Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

Why is Irish dancing now all fake tans and vulgar outfits?

It’s a time of year which shines an international spotlight onto what is possibly the most embarrassing and grotesque bastardisation of traditional Irish culture in existence.

No, not the That Lot versus Them Over There pre-election grill — I refer, of course, to the exploitative sham that is the modern Irish Dancing competition.

The World Irish Dancing Championships were held in Glasgow last week, representing a “unique, valuable and visible part of our rich Irish heritage” according to the event organisers.

A Scottish journalist friend of mine went along to report and was utterly bemused when he was confronted by rows of what looked like identical mini-transvestites decked out in 80s rave style acid fluorescents and Lily Savage bubble-perm wigs.

Could it be that some of the little girls — for those are what his investigation revealed were underneath the Widow Twanky costumes — were wearing fake tan, he asked me innocently? I nodded grimly. And their faces, he said, with trepidation — were they made up to look like Katie Price? Did they have false lashes glued to their eyelids? I couldn’t answer with authority on the Katie Price question — I often think they look more like circus clowns or baby dolls who have been magic markered by infants — but I could confirm that it was likely that not all of the girls’ eyelashes were natural. He recoiled in horror.

As the mother of a six-year-old girl, I understand my friend’s distaste and incredulity. People in the UK and Ireland used to look across the Atlantic and pour scorn on those classless Americans turning out their daughters like doll-sized hookers for their monstrous Beauty Pageants.

We mocked the hysterical competitiveness which created such an inappropriate environment for children to grow up around, and felt sad that their kids were pushed into a life of singular focus at such a tender age.

The vulgar costumes, the orange tans, the flesh-crawlingly OTT make-up and the outrageous expense were regarded as typically, stupidly American, eschewed by solid, sensible and sympathetic folks like us.

That seems like a long time ago now. The World Championships, and this week’s Derry Feis, make it abundantly clear that Irish dancing has adopted all the very worst tendencies of the American Beauty Pageant culture (which are, of course, also replicated in the thriving Irish Dancing scene in the States).

There may well be genuine talent on show at these events, and, somewhere, a connection to an old and worthwhile cultural demonstration of exuberance, rebellion and life. But all of that is lost in a sea of neon £1,500 dresses and pantomime faces, all caught up in a humourless and hard fought competition.

This must all be very frustrating for those youngsters who are damn good at dancing, but turned off by the obsession with costumes and make-up. I know what it’s like to be a decidedly plain child — it was hard enough for me to find an outfit for a friend’s birthday party that didn’t make me look like Woody Allen in a dress.

Scanning the photographs from the World Championships I don’t see a lot of fat girls in glasses with goofy teeth. Which makes me wonder what happens to the talented, enthusiastic kids who don’t look the part.

Like modelling contests for pre-pubescents, the Irish Dancing scene seems to encourage the most unjust and superficial of values, and the ridiculous mothers who buy into them.

For the sake of your daughters, as well as genuine Irish culture, ladies, move away from the St Tropez.

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