Thursday, February 9, 2017

Jigging to the beat

Victoria Molina
Jigs, reels, ghillies, hornpipes and feisanna. No, it’s not Urban Dictionary’s latest slang words; it’s Irish step dance.

For 22-year-old Victoria Molina, an STU communications major and education minor, these words have been part of her everyday vocabulary since the age of 4. She began Irish step dancing at her great-grandmother’s encouragement, competing and performing across Florida and the United States.

“My heritage has a lot to do with my passion for Irish step dancing, and dancing in general,” Victoria said. “I’m part Irish/Italian on my mother’s side, and part Cuban/Spaniard on my father’s side.”

Trying to balance a social life, school and work can be hard enough for most college students. But for Victoria that struggle is compounded by hours of dance training and practice, working at the Law Library, and teaching dance to elementary school children.

“More than anything else, my hectic schedule is a blessing,” she said. “Throughout high school I was very ill – battling two bouts of mononucleosis [mono], and an unknown virus – and I was bed ridden for months at a time. So I’m very thankful to be able to do all that I do.”

The health setbacks she suffered also affected her dance training, but in 2014 she got a clean bill of health and focused years of pent up dance energy into Irish step dancing.

Competing at the highest levels of Irish dance requires progression through a series of skill levels, from beginners to novice to prizewinner, then preliminary to open champion to world champions. The only way to move up is to do well in competitions, and in a short timeframe Victoria has exceeded expectations. Currently, she is considered an Open Champion, one level away from World Champion, and she is nationally ranked #2 in the United States.

An Irish step dancing competition is called a feis (pronounced fesh), or feisanna, if referring to more than one. During a feis Victoria is barely recognizable. She dons a wig with cascading jet black curls, wears elaborately bedazzled dresses called solo dresses, and high white socks called poodle socks. Depending on the dance routine, the shoes on her feet are soft shoes similar to ballet shoes (called ghillies) or hard shoes, which are similar to tap shoes.

“If you've seen an Irish step dance, you'll notice the dancers stiffen their upper body with no arm movement – the only thing moving is our lower body,” explained Victoria. “We’re judged on several things: the difficulty of our steps; control of our upper body; being up on your toes at all times; and having your feet turned out during the entire dance routine. It’s difficult and challenging, but it’s fun.”

Given the rigorous competition schedule lined up for this year, Victoria, who has been with the STU dance team since her freshmen year, decided to step down as team co-captain. It was a tough decision to make, but it was the best decision for the team. She has several local competitions throughout the year, as well as some in other cities. This month she has Nationals in Orlando, Fla. Then, in April, she has the Irish Step Dancing World Championships in Belfast, Ireland.

Victoria, second from the left standing, with her dance teammates.
“It’ll be my first time out of the country, so I’m really excited,” she said. “Shortly after I get back, I graduate! It’ll be bitter sweet - I’ll be leaving the school that’s helped me become the leader I am in and out of the dance studio.”

As to her future goals, she said she’ll be pursuing a master’s degree, and becoming a certified Irish step dancing teacher. She’s delaying the dance teacher certification because once she begins the process, she is no longer allowed to compete.

“I’ve got a lot more dance competitions in me, and for the time being I’m happy teaching and mentoring my elementary dance students,” she said.

Victoria takes the stage at the 2017 World Irish Dancing Championships April 9 – 16.

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