The Worlds

Irish dancing

There are rules to this, if you can see past the wigs, jigs and high kicks…

The Worlds is the 44th Irish Dancing World Championships. 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.

Wigs and Jigs

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 crossroads 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.

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.

Irish dancing

4 Comments

  • Reply April 17, 2014

    Mary

    all so true… some of the dancers lose the forest for the trees and get very offended when you criticize the outfits and wigs. Maybe it’s because they think of it the same as any other type of dance and I think it should be a preservation of Irish culture not Dance Mom

    • Reply April 18, 2014

      Felicity

      Mom, I know. I lived and breathed it, danced in the shows, and competed, it is part of it and it’s a beautiful artform but it is lost in the glitter. Criticism is always part and parcel of dance, and writing in fact, so always open to other people to express or defend their position. Lovely comment, thanks Felicity xxx

  • Reply April 23, 2014

    Rori

    This article is full of cynicism and the fact that the writer was/is an Irish Dancer is very disheartening. The fact that one of “our own” can bash the culture that they belong to is sad. Opinions are to be respected, but it’s getting out of hand. Why pick on Irish dance when dance as a whole today, this very minute, has evolved just like everything else. I agree, I am not a big fan of tans the color of Oomp Loompas and some parents/dancers/teachers take that a bit far, but the rest is an evolution of where Irish Dance started. The curls, the dresses, they have changed over time, with better, lighter materials. If Irish dancers looked like they did in the 30’s, 60’s, or even the 80’s come on! No one would be very excited to see a show or participate in the dance if nothing EVER changed and everything was the same from the time it began! That is the beauty of Irish dance, you can have the beautiful bling and the traditional looks too. It’s called costume changing! Every dance form has different costumes for different events and they ALL wear stage makeup. Most modern dancers today are required to wear hair pieces sewn into their head for crying out loud. How is this any different than a wig? I just watched the worlds and I feel it was by far, the best year in regards to dresses and our look. With the exception of a few dancers and teams (there is always going to be someone, somewhere that is over the top) I thought the dresses and were all gorgeous and so much fun to look at. I didn’t see too many crazy tans and the makeup was tasteful and stage appropriate. If you don’t agree with the look or don’t like it, then step away from the world of Irish dance and STOP COMPLAINING about it. Those of us that are enjoying ourselves in this world are tired of listening to it. Go pick on another art form for a while and let us do our happy jigs in peace!

    • Reply April 23, 2014

      Felicity

      Thank you for posting your comment on Felicity Fox, of which you have difference of opinion to the wigs. The Irish culture, however, is not being bashed by one of its own, it is being observed. As a dancer, like yourself or involved in dance, each is entitled to their opinion and since the evolution of wig wearing is a relatively recent phenomenon that is why it is attracting so much attention. That, and hosting the first Worlds in London where the media are located. I don’t think people should step away from dance if they don’t agree, that wouldn’t evolve the dance in a new direction, perhaps a more stylish one. Happy jigging can be enjoyed even by those who lift their heads above the parapet. All art form is subjective, and I think on this occasion we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Happy Jigging, Felicity

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