It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write this post to pay respect to a town and a community that is so near and dear to me.
I grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut. It’s a small town on the border of New York – a perfect New England haven. Like Newtown, it’s the kind of place that’s almost a characture of quaint New England life. For example, one of the most successful businesses on our Main Street is a gourmet hot dog vendor named Chez Lenard. Close to New York, it’s a town of modest families with high aspirations. A town where downtown holiday strolls and football galas dominate the headlines this time of year.
Ridgefield is about 30 minutes from Newtown. That physical proximity would be enough to unnerve me when I heard the news from Sandy Hook Elementary. However, I was shook to my core Friday afternoon because Newtown is much more than just a neighboring town. Newtown is where I fell in love with Irish dance.
I grew up dancing with the Gray School of Irish Dance in Newtown, Connecticut. Like the community of Newtown, it’s a school forged on loving relationships and genuine concern for other dancers. It was a school where every dancer, whether naturally talented or only naturally passionate, was encouraged to work hard, follow her dreams and blossom into an Open Champion. It was a place where ceili and teamwork was just as important as nailing a set. In my treasured blue school dress, I danced with the dancing friends that would become family at weddings and stood besides them at funerals. It’s a school where dancing excellence is expected, but personal relationships are mandatory. It is the reason I love to dance today.
The spirit of the Gray School is a product of the community of Newtown. It makes hearing the news stories that much more upsetting – knowing what was so unfairly torn from this beautiful town. This is not what Newtown is.
The unbelievable clash of what I remembered Newtown to be and what I was seeing on the news was manifest in seeing the President speak from the stage of Newtown High School. That stage is where I performed most of my recitals. I remember idolizing the older dancers from the wings of that stage. I remember the first time I was able to be in the champ dancer routine and smiling proudly on that stage. And now, that stage, a place of incredible joy, was the setting for a speech to console a grieving town,a grieving nation. And while those memories made the speech even harder to listen to, they also provided some consolation. It reminded me of the strength of the community – the community that raised me to dance on that stage. It reminded me of its love – the love that picked me up when I fell on that stage and encouraged me to keep dancing. It reminded me of its joy – the joy I felt dancing my heart out surrounded by dancers I know were dancing out theirs. That is the Newtown that I remember and that is the Newtown that will get through this tragedy.
For now, it is time to come together with heavy hearts to honor the 26 that were taken so unfairly from this community. Time to grieve the lost talents that will never get the chance to follow their dreams and those who lost their lives following theirs. The lost ballerinas, baseball players, doctors, mothers, teachers. However, in this time of sadness, I remember my wonderful memories in Newtown and look forward to the day when the stage at NHS is once again a place to celebrate dreams achieved rather than dreams lost. When a 6 year old is only notable because she finished her first recital without waving to her mom. When the only flashing lights are those of parents’ cameras.
Until that time, I will take comfort in an old heavy jig – my feet drumming a story of love and friendship. Every step and bar of music bring me back to that studio and remind me of Newtown’s strength and endurance. No matter what, these old steps are real just like the love I know is so prevalent in this community.
So until we can once again join together and dance with joy, I will keeping dancing these old steps and I will dance them for Newtown.