Ireland has offered many beautiful experiences. Over the last five weeks I have lived in, studied in and explored Dublin. Between being a student researcher, dancer and of course a tourist, I have done all I could have within my short month here. I am not sure in which of these areas I have grown the most yet but all that matters is that I have grown all-around. I was able to be solely an observer, a participant-observer, and also a participant in the Dublin dance community.
My fieldwork consisted of taking every opportunity in front of me and never turning down an invitation. I used photography as my main methodology but also incorporated interviewing methods as well as recorded field notes and a personal journal log. Another important methodology that was used was that of triangulation – a technique designed to compare more comprehensive insights into the phenomenon.
For all of my dance data collection during this trip I worked two other women, Laruen and Melissa, that when all together we brought a different insight into what we were experiencing (Reeves et al., 2008). I took a holistic approach to the dance culture and jumped right into participating whenever the time was right. This compared differently to Melissa who was purely an observer and Lauren who was somewhere in the middle between both. From each of these experiences, I have taken something valuable from them all independently.
First Things First, I Am a Tourist
Before coming to Ireland, I believed I was going to see Irish dance around every corner but this was not the case once I arrived. The only time I have encountered a traditional Irish style of dancing was as a tourist. For a total of only three times while being in Dublin, I observed what I originally thought was a staple of dancers in Ireland but I actually had to go out of my way for it! My first weekend in Dublin we had a welcome dinner and a show at the Arlington hotel. Celtic Nights was a pleasant mix between traditional Irish music and dance. Once more halfway through my trip, I went to dinner with my classmates and observed entertainment during dinner at The Church. These shows consisted of traditional music being played while dancers only came on stage every few songs to dance, about 5 or 6 times total.
For anything more, I had to pay! Three classmates and I attended Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre for their 20 anniversary return to Dublin and it felt like an honor. Being a dancer and not having seen the show before, I am happy I can now say I have in Ireland! However to have an experience such as this in Dublin, it was as an observing tourist and not as a student or researcher.
When foreshadowing my trip to Ireland I expected to also partake an Irish dance class for my own enjoyment. It seemed that once I was here, Irish dance was a separate community then what I was introduced to and very rarely did they collide. While speaking with a fellow dancer, Rachel Shiel at Dance House, she expressed how traditional Irish dance was pretty much only in tourist attractions, or deeply embedded in small communities. The curly wigs and pageantry expected was not really done here and that the jobs often required a lot of touring, implying that Irish dance is done more often for international audiences (Personal Communication, July 2, 2015). Therefore, my few encounters of Irish dancing was as a tourist despite my original assumptions.
Being a Dancer in Dublin
One of the first things I had the opportunity to do before we dove into our research was participate in a dance class. I was very fortunate to be able to cross off taking an international dance class from my bucket list. First, I completed a contemporary workshop with a wonderful women named Toni Bravo. We began phrases of movement with activating the ankle, and then progressively moving up the body to the knee joint, followed by the hip. Toni’s teaching was deliberate, isolating certain parts of our bodies. At the end, all of our phrases were then put together into a dance paragraph. I was extremely focused on learning what Toni was teaching and had a loss of self-consciousness. At the same time, I also felt completely in control and operating at my full capacity (Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2005).
I believe wholeheartedly that this state of flow I was able to achieve when I am dancing came from where my passion stems. Toni made opening up to her with my movements and concurring adversity very easy. She used several metaphors and explanations to demonstrate the movements. Right away, she heightened my self-efficacy. By doing this, it meant she boosted my ability to believe I could perform with confidence throughout the class. I was not worried about anyone else around me, I could just let go and just dance. Toni put me in a situation that was easy to cope with despite the fact that I had never met her before and am so far from home.
While in Ireland, I had a transactional approach to coping. This is the dynamic process that involves coping with stress by the interactions between my personal internal (i.e. beliefs about self and goals) and external (i.e. situational) environments (Nichols & Polman, 2007). My knowledge of dance and the students around me, being in the same situation as I, gave me a sense of comfort and encouragement. For once since I started dancing on a college team, it did not matter how I looked and I finally was able to touch root to my inner dancer. It also did not matter what Toni wanted me to do; I was going to do it.
My self-awareness in the studio surprised me. Dance has molded me to be mentally tough in many ways. In the dimension of mindset and attitude, there are two attributes that are very important to mental toughness: belief and focus. These attributes, along with being able to push myself to the limit, an attribute in the dimension of training, set the foreground of my mental toughness (Jones et al., 2007). Other attributes that come naturally to me now are being able to handle pressure, while also being able to handle failure and success.
Towards the end of our trip, Lauren and I also participated in a completely difference experience while taking a week-long ballet class and modern workshop. The ballet class was led by Christine Kono-Pohlmann, who was co-leading the workshop with modern choreographer, John Scott. Christine’s ballet class was for contemporary dancers and by far the best ballet class I have taken in years. For once, it was not about how long you can balance on one leg or how well you execute your technique. Christine shared the importance of making connections in the body and really listening to what your body is telling you while you are moving. Going into this crazy week with a research mindset, I came out as an exhausted and happy dancer.
For John’s modern workshop, I also found myself exploring myself as a dancer and less of a researcher. When we originally told him we were going to sit and observe he flat out told us no. He said to really understand what he was trying to do for the class, we would have to participate and he was right. Our own movement improvisation that was created during his workshop was partner based and essentially only possible with a group of dancers collaborating. Having this experiences after a ballet class, which is more independent, was a complete 180. One day we completed an exercise sharing body weight with the group. Giving all our weight to your class mates, we had to also support others weight and move as a unit.
Witnessing Meet Share Dance
Purely as an outside observer I witnessed creative movement in action with Meet Share Dance (MSD). MSD is a festival that brings together dancers and educators from all over the world to come together and share how they are making strides in the dance community. They all share a wonderful goal to integrate disabled dancers into the everyday dance world. The weekend was one full of workshops, plenty of dancing, a forum with discussion, and concluded with a flash mob in City Centre and a showcase at Dance House.
While observing I captured many beautiful photographs of everyone working together. As much as I was offered to participate, I graciously declined. Having danced my whole life, I was never in a situation to dance with someone with a disability. This was a new experience for me even as an observer. Watching the group gave me a different perspective then I would have had if I was dancing. I had to take a step back, I knew it was not about me and it was not about being a dancer either. There were many words of encouragement from the workshops but this stuck with me. “Take what you need,” said one of the MSD instructors during her workshop, as the dancers were giving active messages to each other. “Tell them what you need, so they can help you,” she finished with. This resonated with me. Sometimes it is not easy to ask for help and this was a little reminder. I realized after only observing in this event, I seen the importance of observing. This was a learning moment for me in many ways, especially as a dancer.
Interviewing Maria Nilsson Waller
Along with participating and observing, I also had to opportunity to be a student again and interview a dancer I had met at Dance House. This interview was almost the Holy Grail of comparing dance and sport to our coursework. One afternoon, my two colleagues and I met with Maria Nilsson Waller, a dancer who is collaborating with a soccer team that was interested in putting on a dance performance. Although, this interview with a key informant was more of a relaxing conversation; I felt as though it embodied more of the student aspect of my data collection and I truly felt like an ethnographer.
During the interview, many topics were brought up relating dancers and athletes to each other. Maria mentioned how the soccer team, after the first day of working with them, asked when they were really going to get to dance. When I heard this, I interpreted this as the team having different goals set than Maria anticipated, more outcome-oriented. The team was more focused on completing the performance and getting it done, rather than learning how to dance and enjoy it. This was is not surprising considering most athletes’ goals are winning or, in this case, putting on the final performance. For every outcome goal an athlete sets, there should be many performance and process goals that lead to that outcome (Weinberg, 2011). Once she explained more about the team, it seemed she had to show them that every class or practice was a part of the process of improving dance technique to ultimately put on the best performance. She really encouraged them to think about dance in other ways and set process goals along the way.
This interview really brought me back to the reality that dance is a sport. I was given proof in her explanations about working with an athletic team, that everything I have been learning this summer involving sports psychology can be related back to dance. It was awesome to hear Maria connecting our course work in a real life situation.
Between all of my experiences, I have realized they all were part of my data collecting process. Besides observing an already scheduled event, it is important to take note that my colleagues and I seemed to get most of the work done in coffee shops during planned or even unplanned meetings then actual events. Throughout our time in the dance community, we came across multiple informants to help us along. Our ethnographies began with gaining entry into a community and identifying gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are people who control access to other group members, group activities, and sources of information (Krane & Baird, 2005). It seemed the more we were introduced to dancers, new informants had developed as well. My colleagues and I were still meeting new dancers until the very end of our time in Dublin.
Luckily, we had gatekeepers that encouraged participation and added to the experience. A downside of participating most of the time though was that I did not have access to my field notes at all times. For many things that I should have taken note of, I was not in a position to where it would have been appropriate to do so, almost in the ‘show must go on’ kind of way. As a college student, I have been taught to put significant value on scientific research. But while interviewing and physically dancing with others, I was able to learn much more otherwise considering the very short amount of time we were here.
If there is one thing this trip and qualitative research have taught me, it is that there are many, many ways to be a dancer. It is about how we internalize what being a dancer means to us that matters the most. I have grown as a student this semester and am very pleased to have grown as a dancer as well. I do not believe I could have experienced the same results if I was still in the United States. Coming to a new place such as Dublin has definitely made this type of research possible. And getting to learn more about myself along the way was only a gift.
Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2007). A framework of mental toughness in the World’s best performers. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 243-264.
Krane, V., & Baird, S. (2005). Using Ethnography in Applied Sport Psychology. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 17, 87-107.
Nicholls, A., & Polman, R. (2007). Coping in sport: A systematic review. Journal of Sports Sciences, 25(1), 11-31.
Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2005). The concept of flow. Handbook of Positive Psychology., lll – Emotion-focused approaches, 89-105.
Reeves, S.; Kuper, A.; Hodges, B. D. (2008). Qualitative Research Methodologies: Ethnography. British Medical Journal, 337(7668), 512-514
Weinberg, R. S. & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology. Human Kinetics, Ch. 15.