Mar 01, 2019

Blake Cregg-Wedmore Connects Irish Heritage Through Dancing

By Lori Draz and Blake Cregg-Wedmore

Blake Cregg-Wedmore Dancing

Welcome to Teen Scene. Each month our young authors write, in their own voice, stories that will educate and inform fellow students and parents. If you are a teen who would like to write your story, contact The Journal. We’ll help you polish it up, so don’t worry, let’s just get to sharing.

This month’s author is 13 year-old Blake Cregg-Wedmore, a young lady who is proud of her Irish heritage and passionate about dancing. Being part of a dance team has built not just her physical strength, but her strength of character. Dancing allows her to express her heritage while building strong friendships and the accomplishment of working together to achieve a goal. This St. Patrick’s Day, keep your eyes open for Blake who will be dancing everywhere, including the Rumson St. Patrick’s Day parade. Here is Blake’s story:

Imagine, for a moment, you are striding across the wooden floor on a stage that seems to tower over the audience. The music starts, a lilting tune that lights a spark of excitement within you. Adrenaline races through your body like a car speeding down an empty highway. You ready yourself, and then, you begin. Your legs carry you across the stage, powerful, as you leap and spin and glide. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for; every bruise and blister and cut and ache has readied you for this performance. Gleefully, you realize you don’t even need to try to smile. The pure joy you feel gleams through on its own. Time seems to slow. Every jump feels as if you are suspended in the air — a bird frozen between the beat of its wings. Your smile becomes a little stronger. You always wondered what it would feel like to fly. Just as fast, the dance is over. The moment is broken, and once again, you are spun back into reality. You bow to the adjudicator and step back into your place in line, watching the other competitors dance as you wait for the judge to finalize their rankings.

This is how Irish dancing feels for me. The whole experience is magical, from arriving at the competition venue to the excitement of the awards ceremony at the day’s end. Irish dance has been an integral part of my life since my first class at 8 years old. Looking back on my first recital, I remember watching wide-eyed as more experienced dancers performed. Now, five years later, it’s amazing to think about how much I’ve grown as a dancer, an athlete and a person.

Irish dancing is so much more than what the average person believes it to be. Often, the words “Irish dance” brings to mind images of leprechauns hopping and bouncing around aimlessly, and when trying to replicate it, people start doing some variation of a “Cotton-Eye Joe” dance. In reality, an immense amount of strength is needed both physically and mentally in order to be a great Irish dancer. The intricate footwork and jaw-dropping jumps that are known to captivate onlookers require full-body strength and flexibility for optimal speed, power, stamina, agility and sharpness. In addition, you have to be prepared mentally at every competition; block out any nerves and doubts you may have. It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel your best on competition day, if your ankle hurts or if anything else goes wrong. When you get out on that stage, you must give 110 percent effort. You hold your shoulders back and your head high, regardless of whether or not you truly feel confident.

Dance has made me stronger both physically and mentally, in more ways than one. Competitions are only one aspect of Irish dance, and another amazing part is all the incredible and interesting friends you get to make, both in and out of your school. The friends I’ve made in dance are some of the kindest, funniest and all around best people I know. We have so much fun together –  cheering for one another, watching the awards ceremony together and eating together afterward. We all help each other improve and grow. I have also made great friends with dancers from other schools, even dancers from other countries! On several occasions, dancers from Ireland have traveled to compete at our major events. It is fascinating to see how their choreography and style compare to ours and to hear what life is like in Ireland. In addition, my dance teacher, Ms. Gillian Daly, at the Jig Factory in Atlantic Highlands, is a very important person in my life. She is both an amazing teacher and an amazing person. She has helped me become the dancer I am today, and she makes it a point to create a sense of community and fun in the studio. Irish dance has brought me close to so many great people, and I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

There is a rich, fascinating culture and history found in the roots of Irish dance. What started as Celtic rituals interwoven with religious dances evolved into more structured pieces and finally began to resemble modern Irish dance with the development of Dancing Masters in the 18th century. Dancing Masters traveled between towns and taught dance to peasants throughout the country. Group dances allowed every pupil in the class to be involved and the most talented students were given the title of “soloist” and were able to showcase their dancing individually. Many times, there was great rivalry between the Dancing Masters of different areas, which led to the modern day competitions.  Today, we call these competitions feis (pronounced “fesh”), which means festival in Gaelic.

Through Irish dancing, I have learned a great deal about my cultural heritage and history. It’s wonderful to think that something I love to do now was also an important part of my ancestors’ lives. Irish dance has brought me closer to my friends, my family, my culture and my best self. Now, I hope that you will be able to appreciate Irish dancing for what it truly is: a marvelous display of strength, athleticism, culture, pride and, most importantly, happiness.