, but also choreograph their competitive routines (although they train at the same school, their routines are unique). Bair and Davis supplement this training with once-weekly practices in Keck Theater, where they perform their routines for each another.
While the two are pitted against each other in competition, their relationship is anything but a rivalry. The two met each other in class last year, becoming fast friends after discovering their shared passion for Irish dancing. Their practice sessions in Keck are as much about moral support as offering critiques, and Bair and Davis remain close friends outside of the dance world.
Though both Bair and Davis have been training and competing for over 10 years, their love of Irish dancing remains strong. For Bair, the allure of Irish dancing derives from its mixture of physical benefits and cultural heritage. “It is a good form of exercise and the dance form I found that I’m the best at. It also has a lot of cultural significance.” Bair said. She also noted that the sport’s unique competitive structure has allowed her to remain motivated, even after years of monotonous training sessions. “Irish dancing is a lot more interesting because it has a competitive aspect. You can set goals and achieve them, which is harder to do in other dance forms.”
For Davis, the artistry and elegance of Irish dancing is enough to counteract the struggles of balancing training sessions with school and work. “I’ve just always thought it’s a very beautiful dance form,” Davis said. “I’ve always really loved Irish dancing. It’s challenging and physically demanding, but I love it still. When I started college, I just wasn’t willing to give it up.”
A few days before the Oireachtas Championships, both Bair and Davis expressed the fact that they were not focused on winning—they simply wanted to do their best and not let their nerves get to them. While this is somewhat of a modest outlook, it nevertheless accurately describes the duo. Were Bair and Davis focused solely on the trophies, they most likely would have burned out long ago. Rather, they compete—and will continue to compete—because they love Irish dancing.
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