Miss Sierra Nevada: What I learned in Irish Dance Class

IMG_5136Hi there! You might remember me from a few posts ago…My name is Carley Ryckman and I am Miss Sierra Nevada (check me out on Instagram! @MissSierraNevada). Happy St. Patrick’s Day! As “the Irish Dancer” of the Miss California class of 2015, I thought I’d step in and tell you a little bit about what I learned in Irish Dance class.

For much of my life, St. Patrick’s Day was the busiest holiday ever. I most certainly missed any and every St. Patrick’s Day celebration at my school to visit other people’s schools, retirement centers, Girl Scout Troops, house parties, places of worship, shopping centers… I was one of those little curly tops that showed up, danced, and left before they handed around the shamrock cookies. While you were searching for the leprechaun that was hiding in the classroom art closet, I was dancing.

I often (unexpectedly) danced at peoples’ weddings, a couple of bar and bat mitzvahs, people’s living rooms, graduation parties–let’s just say, I began to expect it–because, to the outside world, Irish Dancers are one-in-a-million and telling someone you’re an Irish dancer is like telling someone you have a pet unicorn, they just have to see it. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For all intents and purposes, Irish dance was my first love and made me the person that I am today.

(IMG_0867Sadly) I don’t have a single Irish bone in my body. One spring afternoon when I was four years old, my family decided to take my brother and I to the local Swedish festival and, lo and behold, the Irish Dancers were there (I mean… totally logical, right?). Once we picked our jaws up off of the floor, we signed up for dance class. Or we tried, at least. I was too little and had to wait until I was five.

So, just days after my fifth birthday, I traded in my ballet, tap, and jazz shoes and hung up my little pink leotard for ghillies, poodle socks, and curls. I never looked back. I spent about 6 days a week for roughly 13 years of my life, walking in and out of the doors of the Irish Dance studio. The walls of that studio saw a skinny-legged, glasses-wearing little girl through her “one, two, threes”, to her first feis, her first pair of heavy shoes (and the blisters—and tears—that accompanied them), to her first solo dress, a fractured back (complete with 9 months of brace-wearing), a torn hamstring, a few twisted ankles, regionals practices, nationals practices, a performance on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and off to college… But in that studio, I learned far more than just how to Irish Dance.

FIMG_1412or almost the entirety of my dancing career, my grandmother drove me to my classes. My studio was about an hour’s drive (no traffic) from my house. My house was about an hour’s drive from my grandma’s house. So, yes, multiple times a week, my grandma drove FOUR HOURS ROUND TRIP to get me to dance. I don’t think I fully appreciated this until I became a commuter myself: her quiet enthusiasm towards my dream. In those moments, especially reflecting back now, I learned what it meant (and felt like) to be wholly dedicated to something (or in my grandma’s case, someone) that you love. I was not, by any means, the best Irish Dancer. And I lost far more times than I won. But, win or lose, come Monday we would get back in that car and make the trip. Me, in the back seat with my homework, my grandma, faithfully braving the freeways. That trip taught me that, if you want something, if you love something, you don’t let anything get in your way, you get back up, and you keep on going. My grandma drove me to class almost daily until she was diagnosed with colon cancer, and then I drove to class (a freshly licensed sixteen year old) while we talked on the phone. Her dedication to my dream of being the best Irish Dancer I could be, taught me what true love and dedication really was.

Earlier I listed a few of the more major injuries I faced in my 13 years of competitive Irish Dance. This sport—yes, SPORT—taught me true athleticism. Having been a competitive Irish Dancer, I have no greater respect than that I have for a true athlete. The kind that throws themselves back in the pool, on the court, on the field, or the dance floor, day after day, no matter how tired, no matter how sore, no matter how fed up, for the love of the sport.

IMG_1710In 2010, researchers for the Journal of Dance Medicine and Science concluded that the contact force at the ankle joint for an Irish Dancer was 14 times their body weight. For me, that’s a casual 2,000 pounds. You’ve likely seen Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, or a performance from your local Irish Dance School but unless you have a family member or close friend who Irish Dances, you probably just don’t understand the world of competitive Irish Dancing. A lot happens behind the crazy dresses, huge wigs, and poodle socks. Like other athletes, Irish Dancers spend pretty much every waking moment, outside of school, in the studio. And they are quite a bit younger than your average Olympic athlete. Three to five hours a night for six to seven days a week is commonplace. What is even more common is the passion behind that time in the studio. Blisters on your feet? Swollen ankles? Nothing some bandages can’t fix. More times than I am willing to admit, I (and absolutely all of my fellow Irish Dancers) completely overlooked serious injuries in order to continue dancing. While I’m not saying this is a good idea, it is definitely the time where I realized what it meant to be passionate.

I have a vivid memory of my nine year old feet burning after a day of dance class and getting into my grandmother’s car to go home. Upon taking off my shoes and seeing my feet (For fear of terrifying you, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination), I sobbed the entire way home. My mummified little feet were back for more the very next day…I definitely remember what that next day and the rest of the week felt like too. It was moments like that where I knew I was dancing for the love of the sport.

FullSizeRenderReflecting back on my time Irish dancing, both in and out of the studio, I realize how lucky I was to have been able to dedicate so much time to something I truly loved to do while learning to be driven, dedicated, hardworking, and brave. I was never close to becoming a world champion or a star in Riverdance but that really doesn’t matter because Irish dance taught me to always work harder and want more and I wouldn’t trade the lessons learned in Irish Dance class for anything.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post today! If you make it up to Fresno this June (or watch the Miss California webcast, perhaps) you might just see the not-so-Irish Irish dancer perform. Now you know how she got there. While I may not be Irish, nothing makes my heart race quite like the accordion and the occasional bagpipe… Have a happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day! Be nice to your local Irish Dancers, today is crazy for them!

Miss San Diego: St. Patrick’s Day Cake Pops!

Get cooking with Diamond, Miss San Diego! Today she shows you how to make green and white cake pops in honor of St. Patrick's Day!


The Truth about St. Patrick’s Day

10993495_10206239720577130_5359545825965134545_nBeing Irish, I take great pride in a certain holiday on March 17thSt. Patrick’s Day! Growing up I always wore green, so I would not get pinched, and dined on corned beef, and cabbage. I even took time to search for 4 leaf clovers in the grass for luck. Now that another St. Patrick’s Day is approaching, I wanted to share some interesting facts and traditions, and answer the following question: What’s the real story behind Saint Patrick?

The real Saint Patrick wasn’t Irish (gasp!)

Contrary to everything your intuition has taught you, St. Patrick was actually English. He was born in Britain around 350 A.D. and probably lived in Wales.

According to Brad Hawkins, a professor of religious studies who spoke with the Daily Forty-Niner, St. Patrick was kidnapped around the age of 16 and brought to Ireland where he was sold into slavery. He tended sheep for about 10 years before he escaped to England. There he took refuge in a monastery in Gaul for 12 years. That’s where he became a priest, and later took his teachings back to Ireland.

St. Patrick’s Day as we know it – the parades, the fanfare, the dressing up – began in America.

The day commemorates Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland, as well as celebrating the heritage and culture of the Irish in general. In the early days of the U.S., Irish Americans who wanted to celebrate their shared identity started St. Patrick’s Day with banquets at elite clubs in cities like Boston, New York and Philadelphia. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade took place in 1762 and was common by the mid-19th century.

Saint Patrick didn’t rid Ireland of snakes.

One legend often associated with St. Patrick is that he drove the snakes out of Ireland during one of his sermons. Legend has it that St. Patrick sent the serpents into the sea, but snakes are not actually found in post-glacial Ireland because of the country’s geographical position.

“It's admittedly an unlikely tale,” National Geographic writer James Owen notes. “Ireland is one of only a handful of places worldwide—including New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland, and Antarctica—that Indiana Jones and other snake-averse humans can visit without fear.”

The chance that you’ll ever find a four-leaf clover is 1 in 10,000.

The rarity of four-leaf clovers suggests a possible recessive gene that appears very seldom in nature. Those fortunate enough to find a four-leaf clover are said to gain good luck. The shamrock is certainly a popular Irish symbol, but it’s not the symbol of Ireland. The harp was historically associated with the Irish and appears on Irish gravestones and manuscripts.

Corned beef and cabbage isn’t an Irish traditional dish.

A dish of corned beef and cabbage, while delicious, is more American than Irish. According to 9News, the dish is a variation of a traditional Irish meal that included bacon. But because early Irish-Americans were poor, beef was a cheaper alternative, and cabbage happened to be a springtime vegetable.

There are more Irish people living in the U.S. than in Ireland

The population of Ireland is roughly 4.2 million, but there are an estimated 34 million Americans with Irish ancestry. This partly has to do with the potato famine between 1845 and 1852 that had millions of Irish fleeing the country for the U.S.

As you can see, St Patrick’s Day may not be what you thought it was or what society thinks it is. However, you will still find me wearing green and eating corned beef and cabbage on March 17th. This year I will also be celebrating in a very special way because my family and I will be traveling to Ireland on March 16th!

“May your days be many and your troubles be few.

May all God's blessings descend upon you.

May peace be within you may your heart be strong.

May you find what you're seeking wherever you roam.”


Miss National Orange Show 2015

Lauren Brady

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