This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/amazing/challenging things. This the story of Luinae, who’s only 16 and dancing professionally!
Tell us a bit about yourself!
Hi, I’m Luinae McAnish and I was born in Aberystwyth, Wales. I am currently in my junior year of high school and I have a professional dancing career. I enjoy reading, dancing, feminism, dancing and more dancing. I’m just 16 and I live an incredibly crazy yet joyous life.
How did you get into Celtic dancing?
I sort of fell into it in my early teens and discovered that I had a lot of natural talent. It was one of the first things I’d tried and had been good at right off the bat and I loved that feeling. So I practiced and practiced and practiced and in my first two competitions, I moved up two levels. So I thought “Huh, maybe I could do something with this.”
How much time do you commit to dancing?
During the season, which is pretty much September-June (we have summers off) I’ll dance four hours a day Monday, Thursday and Friday, six hours a day on Tuesday and Wednesday when I teach, and then on Saturdays and Sundays we have full-day rehearsals. On busy, in-season days, I’ll work 15-hour days, 8am to 11pm, doing shows – but those days are rare.
What goes into having a successful dancing career?
Hard work. Hard work. Hard work. No, really.
Obviously, you have to incredibly physically fit. I won’t get into an argument about whether dance is/is not a sport, but it is incredibly physically demanding. The leaps we do require massive leg strength and it takes a lot of endurance to do a four-minute dance. You’ll have to put yourself out there. I was incredibly lucky in that the fact that the woman who runs my dance studio also runs the troupe/show I work with, but I have still been told multiple times, “no, you aren’t good enough.” But most of all, you have to be prepared to practice until your feet bleed. Literally. There is no way around it. It’s a competitive, cutthroat world and you have to practice to get into it and stay in it.
Why are you dancing so much now? Why not wait till you graduate to do it professionally?
As an Irish dancer, I’ll peak at the age of 19-21, which will be when I’m in top physical condition in terms of endurance, flexibility, etc. As dance is a performance-based job, being young helps. It sounds brutal, but a sixteen-year-old is simply going to be a better dancer then a thirty-year-old. If you don’t start your career young, it’s difficult to get a foot in the door. Even if it’s just through small dance troupes and work, you have to start early. Dancers peak in their late teens to early twenties, and there is an incredibly short window of opportunity to be a dancer. You can’t do it your entire life.
How has your dance career affected the other aspects of your life?
Sometimes I feel like I miss out on the things that everything else gets to do. People will ask me to go to the movies, but I never have the time to go out or just relax. I’ve been to one school dance (a friend of mine missed her graduation) and I miss lots of school things because I’m dancing. Most of the time I don’t regret it because I love dancing so much but it can be hard when your life is so drastically different.
Also, at the risk of sounding whiny, dancing is incredibly hard on your body. Sometimes I miss being able to eat whatever I want (we’re all on restricted diets) and not having bruises and aches and pains, but it’s worth it!
Positively, it’s a fantastic conversation starter and it always interests people. I feel so incredibly honoured to get to experience something like this as young as I am. Another wonderful side effect is how fantastic it makes you feel about yourself, self-esteem wise. High school is a difficult time to struggle with body image and dancing has helped with that because I’m insanely proud of what my body can do.
What do the people in your life think of you working so hard at such a young age?
Oh, I’d say it probably depends on what’s happening at the moment. When we get a standing ovation at a show, they probably think its great and all worth it. When I come home limping at 2 am on a school night they probably think there is no way this is all worth it.
My parents, however are incredibly supportive. They still think I’m a bit crazy and I think they worry a lot, but they are the most fantastic support group I’ve ever had. Whether it’s taking me to rehearsals on Sunday morning or helping me tape up my feet, they’re always there.
My peers and teachers think I’m absolutely crazy. There’s a very common misconception that “no-one” makes a living as a dancer so I should “get out of this phase and find something useful to do with my life.”
Once you ‘age out’ of dancing, what would you like to do?
I’d like to go to University, I think. I don’t know if I’ll go right after high school or not, depending on how I’m feeling about dancing then, but I would eventually like to get my TCRG qualification, a qualification to teach Irish Dance and open up my own school where I would teach kids how to dance. Pass it on, kind of. And teaching isn’t nearly as dance intensive as show work, so you can do it a lot longer.
What advice would you give to other teenagers who are interested in full-time work?
Make sure you know what you will have to give up to work full-time (I’d call it more like really heavy part time work). You will give up dating (well, we aren’t forbidden to date, but it’s strongly discouraged) and going out with friends and having time off and having time to experiment and be a teenage fool. I’m still a teenager, and kind of young and stupid, but I don’t have time to go do normal things. It’s a trade off.
If your work is important enough to you (dance makes me feel alive and invincible and perfect), it’s worth it.
Did any of you work long hours as a teenager? Any professional dancers out there?