Irish Dancing: A Ballet Dancer’s Perspective

March 15, 2013
Riverdance (Image:

Riverdance (Image:

Many years ago, I participated in a National Foundation for the Arts competition in Miami, Florida. Although I had entered the classical ballet category, I got the biggest kick out of watching the many other dance styles, and recall being most blown away by an Irish step dancer who had also entered.  At that time, not only was this style completely foreign to me, but the Irish dancer’s power, precise footwork (comparable to petit allegro in ballet), and energy impressed me as something truly inspiring and unique.  Furthermore, unlike ballet which should be as quiet as possible, as I refreshingly observed with Irish dance (like tap or flamenco), it was ok to be loud!

So…to the eyes of a ballet dancer, the Irish dancer’s feet seemed to take on a life of their own. I could not help but notice that the technique incorporated the ultimate crossed “fifth position” and to this day wonder how the dancer stood  “en pointe” without so much as a pointe shoe!Irish dance shoes

Anyway, that was a long time ago and, over the years, Irish dance has played an increasing role in popular culture.  For some audiences, this style first caught their attention in films like Backdraft from 1991 or 1997’s Titanic, while other audiences have been introduced  to Irish dance in large theatrical productions such as Riverdance.  To illustrate its immense popularity, as well as the skill and commitment required, here is a clip from  Jig, a 2011 documentary film about the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland.


Jig: A 2011 documentary produced and directed by Sue Bourne

One striking thing about the dancing in the video is the brilliant footwork.  Something else, however, that is impossible to miss is the hair!  Now, what is going on there?!  Is that something new or is it possible that I’ve just never noticed it before?

Irish Dance Wigs (Source:

Irish Dance Wigs (Source:

While searching for the answer, I found one dancer’s take on the curly wig hairstyle at a website called the Irish Dancer Blog:

Michael Jackson in The Wiz

Michael Jackson in The Wiz

“We all have hair. Why oh why must we wear a curly boomfy crazy clown wig every time we Irish dance in front of anyone? I’m sure many people have watched Irish dancers and wondered about this exact same thing. So have I.”

The general consensus, however, is that this hairstyle has something to do with a long-standing Irish tradition. Tradition or not (and this is the last thing I’ll have to say about the hair), whenever I see those awesomely curly wigs, I can’t help but be reminded of Michael Jackson in The Wiz!!


The Future of Irish Dance

Just like every other style of dance, Irish dance also continually evolves. Here is a video of  the new London-based dance group Fusion Fighters who will perform in London’s Trafalgar Square on Saint Patrick’s Day 2013 .  This group creatively combines Irish dancing with technology, music and comedy to its entertain audiences.

Video: Fusion Fighters

Ultimately, these videos remind me of the one thing I forgot to mention before.  What was true of my first impressions of Irish dancing, is just as true now.  Irish dancers always look as though they’re having so much fun!

And…Speaking of fun!!

Dancing a Jig (Source: Celtic Attitudes, link)

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