Belfast Telegraph

Why rediscovering Irish dance was a reel step back in time

By Claire Harrison

Riverdance has a lot to answer for - not least unleashing the talents of Michael Flatley on to a world stage. Can you believe it's nearly 21 years since Flatley first hoofed out into the Ireland-hosted Eurovision of 1994 to star in a seven-minute interval act which changed the course of Irish dancing? Now, several smash hit stage shows later - and millions of record-breaking taps - Flatley has announced he is finally hanging up his dancing shoes to retire at the age of 56.

I have a new-found respect for the dancer who, I have to say, I always found unbearably cheesy, particularly during his mullet hair/flowing silk shirt years. The late respect for his talent comes from a recent foray back into Irish dancing, a few decades after I abandoned it. I've had an eye-opener since signing up to a class called 'Intro to Irish Dancing' at my gym, which I only fancied because it fitted well with my aversion to kettlebells and spin.

I had a very brief twirl as an Irish dancer in my childhood. My talents were challenged, to say the least, but I remember persevering because I desperately wanted a full-on costume. My mum (wisely) said I couldn't have one until I proved I was serious about dancing, so pumps and poodle socks was as far as I got in my earnings after I proved her right.

But I still have great memories of learning jigs and reels as part of the classes taken by the legendary May Close, founder of the Allen School of Irish Dancing, who has taught thousands and thousands of talented, and not so talented, youngsters over many, many years.

My time with Mrs Close was long forgotten until I started my new classes and was amazed at how quickly steps like threes and sevens came flooding back. As I pranced along Memory Lane, it was Mrs Close's voice I could hear instructing me with "one, two, three, one, two, three…" instead of my new teacher.

My new course started off with a dance called The Easy Reel, which proved to have a deceptive name. Within five minutes, I was leaning up against the wall, lashing in sweat and calling for water. I was stunned at the exertion required for the easiest set, and how hard it is to pull your foot back highly enough to execute a proper 'three'.

The next day, I awoke to discover my knees and ankles had given up under the pressure. They cracked and creaked as I tried to walk or climb the stairs, and ached for several days, clearly not keen on their trip back in time.

Which brings me to my awe for Michael Flatley and what the Chicago-born star has achieved both for himself and Irish dancing.

That admiration can be extended to any professional Irish dancer who surely pays a high physical price from battering their feet, ankles and knees on stage, in hard shoes, day after day, year after year.

The fitness levels needed by the likes of Michael Flatley are truly elite. I can't believe the man is still standing up, let alone still performing.

Spare a thought for his creaky knees as he arrives in Belfast with his new show, Lord Of The Dance: Dangerous Games, this weekend in what will be his final performance in Northern Ireland before retiring.

"My body just can't take it anymore," he said explaining his decision.

"I'm beaten and battered and I've given everything I have to this dance form over the years and I just have nothing left to give."

Somebody get that man a sun lounger.

Crowe rages over daft Aussie rules

It might surprise you to hear that Russell Crowe is not Australian. The actor moved to Oz when he was four and has been considered a son of the country ever since. His children were born in Australia after he married a local, his face has been on a stamp and he’s been voted among the country’s 50 National Treasures. He even starred in Neighbours.

But the fact remains, to the Australian Government at least, that Crowe was born in New Zealand which is why he’s been turned down for Aussie citizenship on several attempts. And that has made the Oscar-winner angry over what looks like a foolish move by citizenship officials. Haven’t they seen what he can do with a sword?

Time change takes spring out of step

Spring has well and truly sprung. Isn’t Belfast beautiful bathed in bright sunshine, even though there’s still a nip in the air? There’s nothing like a stretch in the evening and the peep of crocuses to lift the spirits after a long, dark winter.

The only thing denting my bright mood is the prospect of the clocks springing forward this weekend. Because the only thing I hate more than the winter is losing an hour of sleep... and struggling to adjust my bodyclock to stay awake to a respectable hour of the evening... and trying to explain to a child why it is really okay to go to bed when it’s still bright outside. On second thoughts, maybe winter can stay.

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