Dancing for her Namesake
We all had grand dreams when we were kids.
For some, they dreamed of traveling the far reaches of space as astronauts, while others just wanted to pilot the rocket ship. Others wanted to be cowboys, firemen, or police officers; models, singers, and movie stars being not far behind. Marine biologists – primarily for swimming with dolphins, no doubt – and paleontology flood the minds of youngsters each and every day. On a much more practical scale for dreaming are the artists, nurses, or teachers.
Yet for some, there are other dreams. Dreams of hard work and determination; of learning new things and honing a skill for the betterment of a sport and an art fill their minds. Some overlook the hard work and seemingly impossible outcomes – some just see the vision and the passion. It becomes natural and like breathing to them, an extension of who they are – almost as if the dream itself becomes a member of the family.
For Ireland Rose Langer, that dream was – and is – Irish dancing.
Ireland Rose Langer grew up in St. Michael her entire life, and graduated STMA in 2018. At 18 years old, she’s as starry-eyed and optimistic as you’d expect any recently-graduated young woman to be. What’s more, she’s all smiles and giggles as she seats herself beside her mom, Sheila, to talk about her “absolute favorite thing” – Irish dancing.
“I’ve been Irish dancing since I was eleven,” Ireland Rose explained. “It’s been such a foundational part of my life – I can’t imagine where I’d be without it in my life.”
For her, it all began at the Landmark Center in St. Paul, where she witnessed Irish dancing for the first time during the renowned St. Patrick’s Day celebration. She explained that the movement, music, and dedication of the dances were inspiring, even at 11 years old – and she just knew she had to learn how.
So, it wasn’t long after the celebration that Ireland Rose enrolled in lessons, and she discovered that not only was the dancing “cool,” but it was also fulfilling – and, she wasn’t bad at it, either.
Her mother, Sheila Fallon-Langer, chuckled as her daughter nonchalantly shared that the early experience was “cool, so I kept going.”
According to Wikipedia.com, Irish dance, in its current state, came to be from various influences, such as French quadrilles and English country dancing throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The dances themselves were taught by “traveling dance masters,” which ventured across Ireland throughout this period. Once the dances were expressed and passed along, separate dance forms developed according to regional practice and differing purposes – such as social dances, performance-based dances, and competition.
Ireland Rose explained that the sport itself has five competitive levels, beginning with competition that would propel a dancer forward. Within the first level, there are five separate dances to be mastered, and then from there, a dancer continues to compete until a championship level is within grasp. And, once mastering the championship levels, any dancer may begin to earn titles and national recognition.
Perhaps the biggest motivation for practice and dedication is the Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, or “The World Championships,” which is held in Ireland each year. Ireland Rose has had the honor to perform in Dublin a number of times, starting by placing 10th in her first competition in 2012, and just recently earning herself 6th place.
“The goal has always been to move higher and higher up at Worlds,” she shared. “Every dance that I work on is in hope of going higher up that ladder. The competition, the athleticism, and the work are just bonus points.”
While Irish dance does have its solo platforms, Ireland Rose has had the privilege to work in teams, as well. While solo stepping is her favorite aspect of the dance, the values she learns from working on a team are irreplaceable. “You learn how to work with people whose ideals don’t fit in with yours. You learn compromise, and how to trust, and how to work together, even when things are really hard. I think that’s so important in life, and it’s a skill I’m thankful to have.”
Specifically, Ireland Rose enjoys soft shoe dancing, which focuses on kicks and jumps, while it’s alternative, hard-shoe dancing, is far more traditional and emphasizes rhythm and traditionalism, as well as power and steps, and how the shoes sound, which she referred to as “noise judgment.”
Ireland Rose explained that one of the reasons she loved Irish dance so much is that there is a story in each and every dance – a mode of storytelling that has been fostered and perfected since the 18th and 19th century. What’s more, she’s learned a lot about herself, and what she is capable of under pressure, while fostering work ethic and independent confidence, too.
“This takes a lot of time and dedication,” Ireland Rose shared. “You have to be willing to sacrifice stuff in your life that other people think would be fun to get good at it. Sometimes it’s meant missing school, so you have to work even harder to keep your grades up.”
One of the biggest things Ireland Rose is teaching herself is to independently train – while working with coaches and trainers, she is striving to develop a better understanding of the element of dance without necessarily needing a trainer or a coach. She’s taken personal control of her diet and exercise routines, all in hope of working towards a big goal she’s greatly anticipating in April.
April will usher in the opportunity for her to study in Dublin, where she will be working with professional Irish dancers in “the homeland” with people who have dedicated their lives to Irish dance at a professional and athletic level, and that understand the history and cultural significance of the art. She is more than excited, evidenced by the grin and the excited squirming in her seat.
“I am beyond excited to study in Dublin with local dancers,” she said. “Seeing the history of the dance come alive, while getting to work with experts, is the greatest opportunity. I’ve already started studying some of the things they’ve suggested, while working on travel details. It couldn’t come any slower!”
Preparation for the Worlds 2019 involves practice each day – she spends one to two hours each day working on steps and choreography, and that’s not even mentioning physical training, like cardio and strength. Langer works with a coach one to two days a week, while also attempting to take things into her own hands by videoing herself and breaking down her movements.
Sheila, Langer’s mother, explained that the dance has completely changed their life, and they couldn’t be happier. “It’s been a fun journey, and it’s been wonderful to watch her grow. Her first competition, well, we didn’t think she’d want to do it again when she got up on stage,” Sheila shared, smiling. “But, when she’d finished and came rushing off stage, we just knew she’d do this for a long time, and this is what she’d do.”
On her second competition, Ireland Rose qualified to perform at the Irish Opener, which is one of the biggest competitions within the sport. In what would be her third performance ever, Ireland Rose made 4th place, and Sheila commented that the achievement was “it!” From then on, the family knew that Irish dancing was what their daughter would do.
“I couldn’t imagine her doing anything else,” Sheila said.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Ireland Rose replied. “This has opened my eyes to an entire new world, a new culture – there are so many opportunities for people, so many different places. Being exposed to the ‘different’ in the world has really taught me a lot about life here, and how fortunate I am.”
In addition to her performance and competition, Ireland Rose has also danced with bands across the state, including the Nashville Celts, where she performed solo. Twice, she’s been to New York, where she participated in a “flash dance mob” dance with a group that is organized to appear in Times Square. To the fact she’s been on national and global TV, Ireland Rose can only smile and shrug, commenting that the sport is often televised and that it “isn’t a big deal.”
Ireland Rose dances under the CRN Organization, which is the organization she’s been under since she began dancing. Though not a sponsorship, it’s where she has learned training and is “enrolled.” She’ll be studying at Naomh Fionnbarra School of Irish Dancing when she travels to Dublin in April.
Currently, Ireland Rose is enrolled at St. Thomas University where she is underway with her second semester. While undecided in her major, she’s sticking to what many have called the trade of her namesake – Irish dancing.