Orlando’s Kaitlyn Sardin is making some noise with her fusion of hip-hop and Irish dance

There are few better feelings than that of practicing a hobby, slowly honing your craft and then being able to spread the joy it brings you with others around you. Though it’s ultimately fulfilling, the pursuit can be a challenging undertaking. Orlando-based dancer Kaitlyn Sardin, however, has achieved it, with a passion that she has embraced for 20 years now.

As a child, Sardin began dancing ballet at the Elizabeth Parsons School of Dance. During a ballet recital, she saw a performance of Irish dancing for the first time during the intermission and was immediately fascinated by it.

“It was the rhythm of it. It’s so much like a drumbeat, I was like ‘This is incredible.’ I was always obsessed with drums, and I was able to be my own drumbeat with this dance style, and it was so different from ballet,” Sardin says. “I remember thinking ‘I can make noise with this and not get in trouble?’ That was the biggest draw for me.”

From the age of 7 on she has been practicing Irish dance, beginning at the Watters Irish Dance School here in Central Florida. Now 26, she has seen multiple successes as a competitor in Irish dance, and made some very precious memories in her time competing.

“I did Irish dance competitively for about 15 years. At regional competitions, I’ve placed in the Top Five five times. I’ve also performed and won at the national level, where I qualified for Worlds. I was able to go to the world championships a couple of times and I won at the world championships four times,” Sardin shares.

More recently, she has started to see success building her presence online. In the late 2010s, she began experimenting with fusing Irish dancing with other styles of dance, posting her performances on Instagram and TikTok (@kaitrock). She has since cultivated a loyal following online, more recently going viral for her performance at a Snap! Orlando gallery opening. Though they met by happenstance, the resulting connection is what led to her opportunity to perform at the gallery.

“So it’s actually funny — Brian Cross, one of [the photographers in] Mochilla, found me two years ago, and we met in Orlando back in December. I met him and Denise Chaila, an Irish rapper, and we just really connected. And then last year in September they flew me over to Ireland to do a movie with them, so we just created this connection,” Sardin says. “Three months ago, Brian messaged me saying something like ‘Hey, me and Eric are about to do a gallery show in Orlando, and we would love for you to dance with us!’ To which I responded back with an ‘Absolutely!’ The day before [the opening] they sent me the mix and I loved it so much! I was just so excited to get out there, and I’m so happy I did.”

Her current fusion of Irish dancing and hip-hop has proven to be very exciting for people to watch, though it isn’t without its challenges. Despite how long she’s been dancing, it can still be tough for Sardin to figure out how she wants to approach a song or performance sometimes.

“I always loved dancing to any music, but I think the biggest challenge is that sometimes with the fusion of dance styles it’s just such a weird rhythm, where you have to sit there and figure out ‘how can I make this work?’ and try it over and over.”

Despite this challenge, she believes the two styles complement each other and synergize well during her performances.

“They have very similar rhythms, and that’s the first thing I notice when I find a song. I’ll see how the bass sounds, but then I’ll listen for the drumbeat and if I see that I can re-create it with my feet then I go from there. I’ll see what movements feel right with the music. And that’s why I’ll usually do hip-hop, dancehall and Afrobeat, because they’re just so drum-heavy,” Sardin explains.

She doesn’t experience too much difficulty in picking songs to perform and post online, however. When asked her method for choosing a song, she’s very clear about her priority: “Honestly? If I love the song! If I can move to the song, then I’ll think ‘Yep, that’s the one!'”

Given how long she’s been dancing, Sardin has her fair share of inspirations in the space.

“Tinashe, Beyonce — they’re huge dancers and just the way they perform, how they captivate their audience, you can truly see how they’re feeling while they’re dancing,” she says. “As for Irish dance inspirations, Jean Butler and the way she uses her movement, as well as how she elevates Irish dancing with what she continues to add to it. Also Normani! Her and Victoria Monét always blow me away. They’re just so natural while dancing.”

Since sharing her videos online, she has amassed a following of people who weren’t even familiar with Irish dancing before they saw her work. However, she’s also received recognition from many accomplished dancers, something which always surprises her.

“I always get so happy when they see my performance to their music! I had Missy Elliott follow me on Twitter the other day and I was just in shock! I’ll dance just because I like a song, but when they [the artist of the song] comment or let me know they see it, it feels validating. Almost every person so far that has commented on the music that I’ve danced to has been super supportive, and I’ve just been blown away by it.”

With all of this positive recognition, Sardin has also had to deal with some negative pushback from people who don’t understand or approve of her fusion of dance styles. While the response from Irish people themselves has been overwhelmingly positive for her so far, others can be quick to judge or throw doubt and insults in her direction instead — something she has learned how to deal with.

“Irish people love it! They’ve been so great, they’re always super supportive and they’re always like ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing my culture’s dance like this, I never would have thought I’d be able to see this fusion.’ So I’m getting a lot of support from Irish people, and honestly even from a lot of American people. But sometimes there have just been a few people — who oftentimes aren’t even Irish — telling me I’m taking their culture,” Sardin says.

“I’ve been doing this style of dance for 20 years and have been training and learning it for all of that time. I’m also part Irish — and a lot of people don’t comment about that on other dancers who they assume are Irish, even when said dancer is actually not Irish. I usually ignore them because if you respond they’ll just keep going. A lot of my followers will respond back to them but I try to keep everything muted because it gets to be a lot at times. All of the very nice people have messaged me privately, and I’m always thankful to them for taking the time to be so kind.”

Not all of the misguided commenters are totally negative, however. Sardin enjoys having the opportunity to educate people about some of the misconceptions they may have about Irish dancing as a style.

“A lot of people also will think that it’s tap dancing, which — there are a lot of similarities! And I definitely add a lot of tapping to it, especially my style now. But most of the basics that I will do are strictly Irish dancing,” Sardin laughs. “I can see exactly why they see that, I get it, but they’re not the same!”

She also appreciates the opportunity to inspire other people to follow their passion for dancing — especially now, when social media has changed the landscape of how a dancer can present themselves for the world to see.

“I definitely think social media has helped enhance the dancing space because there’s just many more opportunities to collaborate with people, and also so many different styles you can see and learn because of social media. I’m happy because social media also gets a lot of people to see this style of dance, and for some it’s a style of dance they thought they might never be able to do,” Sardin says. “But then they might see my videos and think ‘Wait, you look like me — I can do this too?'”

“Whenever somebody tells me, ‘My child has always wanted to Irish dance but they were too afraid to until they saw your videos,’ it makes me very happy. Somebody recently messaged me that they’ve never seen an Irish dancer in braids, so they showed it to their dance teacher and now their teacher lets them wear braids to competitions. Things like that make me very happy to hear.”

While she has gone viral for her Irish dancing/hip-hop fusion, it’s clear to anybody who sees her perform that even if she had gravitated toward a different style, Sardin would have always ended up as a dancer. Her passion for dancing shines through in every one of her performances.

“It has helped so much in my life, because I have found that dancing has been the easiest way for me to communicate my feelings. Dance has always been like walking, it just feels so natural to me. I feel like it’s helped my confidence, and just helped me find who I am as a person. It’s become something very special to me.”

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