While a lot of dancers view the transition to college the time to hang up the dance shoes, Rory Beglane knew he couldn’t give up Irish dance. His move to Villanova University meant he could no longer go to classes at the Inishfree School of Irish Dance, so he practiced with the Coyle School of Irish Dance throughout his time in college, taking home the title at the Mid-Atlantic Oireachtas and placing 7th at the World Championships. Outside of his incredible competitive accomplishments, he has been instrumental in the collegiate Irish dance scene. In 2013, Rory and his fellow co-captain of the Villanova University Irish dance team hosted the first ever Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival with eight teams of college dancers—an event that has grown to host 17 teams in 2018. Despite graduating in 2016, Rory still helps run the competition every year, on top of teaching at Inishfree and studying for his TCRG. We caught up with Rory to learn about his experiences competing in college!
What was dancing through college like for you?
Dancing through college was a complete roller coaster. I thought I was hanging up my shoes more times than I could count, to the point that my friends knew better than to believe me when I said, “I think this might be my last competition.” College really challenged me to reflect on what Irish dance meant to me. I struggled with it being my entire identity on campus, then came to embrace it. It all was for the best as it allowed me to grow as a person and a dancer, and my best results came around my junior year of college as a bonus to staying with it.
What inspired you to give the collegiate Irish dance community a much-needed boost?
The initial idea of the Intercollegiate Irish Dance Festival started out as just a quick reaction to the Irish dance team advisor asking what Irish dance can do to stand out amongst all other dance teams on campus. My co-captain, Mattisan Rowan, and myself just did it as an idea that would give our team a signature event. It quickly became a passion once I realized what we were on to. We had 8 teams the first year which really showed us how successful this could be, but the significance of the competition really hit me when two parents came up to me, crying, saying how much it meant to them to witness their children dancing. When reflecting, I realize how many parents never see their children dance again after they leave for college. As any dancer can attest to, the parents are as invested as the dancer between long car rides, late night practices, and giving up your weekends for a feis. After the first year, I teamed up with my good friend Zack Warshaw and we hit the ground running. Villanova had 17 teams this past year, and we’re not done yet.
What do you love about Irish dance?
I could write a few pages on this question alone. But I think what I love the most is how I really feel Irish dance is the number one thing in my life that I chose to do just for me. It was my passion that I decided to keep up with all these years. As a teenage boy, I had several moments where I thought about quitting from people mocking me or not feeling like I fit in with such low male representation. I already mentioned some of the struggles of dancing in college. But 20 years later I’m still here, and now I’m helping out with teaching at my dance school and I could not love it more. What Irish dance has meant to me and the way it has shaped my life is what I love most about it, more so than any achievement or award.
Do you think your experience as a competitive Irish dancer has helped you with your experience through the collegiate competitive circuit?
I absolutely think my competitive experience helped me with the college circuit. I’d even say it was essential to the success. That isn’t to say it would not have been possible without a competitive background—but in order to have the event run in a way that people across the country can appreciate and in a way that IDTANA/CLRG would embrace, it was necessary. Mattisan and I went through a lot of emails and letters to the organizations to ensure competitive dancers could participate without risk of suspension. Although many dancers are done competing by college, we did not want to exclude the dancers still competing, especially as we have seen leadership roles on teams filled by those dancers who are still competing. My dancing technique did not require a competitive background at all for the college competitive circuit, but the organizational knowledge and understanding is what allowed us to get the event up and running in just a few months from concept to delivery.
What's your number one piece of advice for dancers heading off to college?
(Favorite question, sorry it’s so long)
I know it says one piece of advice, but I have to split this into two parts because there is no way around it. First, if you are still competing, I would really encourage any dancer to find a local school and practice with them. As much as practicing on our own is fantastic, having a teacher look at you is irreplaceable. I practiced with the Coyle School of Irish Dance, and without them I would have given up dancing long before graduating. They took me in as their own dancer despite the fact that I did not transfer (I have an affiliation with Coyle and they are not able to judge me unless I stopped practicing with them for 2 years) and worked me just as hard as any of their dancers, and they should take equal pride in any success I had because they made me a significantly better dancer. Having another set of experienced eyes see your dancing can only make you better, and allowing dancers to practice with a school while away at college is one of the better rules that IDTANA implements. Take advantage of it!
The second part to this is the college circuit. My biggest advice is to embrace the community and friendship of it. More and more, I see dancers finding their closest friends and roommates from Irish dance. I know we center the events around a competition, but really that’s just to gather people together. As I’ve stated many times to people, the competitions do not matter, the results really don’t mean much. Sure, as someone who is very competitive I wanted to win each time we were on stage, especially in the "Fun Number" competition. But in the big picture, it’s insignificant. The college Irish dance circuit has the mission to keep dancers in the Irish dance world longer, to encourage people to build new friendships, to teach new dancers at their schools who never knew what Irish dance was until seeing the team perform, and share Irish dance to the entire community they belong in. This all might sound cliché, but truly it’s what the event was built around. I was fortunate enough to become great friends with the girls from the University of Dayton and even flew out to visit them for a weekend one year during school. When we got together for the festivals, the reunion would continue after the event. Experienced dancers are essential to the college circuit because they know how to teach and choreograph with their years of experience; but we are not Oireachtas (in competitiveness. Presentation and professionalism, we do try to equate to it). We want dancers who stopped dancing when they were in middle school but want to join their college club team just to make new friends, and dancers who started out learning their first one two three from their college club president and by senior year are mastering their 4 hands with ease. There exists a circuit for competitive dancers, and dancers who want to go on to do shows, who care about how turned out your feet are and how pointed your toes are on clicks/slices. And that isn’t us. This is why I’m so passionate about college Irish Dance, because it is so much bigger than the competition.
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