Growing up, Melissa Weigel spent most of her time at Irish step dance competitions. She was a regular at regional, national and world events, representing her hometown studio, located just outside of Chicago. But by the time she graduated from college, she was ready to hang up her dancing shoes. “Dancing beyond college was a full-time commitment, and I wanted to balance my love of dance with my nondance career.” She took a step back from competitive performing, pursued a career in conservation investments and enrolled in classes at The New York Studio of Irish Step Dance. She now teaches for the studio one night a week and enjoys the challenges of working with adult recreational dancers in an advanced/championship class, many of whom have backgrounds like her own.
“We have a lot of dancers who used to dance growing up and are looking to get back into it as an adult, as well as some who are picking it up for the first time,” she says. “They are all here taking classes to have fun and to get some great exercise.”
Because the studio caters to busy adults, attendance varies from week to week. Weigel has to adjust her plans to fit the ever-changing class size and skill level. “At the beginning of class, I ask the dancers what they are hoping to work on that day,” she says. “Some students will know the choreography from the week before, while others only know the choreography from two weeks before, since they missed the last class. I have to make sure everyone’s needs are met.”
That isn’t the only hurdle Weigel faces when teaching adults. “We aren’t 7 years old with amazing flexibility anymore,” she says. “I put a big focus on stretching and making sure our muscles are really warmed up. The dancers who used to perform at a high level come back to our classes and want to jump right back into where they were before. The truth is our bodies just can’t handle that anymore, and I need to guide them through that.” Her main focus of class for any skill level? Irish step dance basics—high relevé, extreme crossover, turnout—and of course, having fun!
GO-TO TEACHING SHOE “I like to get my shoes from Fay’s Irish Dancing Shoes or Rutherford Products Irish Dance Shoes. I find they are both really durable. I dance a lot, and shoes are expensive, so for me, durability is key.”
MUST-WATCH YOUTUBE VIDEOS “Hamilton Irish Dance—Guns and Ships,” performed by Hannah Redlich; “Fusion Orchestra,” performed by Fusion Fighters; and “Four-Hand Reel,” danced by Riverdance Crew (via Mountaintag on YouTube).
FAVORITE AFTERNOON ENERGY BOOST “I am often rushing straight from work to the dance studio, and I’ve found that Justin’s Peanut Butter packets are the perfect snack to eat on the train.”
WORKOUT OF CHOICE “Cycling is how I get to and from work most days (about 15–16 miles). I also do yoga, which is great for flexibility, and I like high-intensity interval training workouts for stamina and metabolism.”
GUILTY PLEASURE “I love to watch the ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Bachelorette.'”