As much as I may miss living in Detroit, I never miss it as much as I do on this day, St. Patrick’s Day. Memories of this holiday past are indelible and have come to set the expectation of how the day should be celebrated. The morning always began ridiculously early. Up at 5am so we could be at the Gaelic League at 7am for morning mass. Then we trucked across town for the annual parade, rain or shine, where my sister and I would participate by dancing in the parade with our Irish-Step Dancing school, more often than not, freezing our hineys off in the inevitable cold and slushy streets.

Post parade, it was back over to the League where we sat at the main hall with the other kids and were fed stew and soda bread and as much Pepsi as our decaffeinated brains could absorb.

This is when my sister and I would part ways with the pack. Our dance school would then begin touring all over Hell’s half-acre: schools, libraries, retirement homes. I’m only 35 but back in the day, few people, except maybe those who watched Johnny Carson, knew about this dance form, so we were always treated with mild curiosity where ever we went in our shoes and dance uniforms.

This would go on the rest of the day until the real fun kicked in. Around 4pm, the moms started hauling us around the various bars where we were actually paid for our services. Between 4 and 11 we could actually raise enough money to pay for both dance school and Catholic school for the entire next year. The night always ended back at the Gaelic League where festivities lasted well into the night.

People remark that it’s a harsh day for a child to go through but personally I loved it. I got out of school and normally the next because we were so tired, had fun dancing with my friends and playing cards in the back of the station wagon as we were toted place to place, and our reception wherever we danced was treated with such enthusiasm. I don’t know if it was the dancing or the music, but it made us stand up straighter, possess quicker feet, and feel mildly appreciated.

The appreciation is a tough one to explain. While all my friends took ballet, tap, and jazz dancing, to my absolute horror, my mother made me and my sister take this Irish Step Dancing. It was so unlike anything my friends participated in. It was looked upon as mildly secretive and the music seemed just plain strange to those not used to it. I couldn’t participate in normal activities like soccer or whatnot, because my Saturdays were taken up with practice and lessons down at the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick down off Detroit’s infamous 8 Mile Road.

But finally, high school and my dance teacher’s move to another state ceased this tradition altogether. The school dissipated and Irish Step Dancing around Detroit nearly ceased in its entirely until Michael Flatley and that truly horrendous show Riverdance hit the scene.

The disco-ization of Irish Step Dancing can entirely be blamed on Flatley. I hold him responsible for the modernization that has sought to bastardize what was once a simple and lovely form of dance. The music sucks, the dance form is sloppy and focused only on speed, the costumes are frightening, I mean, what the hell is up with these girls wearing wigs? During my day, ostentatious costumes were frowned upon. And seriously, I just don’t get the wigs. The music, which used to be traditional and played with traditional instruments, now sounds like something off an Intergalactic Disco compilation 8-track my father used play in his Duster.

The only redeeming feature I can see these days are the shoes. The soft shoe slippers are still the same but the hard-shoes are entirely different. When I danced, we literally had cobbled shoes with flat head nails driven up in the soles. No joke. But it made for a scratchy and raspy sound. The fiberglass soles the dancers wear now days makes for a much cleaner sound although they shed like the dickens and tear up the floors.

And Irish Step Dancing is simply not sexy. Any attempts to make it so is just laughable.

My mom took dance lessons from Michael Flately’s mother, so if you think I’m ranting, you should hear her on the subject sometime. Best not to bring it up in polite society. Although, get her drunk and going on the subject and it is pretty amusing.

Having lived all over the country, St. Patrick’s Day just never feels like it ought to anymore. In every town I’ve lived in, it’s an amateur event with college kids getting blitzed and more of the same bad “Irish” music being blasted at you. There’s no singing, no stories, no Jimmy Tapley playing the spoons at midnight while tired little girls drag themselves up on their feet for a lazy slip-jig. There’s certainly no Desmond Sullivan singing ballads that would just crush your young or old heart.

Maybe I ought to go home for a visit. Maybe I ought to just get involved more in the local scene. Maybe I’m just waxing nostalgic, but whatever the case, they were good times in a good community, and not a bad way to grow up.

Advertisements