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Undergraduate Degree in Irish Dance Education

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Irish dance education; Irish dance strength and conditioning; Ellen Gahl Waller

Choosing which college to attend can be a tough decision, much less the decision on your major. When you are at the end of your high school career, “where are you going to school?” and “what is your major?” are questions that come up nonstop from friends and family. My experience was no different. I chose to attend Ohio State - it was 2 hours away from home so I could come back whenever I wanted to visit family or train with my dance teacher. But I had no idea what I wanted to study. The only thing I knew was that I loved Irish dance and was curious about the effects various training philosophies had on your performance, the causes of injuries in ID and how to prevent them, psychology of an Irish dancer, and how the history of Irish dance can help inform it’s future. I was drawn to the basic kinesiology, business and performance art classes…but how was that a major, much less a career? So I started out undecided and eventually declared (and soon after left) a major in Communications. I searched and searched through different majors, none of which seemed just right. Until I came across Ohio State’s Personalized Study Program. From Ohio State’s website The Personalized Study Program (PSP) is intended for undergraduate students who wish to pursue a major that falls outside an established academic department or program. Students seeking to pursue a PSP should plan to study in a focused area outside the boundaries of a traditional academic major. By definition, a PSP is interdisciplinary, incorporating course work from at least two, and sometimes three or more, different departments. The PSP is best suited for students who want to plan, design, and complete a major not otherwise available.

Yes, please!

I could incorporate all the various components of interest and create a major in Irish Dance Education. But first I had to find an advisor to work alongside me. I was met with rejection after rejection - the pursuit of an Irish Dance Education degree almost 20 years ago was not one that advisors saw as having longevity. But I was determinied. Then I met with an advisor in the Department of Kinesiology and Exercise Science who happened to have a neighbor who was a competitive Irish dancer. Through her background, and by following along with her Irish dancing neighbor, she was well aware of the training intensity, high risk of injury, and mentality of an Irish dancer. She was in. The Irish Dance Education program we designed had 5 pillars: Kinesiology The study of human mechanics was at the forefront of the program. Understanding how the Irish dancing body moves and how it can be effected was key. Education I wanted to pass the information I learned to generations to come. In order to be an effective educator, it was critical that I understand key principles of education and effective teaching strategies. Business Not only did I want to be able to learn, explore and teach the subject matter, I wanted to be able to manage the “behind the scenes”. I wanted to develop the basic skills and techniques needed to manage a business from finance to marketing and everything in between. Irish History Knowing the history of Irish dance can help us understand the present and inform the future. Dance Performance Studying dance techniques, choreographers, and performance preparation across dance forms broadened my perspective as I learned from other genres of dance and what we could adapt to Irish dance. We developed the program by selecting a class schedule for each pillar, making sure to meet all requirements for credit hours and general education classes. Then the rest was history! My parents always supported my ambitions but I can only imagine their hesitation when I told them I was creating my own degree in Irish Dance Education. When I started Target Training, my Dad was the first to acknowledge, “I never thought you’d use that degree so well!”.


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Ellen Gahl Waller Irish dance strength and conditioning

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