Grace Werner’s dance success is not luck of the Irish

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Irish dancer Grace Werner and her mom Veronica

The Irish are an interesting breed of people, a culture of paradox.

The world’s greatest playwright is the Irishman Samuel Beckett and one of the world’s finest poets is Irishman William Butler Yeats. They are deep thinkers but look sweet and gentle on the outside.

I have firsthand experience with the Irish since my mother was Irish.

When I was a kid I asked my father what he thought to be the most beautiful thing in the world. He answered me without hesitation “Your mother’s face.”

And I agreed with him.

I always felt sorry for the other kids on the block because their mothers didn’t have the beauty that mine had.

She was also extremely bright, never complained and never gossiped. The Irish are formidable folks.

The list of successful Irish American’s include John Kennedy, Walt Disney, Grace Kelly, George Clooney, Georgia O’Keefe, Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck, Julia Roberts, Johnny Depp, Diane Keaton, Anne Hathaway, Mia Farrow, Marlon Brando and Michael Moore.

In an effort to discover the secrets of the Irish I would have to either find a leprechaun or an Irish dancer to speak to. I had no idea where to locate a leprechaun so I decided to hunt down a young Irish beauty who knows a lot about Irish dancing.

Meet Grace Werner and her mother Veronica Rooney Werner.

Grace has been an Irish dancer since age 4 has trained for over 10 years at Doherty Petri School of Irish Dance in New Hyde Park which happens to be one of the world’s finest training academies.

I interviewed them both last weekend and this is what I found out about the intense and demanding world of Irish dancing.

Grace told me she gets up at about 5:45 every morning and runs for miles with her sister. She then goes to high school school in Floral Park and after school she has kick dance practice at school for two hours.

After that she is taken to Irish dance class where serious training takes place. She may get home at about 8 p.m., does her homework and does the same thing the next day, six days a week.

This protocol reminded me of how Tiger Woods would train as a youngster.

He was up at 5:30 a.m., would run six miles, then go to school and after school he would train on the course for four hours, then go home do homework and sleep.

The only difference between Tiger woods and Grace Werner is that Grace is much prettier.

She remarked that her training is far more demanding then football training and that her teachers expect rigid adherence to exacting standards in order to get their dancers to the top of their field.

She told me that one of her classmates has already had a full length documentary made about her life as an Irish dancer.

I asked Grace if she had a passion for dance and she said to me “I have been dancing since the age of four. It is all I really care about. It is my whole life. If you asked me who I was I would say ‘I am an Irish dancer.’ “

She told me that Irish dance has allowed her to travel all over the world and has been all over Great Britain, Ireland, Arizona and the US.

I asked her if Irish dance was difficult and she admitted to me that it was.

“Overuse injuries are common enough especially shin splints, ankle sprains and knee and hip problems but we are all pretty used to that stuff and know how to cope with pain.” Grace is like so many young elite athletes I work with who know all about pain, who travel the world, train hard and have a contingent of professionals to support their physical needs.

Of course as in all elite level sports the unsung heroes are the parents who foot the bills, organize travel plans, taxi the athlete about and cringe with helpless anxiety as they watch their youngsters perform on the world stage.

When I asked Grace about future career plans she listed the marines, the fire department, police work or beautician school in that order. Irish dancers really have backbones of steel.

Michel Flatley and Riverdance popularized in the 1990’s but its origins go back to the 1700’s in Ireland where traveling dance masters who would tour the country and teach and put on performances in local pubs.

The venues were quite small and they often danced on top of pub tables. This is why the dancers learned to hold the upper body and arms rigidly and move just their feet and legs.

Their use of hard shoes pounding on the floor gives the dance that rapid and rousing feeling.

So what I learned about the Irish is this.

They are a beautiful race of people and they are as strong as steel. The Irish remind me of what the anthropologist Ruth Benedict said about the Japanese in her book “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.”

In 1946 she was asked by the U.S. Office of War Information to do a study of the Japanese people and she found them to be both aesthetic and militaristic, brave yet timid, submissive yet resentful of being pushed around.

This is the remarkable paradox of the Irish as well. Like my mother they are so beautiful to look at but cannot be defeated. They are a pretty as a spring flower but as tough as nails. Pretty good combination.

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