I remember the first time I saw Riverdance on television, many years ago. I was channel surfing and stumbled across some random show on PBS. There was this line of people standing stick-straight with their arms stiffly at their sides, hopping up and down in a strange complex way. I knew nothing of Irish Dancing or anything else. My thought at the time was, unfortunately, “Uh-Oh, White People Dancing, this can’t turn out well.” Over time, I did learn better.

This new year has started, as do so many, with me getting sick. My careful resolutions have been thrown out already in a flood of virus induced respiratory difficulties. I actually don’t feel so bad, but I can’t stop coughing and if I can’t stop coughing, I can’t sleep. I missed a half-day of work, only the third time I’ve left work sick in thirty years (and the other two I was blind which I considered a good excuse). This time I was so tired I was scared I was going to make a mistake and somebody would get hurt.

So the other night I crept out from my room to sit up on the couch, swigging from a bottle of vile green liquid, and watching a bit of Teevee until I was exhausted enough to try and go back to bed. There was this movie on, a documentary, a film by Sue Bourne called Jig. It was fascinating enough that I hit the DVR record button so I could watch it the next day, with my head on more or less straight.

Jig is about the world of competitive Irish Dancing. At first, it’s a little disturbing – with the wigs and elaborate costumes on the little girls it has a “Toddlers and Tiaras” vibe going on. But it doesn’t take long to realize that these kids are learning to do something special. Every one of them is driven by the dance itself. They are going all over the world to compete… and they want to win, but what they really want to do is dance. They want to dance as well as they are capable of.

And that is something to enjoy and respect.

One important part of the film that I recognize is the dedication of the parents to the aspirations of their children. I’ve spent a lot of time and money on stuff like that, especially kids’ soccer. Thousands of dollars and tens of thousands of hours on practice, travel, tournaments. It’s easy to ask what do you really get out of something like that. It doesn’t matter. There is no choice… you do what you need to do.

In the documentary one father gives up his lucrative doctor’s practice in the States to move to England so his son can get better instruction in the dance. His son, Joe Bitter talks about his set dance. He says that it is so difficult that if he dances it cleanly it will be the best dance ever done.

The dancers… the kids handle the pressure pretty well, but man, take a look at the mother’s face in this clip while she’s watching her daughter dance. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

Any closed world like that of competitive Irish Dancing seems odd at first sight. But, sitting there on my couch like Jabba the Hut, coughing, I could not help but tip my hat to those kids and all their dedication and hard work. If you look closely and fairly you can see that they are trying to fly and coming a lot closer than any of us.

Irish Dancing Blogs

3 responses to “Jig

    • I thought of you when I was writing this. There is a tradition of stuff on PBS here over the years that takes a respected style of performance (Irish Dancing, Classical Music, Opera Singing) and messes it up – changing it for a certain type of older well-off audience.

      To me, the most obvious change/desecration is that these people make what they are doing look very difficult and exhausting. Real artists make their work look (although it is very difficult and exhausting) as effortless as possible.

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