the dancers dancing

The Dancers Dancing follows in the tradition of the bildungsroman by following the main character, Orla, as she descends to the Gaeltacht to further her knowledge of the Irish culture. The “coming of age” story of Orla’s journey to the Irish College reflects more her gain in experiences of relationships, secrets, and other thirteen year old girl relations rather than her expanding expertise in the language. Orla’s jealousy of anyone who threatens her friendship with Aisling, her decision to longer be friends with Sandra (which I feel was rubbed onto her by her mother’s comments), the secrets she hides from the people she calls her friends, and focus on herself and her appearance are the natural juvenile thoughts of a girl her age that is trying to fit in.

As Orla focuses on her relations with the other scholars, trying to fit in by hiding secrets out of shame, she dismisses her familial relations. She wishes her Auntie Annie did not exist because she fears the other children will laugh at her. She decides early on that she will have to choose her friends over her family and backs it up on page 161, “This is the Gaeltacht, a land of the child. What matters is the length of your hair and your skirt, the sweetness of your smile and your voice and your Irish, the lightness of your step, your ability to make friends.” Orla’s focus around making friends takes precedence over her desire to perfect the Irish language. She spends much time with Aisling discussing other girls’ bodies, complexion, and hair in English. On page 159, the girls are talking about how they would love to have fair hair. “All in English of course. You couldn’t, really, have this kind of completely enjoyable and intimate conversation in Irish. Irish was for quite other matters, mostly related to school.”

Her consistent English and dismissal of familial relations also occurs as she talks about her Auntie Annie and then goes on to say that she actually looks normal; she looks like Orla. She is disgusted with this thought and realizes that she doesn’t want to look like any member of her family, furthering her attempt to fit in by distancing herself from her family.

We learn in this section Orla’s reasoning for avoiding swimming with the others; her Auntie Annie lives near the shore. When Orla has no choice but to go swimming, she ignores Auntie Annie. Her declination to acknowledge Auntie Annie by anything more than a wave demonstrates her adolescence. Although her fears that the others will laugh prove wrong, she is embarrassed of her aunt and refuses to go and talk to her.

Orla’s decision to use English while having enjoyable conversations and the embarrassment her family places upon her display a sense of desire for liberation and her wish to become her own person.

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