What We Believe: Eileen O'Grady

eileenThe Good That Comes From Opportunity

The room glows golden with warmth and the bustle and chatter of a friendly crowd. Old friends greet each other, arriving cold and breathless through the door, quickly shedding coats and lacing up their dance shoes. Onstage we lay down the beat, testing our microphones and getting the feel of the music under our fingers. The anticipation grows as the eager crowd multiplies in the dance hall. Then the caller steps up to the microphone and everyone joins hands in two long lines down the center of the hall to await instructions. The piano gives four beats and the dancers are off, dipping and swaying, sashaying and stomping in a whirl of color and sound. My bow dances across the fiddle strings as the caller’s voice weaves in and out through the intricate blend of mandolin chords, fiddle harmonies and grooving bass lines from the cello. One dance follows another late into the night, as a community comes together to twirl and spin, laugh and perspire together.


I believe in opportunity. Through an after-school program in the 5th grade, I was blessed to meet one of Vermont’s finest fiddlers, Pete Sutherland, who introduced me to the culture and traditions of folk music. Under the mentorship of Pete, I immediately fell in love with the world of traditional music and dance. Fiddling is a social activity; as I built my skills and repertoire, I made many friends in Vermont’s fiddling community and beyond. It was through this close-knit community that I met my five bandmates, my best friends in the entire world. Together we form a teen contra-dance band called The Irregulars. The music has taken us on a wonderful journey to concert venues and dance halls in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.

I believe in good. The wonderful experiences I have had and the wonderful people I have met through traditional music and dance are what brings to life my faith in humanity, and gives me something to strive for. For the modern teenager, identity struggles and confused moralities are a part of everyday life. I am fortunate to have amazing mentors in Vermont’s traditional music and dance community that embody what I strive to be as a person, and give me a glimpse into how I should live my life. I believe that traditional music and dance are ambassadors for good. Good feelings, kind actions, and caring words pervade every contra dance hall, and light up the faces of dancers and musicians alike. And this is why I choose to be a part of it.

In the future I believe the fiddle and contra dance community will provide me with the insights and skills to face life’s fears, learn from them, and use them to bring about positive change. It’s deeply rewarding to see the smiles of joy that light up a hall of contra dancers – young, old, friends and strangers – all moving and swirling as one to the caller’s voice and our band’s harmonies.

Eileen lives in Burlington, Vermont.