The World is a big place, but starting today the Worlds, the 44th Irish Dancing World Championships, will descend on the capital. Expect to see wigs, wigs, and more wigs, bling, diamantes, excessive make-up, various shades of orange, tap dancing on the streets, and inappropriate clothing i.e. half-dressed competitors in London’s Hilton Metropole. Big Fat Gypsy meets beauty pageant.
It’s a multi-million pound industry with the organisers, An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha, anticipating between 15,000-20,000 visiting the city over Easter 2014.
This is the first time London has played host to the Championships with hopes to build on the spirit of the Olympic legacy. Though, I’ve never seen an Olympian high jumper in big bloomers – now that would be a treat – this is the Olympics of the Irish dancing world.
But hey, Boris Johnson is excited, as the London Mayor described the event as a “vital boost to London’s economy”. The only connection I can see is that the Mayor himself likes a wig.
And it’s wigs galore, with more than 5,000 competitors with artificial ringlets in every shade; white blonde, dirty blonde, light brunette, black, and Irish coleens in red, looking like Maureen O’Hara in the Quiet Man. It’s tradition. Keeping with the tradition, when our ancestors danced at the cross roads with luscious locks and streaky tan?
Lost in the razzle dazzle, there is art to this; a mix of balletic and athletic dance, rhythm, lively music, poise, carriage and hard, hard work. To explain, you leap into the air with your arms rigid and stuck to your side like glue, that’s a banned substance I presume, see the rule book for clarity. Strength, co-ordination, twirling, jumping, stamping, hopping. It’s got it all.
It starts with hop two, three, four, five, six, seven, but before you know it, you’re slapping on the fake tan, the crown is buried into your head, more Kirby grips digging into your membrane, you’re high kicking, and dressed like a fairy, or so I am told.
If you think wigs are bad, I’m haunted by the sleepless nights before the evolution of dance, back to the days of the curlers. A very knowledgeable and practical friend of my mother’s used to joke that a wig would have sorted out all our woes. Little did she know, how wise her words were and what a phenomenon the wigs would become.
I’m often asked why? I don’t know. It saved time and hassle, but why? It’s tradition. Did my ancestors really do that? The answers I’ve been looking for are in the Rule Book of Irish Dance. Yes, there are rules and here are some of my favourites, paraphrased below…
4.4.3 Costumes must consist of full front, side and back sections. Cut away styles, without a full skirt backing, are not acceptable. I concur. No Strictly nonsense for my forefathers.
4.4.2 Necklines must be at collarbone level or above. No cleavage allowed; In the Name of the Father, sorry gran. It’s sad in this day and age that we’re having to write this one down.
4.4.4 In order to protect dancers from hazardous objects while competing, costumes may not be decorated with feathers; feathers, what’s next, diamantes will be struck off the list.
Nobody likes a showoff, I heartily agree.
4.4.8: Costumes for both boys and girls should not include representations such as globes, medals or any other symbol of an award having been achieved.
Note: no mention of Facebook then?
4.4.10 Appropriate underwear, covering the midriff, must be worn. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I should say, preserving our heritage.
Where tights are worn, they must be of a denier of not less than 70. M&S do a wonderful range and who wears less than 70 anyway? Shame on those that this has to be a rule.
If you are wearing a body suit, it should not show the contour of the body in detail. It’s Irish dancing, it’s not sexy cha, cha, cha folks. Velvet and lyrca are recommended, really? You have lost me here.
In the make up department, make-up including false lashes is not permitted for dancers, in either solo competitions or team competitions, up to and including Under 10 age group. Aged 11+, slap it on like our ancestors used to do.
Any competitor found using artificial carriage aids will be subject to disqualification, however medical prescription apparatus, proof of which may be required, will be exempt. Oh, whatever will they think of next? Competitors found to be altering their shoes or wearing them on the wrong feet will be treated in the same manner. Know your left and right.
It is also suggested for class costumes, which is a dress representing your dance school, that a lean towards a more traditional style of costume is recommended – not sure how this is really working out.
And to get back to my question, why the wigs? Nothing. I can’t find a rule. So, the Shirley Temple bouncing wigs look set to stay. It is after all the preservation and promotion of Irish Dance, and what says that better than the synthetic fibre of the wigs on show. If it’s good enough for our judges to uphold the law in their finery, well, as the man once said, ‘All the World’s a Stage.’