Caitie Cunningham '19 plays soccer and also Irish step dancers in two photos that face each other

Story by Tim Volkmann | Photos by Keith Walters ’11

Competitive footwork on stage has helped midfielder Caitie Cunningham ’19 on the pitch.

Caitie Cunningham ’19 knows a little something about fancy footwork. Her friends have seen her exploits in a Geneseo Knights soccer jersey, but there’s another uniform that’s influenced her on and off the pitch. 

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that soccer and Irish dance may have a lot common, and Cunningham’s aptitude shows that the requisite skills in both are closely aligned. 

“While I’ve played soccer from pretty much the day I learned to run, everything changed because of Irish dance. They are incredibly different, but they’re complementary,” Cunningham said. “I dance the way I do because I play soccer and I play soccer the way I do because of how I dance.”

A 7-year-old Cunningham fell in love with Irish dancing, and she approached dance with the same determination she demonstrated on the soccer field.

“I wasn’t a natural, and there were seemingly endless intricacies I needed to pick up,” Cunningham said. “Remembering to keep my toes pointed whenever I left the ground or learning how to turn my feet a certain way took a lot of hard work.”

With such dedication, it wasn’t long before Cunningham began competing, usually as a solo dancer. 

“Unlike soccer, there’s not a lot of room for error with dance. If I lose the ball on the soccer field, I can try to get it back,” she said, “but a misstep during a dance is an immediate deduction, and there is only one person to blame.”

Competitions around her hometown of Mineola, N.Y., eventually led to regional and national competitions in cities like Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, as well as the 2014 World Championship in London. 

“Irish dance brought me to places that I never dreamed were possible, literally, but also physically and mentally. It showed me how tough and resilient I could be, as well as the amazing things my body was capable of doing,” Cunningham said. “Who knew I’d ever be able to kick my leg higher than my head while spinning around in mid-air?”

While she put her competitive dancing days behind her to focus on college and soccer, Cunningham, a psychology and business administration double major with a 3.8 GPA, has kept her toes in the air as a member of Geneseo’s Irish dance club, Slainté.

“The muscle memory and agility from dancing for so long had translated into foot skills in soccer that made me more of a well-rounded player. My footwork on the ball improved as a result of the fast footwork drills I had done so many times,” Cunningham said. “I rarely found myself in the athletic training room thanks to the rigors I went through as a dancer.”

“I couldn’t help but notice her gracefulness and ease of movement along with her speed and athleticism,” said SUNY Geneseo women’s soccer Head Coach Nate Wile about Cunningham. “I didn’t know she was a dancer until well into her sophomore year, but it made sense. In a sport where you have 22 people on the field and one ball, you need to be able to separate yourself physically. Her ability to get past people effortlessly, and do it consistently, resulted in the successes she had.”