Margaret-Kaster2Competing in the World Irish Dance championships in London, England in April 2014, was just one important accomplishment for Butler student . The other was being accepted to Butler. After her initial application was rejected, Margaret worked every day after high school with a tutor to improve her skills and gain admission. Margaret has a learning disability which makes oral comprehension and reading difficult, and so she has had to work very hard to accomplish her goals. Margaret explains, “When I hear someone talking, it takes a few minutes to comprehend what is being said. I do much better when someone shows me rather than tells me.”  “When I am reading, I might jump ahead three lines without realizing it.” To compensate when reading, Margaret uses an IPad which highlights and underlines each line of text to help keep her on track. “My dance teachers have always needed to show me the steps because if they just tell me, I won’t be able to get it.” But Margaret believes her difficulties are a real advantage to her work as an Irish dance teacher. Margaret says, “I’ve learned three different ways to explain each move because that is what I need.”

Margaret began competing in Irish dance when she was 6 years old. For Margaret, Irish dance is a family thing as her three brothers and three sisters have also competed. But unlike her siblings, Margaret continued her training and competition during college, first placing in regional competitions, then in nationals, and finally qualifying for the international world championships in London. Margaret explains her love of Irish dance, “When I am dancing, I feel I am not at a disadvantage like I am in school.” Qualifying for the World Championships is especially rewarding for Margaret. Her teachers in school always told her she needed to work harder, but her family encouraged her and told her she could do great things.  Margaret feels having a learning disability has made her a stronger person and more determined to achieve. “Every time a teacher told me I couldn’t do something I got the motivation to prove them wrong and accomplish my goals.”

Irish dancing, popularized in 1994 by the world-famous show, Riverdance, is notable for its rapid leg and foot movements, while the body and arms are kept largely stationary. Margaret competes in both soft shoe and hard shoe Irish dance competition. She explained that soft shoe is graceful and on the toes with a lot of jumping and movement. Hard shoe is the traditional noisier, rhythmic dancing that most people associate with Irish dancing. A dressmaker in Ireland makes her elaborate costumes for competition. Dance competitions are divided by age and level of expertise. Margaret competes in the senior ladies division. Dancers are scored based on technique (placement of the feet, turn out, off of their heels, etc.), style (grace, power, etc.) and other items such as timing, rhythm, and sounds in their hard shoe dances.

Whether in the classroom or on the dance floor, this Butler actuarial science major is a force to reckon with. And teachers are no longer telling Margaret Kaster she can’t do something.