11: Silver and Gold

11: Silver and Gold

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Silver and Gold

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.

~Agnes de Mille

When I discovered my passion for Irish Dance in my mid-forties I learned everything I could about it. This was despite the disparaging comments of some of my friends. They tried to talk me out of my dream, saying I was too old to master this art form.

I didn’t listen to them. I took classes, practiced every day, paid for private lessons, went to workshops, and constantly listened to music for competitions and shows. Frankly, I never liked being in the competitions. But, they forced me to practice and improve my technical merit. Over the years, I accumulated a few silver and bronze medals.

And then, at age fifty, I won a gold medal for performing the hornpipe, a difficult solo step, at an Irish Step Dance competition in Estes Park, Colorado. This was the reward for all my hard work and the validation of my dream. I had done it despite the naysayers.

At the end of the competition, while I stood in the dancer tent admiring my medal, a pair of Irish dance shoes went flying past my head. The shoes were not intentionally aimed in my direction. But the words of an angry fellow competitor were: “You have no right to that medal, Padgett. You are way too old to be dancing, competing or even thinking about performing an art this demanding and athletic. Even if you were of an appropriate age to enter this level of competition, I should have won. I am so much better at technique, timing, and all around dancing than you will ever be.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt like I was reliving all the negative words I had heard over the years, from all the people who said I couldn’t do it. I stood there, hurt, trying to regain my emotional balance. Then I felt a hand rest gently on my shoulder. An unfamiliar voice asked, “Do you believe her?”

I turned to face the judge who moments ago had awarded me the gold.

“Yes ma’am. She has better technique and sense of musical timing. She is just all around better than me,” I admitted.

“No, she isn’t,” the adjudicator told me. “Do you know the difference between the silver and gold? Do you know why you were awarded this medal today?” she asked.

I dropped my gaze from hers and shook my head.

She lifted my chin, looked into my teary eyes and said, “You reflected hours of practice and honing of your craft, just like many others. You managed to keep the beat and execute a difficult step, like many others. Your posture was straight, and you demonstrated ability to remember the intricacies required. You were up against some tough competition out there today, and you gave a flawless performance. From a judge’s point of view, it can be difficult to select one dancer over another when awarding medals.

“But, if mechanics and technical merit are equal, the decision will fall to the one who dances with her heart. Some do the dance; others are the dance. Today, you were the dance. And that, my friend, is gold.”

That was my last Irish Dance competition, not because I feared decapitation as the result of airborne footwear. It was because the calendar does not lie. My years of hard, competitive Irish dancing were over. I entered the contest knowing it would be my last.

I am not prone to melancholy over things out of my control—like the passage of time. And I honestly cannot say I spend a lot of time looking at the dance medals I accumulated over the years.

Nonetheless, the medals do come in handy once in a while. For example when someone tells me they cannot realize a dream because of age, perceived inabilities or opinions of critics, I extend this invitation, “Would you come to my house for tea, please? I want to show you something.”

~Laura L. Padgett

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