Seventeen Year Old Irish Dancer’s ‘Only In America’ Story

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And now, a nice St. Paddy's Day story.

If you haven't already, meet Drew Lovejoy. He's 17. He lives in rural Ohio. He's half black, half Jewish. And he's the best traditional Irish dancer of his age in the world. In February, for the third consecutive year, he placed first in hs age group at the All Irish Dancing Championship, in Dublin. A profile of Lovejoy in today's New York Times (whence I borrowed the above pic) calls his an "only in America story" — a notion which makes me feel rather patriotic.

But Lovejoy's American story is tinged with typically American tragedy. From the Times:

In the dance world, his unusual background was a plus … But it has served him less well here in his hometown, where a rural stretch of road bisects sweeping pastures dotted with aging barns. He moved here when he was 9, after his mother married Donald Goldberg, a Greenville resident she met at a nearby synagogue. (She had parted with Drew’s biological father, Terrance Lovejoy, when Drew was still a baby, though she remains on good terms with him, and says he sometimes rides to Drew’s competitions with her husband.)

It was not easy. Drew was a dancer, unusual for boys here, and black in a mostly white town. Bullying eventually prompted his mother to pull him out of school and start him in an online education program. He is still there today.

While most townspeople accept him, with some going out of their way to make him feel comfortable, Drew said he still does not feel entirely at ease. He does not walk the dog after dark.

“I feel like I have to watch my back,” he said, his hands resting flat on the green kitchen tablecloth.

I can't find any recordings of Lovejoy's recent performances, but here you can view a vid shot shortly after his first Dublin championship. (I'd post it to the blog, but the "embed" function's been disabled.)

Comments

  1. todd says

    I just don’t understand why people always say things like “half black and half Jewish” Jewish is not a nationality..it’s a religion. You would not say he’s half catholic half jewish?!

  2. My2cents says

    Ohio is the Alabama of the Midwest, and has had a braindrain that has left it reeling. Fortunately, Drew will soon be able to leave & live his own life, and follow his goals without fear.

  3. Caliban says

    Great story about a great kid, but there’s something utterly depressing about him having to say “I feel like I have to watch my back” in 2012 and be right about it. Whether it’s because he’s part black, Jewish, or not “masculine” enough for Ohio he does need to be careful and that’s sad.

    Never mind me. I’m just in a glum mood I guess.

  4. say what says

    TODD

    actually there is no firm definition of Jewish as being 100% religion or Ethnicity

    it is a hot topic debate in Israel

    One can not dismiss the ethnic aspect of being Jewish and claim it is only a religion…where does that leave atheist Jews and also genetic tests showing a distinct gene pool from Europeans and or arabs

    One can not define it solely as an ethnic designation either

    at the moment Jewish describes those of Jewish descent and those practicing Judaism with each branch having their rules to such (ashkenazi / sephardic …ultra orthodox, orthodox, reform )

    Drew is considered a Jew by the most orthodox and oldest Jewish traditions since his mother is of Jewish descent.

    Those rules came about due to Jews being taken as slaves by the Roman empire thus one could not be sure of the children’s parentage per fathers (slave owners raping their slaves) but one could be 100% sure that whatever came out of a woman was definitely hers = the matrilineal aspect of Judaism was born as a practicality dealing with enslavement by the Roman Empire

  5. aj says

    found another video for your enjoyment, i wish this young man much success for his hard work and perseverance in the midst of such animosity he feels from some around him…. Good Luck Drew

  6. Mark says

    “One can not dismiss the ethnic aspect of being Jewish and claim it is only a religion…where does that leave atheist Jews and also genetic tests showing a distinct gene pool from Europeans and or arabs”

    They’ve never found a genetic link. It’s all been theorized, but never concluded.

  7. daftpunkydavid says

    @ mark: umm there very much is some genetic basis to the notion that jews represent an ethnicity; just as there is for pima indians, people of chinese ancestry, west africans, northern europeans, etc.

    in fact, in medical school, you quickly learn (for better or for worse) to assess a person’s risk profile based in part on their ethnicity. if an ashkenazi jewish family came to me for medical care with a child who was listless, going blind, and going deaf, you bet your ass that i would be thinking “tay sachs” right at the top of my differential diagnosis.

  8. say what says

    daftpunkydavid

    yeah , when I was typing my post…tay sachs was in my mind as I typed

    mark and todd…lets make this easier…. would hitler send you to the gas chambers if your mother was a Jew and you have always practiced catholicism your entire life?

    When the pogroms occurred, Judaism was most assuredly seen as an ethnicity by the oppressors and you were on the sh@t list even if your Jewish ancestor was multi- generations in the past. The oppressors in fact weren’t as strict and didn’t care whether said ancestor was matrilineal or patrilineal descent. 1 drop of Jewish blood got you sent off to the camps even if you never knew about said Jewish heritage

    practicing or not practicing the religion….Jewish ancestor = Death Camp

  9. Grover Underwood says

    great story but why cover it? is he gay?

    not trying to take away from his accomplishments but why focus on a straight kid when there are plenty of gay kids accomplishing other great things?

  10. jim says

    Wow, when you read the NYT article, there’s SO MUCH implied gayness. But it’s never stated outright. It’s hinted at re: the way Drew was bullied, how he “has to watch my back” & doesn’t walk the dog after dark, and the new neighbors (who moved in next door) referred to as the 2 “roommates,” one a realtor the other a landscaper, or something. WTF NYT??

  11. Ruddigore says

    It just reminds me of the phenomenon that “scares the bejesus” out of Chandler Bing: Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance. “His legs flail about as if independent from his body.”

  12. Zach says

    As a Canadian, who happens to date an ex Canadian world champion Irish dancer, the whole Only in America bit is a little bit laughable. Only in America would a black kid be afraid to walk alone at night? Come on. Just because somebody says something, you dont have to believe it. Kids achieve greatness all over the world. You do not have a monopoly on it.

  13. Bob says

    “IS HE GAY?”
    Just watch the video in which he is interviewed in Iowa, and hear his voice.
    Just notice he is dancing
    Just notice he has a Jewish mother

    lol

    He sounds Gay, and the radar beeps

  14. StraightGrandmother says

    Gay/Straight
    Black/White
    It doesn’t matter
    Drew- You are AWESOME!!!

    I really enjoyed your dancing and even went on You Tube and searched under your name to find more. As long as YOU feel good about YOURSELF, and proud of YOURSELF that is what matters.

    It is so pleasant to see so many nice comments as I am sure young Drew will be looking :)

  15. Keppler says

    So, which part is the “only in America story” part? The part about him being a champion Irish dancer despite the fact that he’s very different from most such dancers? Or the part about not feeling safe and secure enough, because of that difference, to go out after dark with his dog? Yeah: only in America,

  16. Brandon K. Thorp says

    Re: “Only in America” — It’s the combination of Irish dance, Jewishness, and blackness. That’s pretty rare, and it’s a nice dramatization of the melting pot. (And Zach — I know it’s not the case with most writers, but I try hard to say “the United States” when referring to the country, and “America” when referring to the continent.) – BKT

  17. Gus says

    My2cents: there is a reason for Ohio being “the Alabama of the Midwest” since Midwest manufacturing started to surge, many migrated for work from the South and stayed. Many cultural habits are deep.

  18. says

    In the “only in America” reference–it comes directly from the NYT’s article and quotes his mother as originally thinking he wouldn’t be allowed to compete in Irish dancing–“You’re biracial and Jewish…” she felt only White Catholics participated. My understanding of the article is how a young man who wasn’t encouraged to enter a particular sport ends up being the best in the world in what he’s doing…which does sound like an American movie, or Billy Elliot.

    I was last in Dublin to keynote a hospice conference, and met a local school teacher in a gay bar. He works on the elementary school level and specializes in teaching the Irish language, which is required curriculum. He shared that due to the immigration of various ethnic groups across Ireland, including Afro-Carribean families, about one in four of his students had no Irish heritage. In other words, being of African descent and participating in Irish culture may be an “only in America” story, but it’s not an uncommon experience in Ireland itself.

  19. Reality says

    P.S. you people who are hell-bent on finding out if he’s gay need to step back and realize you’re creepy for trying to out a 17 year old child. Grow up, seriously.

  20. says

    @BTK :

    I totally agree with your distiction between “USA” and “America”.

    But apart from my agreement (!) it is also correct.
    Now if only people would understand the “The British Isles” does NOT include Ireland , or any part of it, and is exclusively England Scotland Wales and their islands, eg Hebrides, Shetland, Lundy, Lindisfarne etc…….then we would all be happier.

    Ireland was never British, if may have been in the UK from 1801 to 1922 but it was never a British Isle……no matter what the Times Atlas says.
    I take your point Brandon, I hope you can appreciate mine.

  21. Steve says

    ‘Only in America?’

    Only what? That someone outside the perceived realm of ‘Irishness’ is welcomed into the Irish dancing world and faces abuse from other elements for doing so.

    Only in America indeed. In Ireland he would be held in higher respect – Irish dancers are well respected in Ireland.

  22. JadeX says

    About drew being gay …. I can tell you he is not. He is an amazing dancer and an amazing person .. Lots of love HIS GIRLFRIEND .. So sorry no radar is beeping

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