To date, I felt like my best truly sean-nos dance moment had been with Billy at the Atlanta Irish Fest in 2014. He played a lovely reel, specifically written as a dance tune, and I was on a great little dance-board (bouncy and responsive) and had a monitor perfectly capturing the accordion sound. I had spent the concert up until my solo standing in the back, focusing on the sound of the accordion and nothing else. By the time I went onstage I had complete tunnel vision of the ears. I knew eyes were on me, but they were outside whatever bubble of focus I had created for myself. They were mere witnesses. I was speaking TO the accordion music and ABOUT the accordion music. I was in a complete flow state.
Flow states are elusive, and hard to reproduce. While some people find comfort in performance, I like to find the thing that takes my mind away from self-consciousness, namely the floor, the tune itself, the vibrations coming from the instrument, or the musician's "voice" in his/her phrasing or ornamentation.
On a really good floor I can always start playing around with the sound I am getting from my feet, or using the bounce and response of the wood to create movement. When the music is close, or audible, it makes my blood start to move and I simply can't stand still, because the music literally moves through me. I become like a channel. When I know the tune, I simply play around with the way I hear it, or I can listen to the way the musician is playing it and mimic his ornamentation.
But on Saturday I sat far away and had to focus on my dancers' performances the whole afternoon to make sure I knew what needed work for Ennis. I hadn't stood on the floor and tested the sound, which was quieter and deader than I'd hoped (hotel parquet floors are designed for withstanding high-heels and spilled drinks, not giving good sonic feedback to percussive dancers). And the un-amplified accordion was far enough away I couldn't feel the music. I asked for a "reel" and got a reel I didn't know.
I had prepared myself to not plan. I had prepared myself not to "try", but just to dance. And to demonstrate my ability to respond to the music the way true sean-nos dancing does. And that is what I got. Because there was nothing coming in. At all.
So I returned to my basics. And I did have an advantage to keep me out of the rabbit hole of self-consciousness: I knew the judge was from Ballinasloe, Co Galway.
When I dance for someone who is from Galway I always feel like I don't have to try so hard. They KNOW what sean-nos dancing is. They know it's a thing, and where it comes from. I don't have to try to convince them it's real, or keep them entertained with something that they expect to be competition style step dance. I knew that this judge would know what he was looking at, and things that feel "basic" to an uniformed audience member would be understood to be "traditional" (as they should).
To say I "won" feels...odd. It feels better to say that I am really happy for the recognition. I have traditional steps and rhythms that have been gifted to me through my teachers and fellow dancers in the style. It was nice to hear that even in a vacuum those things are recognizable in my body.