Forum: Irish / Irish

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re: Irish Central bashes dancers wearing wigs/makeup -
By seannettaPremium member
On Wed Feb 05, 2014 09:43 AM
Just pertaining to the point about tradition; it may be a bit of a lean-away from the central topic, but I think it's actually the backbone of what we're talking about when we debate costuming.

I think any tradition worldwide is indeed a case of pressing pause and codifying it -- that's not unique to ID. Because otherwise you can go backwards to the beginning of time, trying to determine what was first or most representative of what you're trying to preserve. Take Christmas trees, for example. Most people consider them very traditional. You can find evidence of pagan traditions that used trees in celebratory ways. But it didn't really become codified/popularized in mainstream culture until Victorian times, or thereabouts. Somebody adopted something, and it became tradition.

My point is that it's not inherently a bad thing for people to get together and make a firm decision about what they want tradition to be. It's an arbitrary decision, to pick the time and the look and the other aspects of your definition of traditional, but it's fake or invalid. Highland dance did it -- they took aspects of the kilt, which really is an invented tradition to begin with -- and then codified a very strict dress code which has now become traditional.

What's exciting and different about ID is that it's always been about relentless forward motion. The solo aspect of the dancing has always been about one dance master trying to upstage another. With constant innovation, it gets harder and harder to look back and find anything resembling what people would define as traditional. So it's natural for people to cling to certain elements -- some particular moves, a style of costume that maybe looked "traditional" to their mind -- as everything else speeds forwards.

Another historical side to this is that back when the Gaelic League was essentially governing Irish dance, Irish culture very much emphasized the oral over the written tradition -- written tradition being more British. You can find this backbone in the way that Irish dance has no system for codifying steps, many variations on set dances, and a textbook for ceili dances that has many frustrating inconsistencies. We're not even allowed to tape our competitions, for reasons I find weak, but that's another matter entirely. But the lack of any way to talk about or write about ID's dances across the board also makes defining "tradition" difficult. There are, what, 3 or 4 rules in CLRG about the actual dancing? It becomes a matter of "I know it when I see it," which again makes definition a slippery thing. And it also makes us prone to being a particularly argumentative group, because it often becomes more about "well this is the way it is", or "I like it this way," or other feelings-based debates, because there isn't much of a codified system in place for talking about these things.

This stuff fascinates me -- I'm seriously going to do a thesis on it some day, which explains why I get all wordy on this topic, and for that I apologize. But to get back to the reason this thread was created in the first place...Sometimes, when you're in the thick of something, and it's always moving forward, you don't have a mechanism by which to look back and figure out if you're headed in the right direction. This is what frustrates me about Irish dance. The very thing that makes it so exciting -- that relentless innovation in both the steps and the costuming -- also makes it difficult to do any sort of self-evaluation. Is it a good thing that wigs are the norm? I've never heard a satisfying argument on either side.

Being caught up in it also makes it difficult for us to see ourselves as non-dancers do. If you just discovered ID out of the blue, having no idea of what it was about, it's entirely possible that the costumes and makeup would look garish. I always get questions about, "what's Irish about those outfits and those wigs?" I never have any idea how to answer without getting into 30-minute history lecture, kinda like what I'm writing right now.

That doesn't mean people have a right to draw hysterical conclusions, of course. That Irish Central article was badly written and hyperbolic and a couple of its points were, yes, insulting. It's totally natural to get defensive.

What I don't like, however, is the inability of a lot of ID'ers I've met to look at our culture with any degree of self-reflection. What makes what we do "Irish dance"? Is it the posture? (That's actually not all that traditional -- there is loose evidence that early dance masters probably swung their arms a bit.) Should we just always do whatever moves we want? What makes a move "Irish"? How much can we add to our dances while still maintaining some essence of ID? What is that essence? Why are wigs a good thing? Why are they a bad thing? Should costuming always be anything goes, or should some element be defined? Why do we wear white socks? Are they traditional?

There are no clear answers to any of that, and that's partly why it's easy to get up in arms when we're criticized -- because we don't have unified answers. It's what so weird and wonderful about ID, but it makes us open to critique much more than other "folk" dance forms that have decided to define their traditions. I just wish it was the wider norm in the ID world to talk about this stuff intelligently, kind of like we're talking about it here on DDN right now.
re: Irish Central bashes dancers wearing wigs/makeup -
By tinydancer1988
On Wed Feb 05, 2014 11:38 AM
I don't really think anything about the dancing except maybe a treble, or a rock, or a few other assorted moves is particularly "Irish" in nature. The music is definitely Irish, but at competitions they're playing it on pianos, accordians, guitars... whatever. Many of the costuming ideas come from Irish dress designers...

But I think that the activity that I call Competitive Irish Dance (to distinguish it from Sean Nos or Ceili or Step dance or Set dance) isn't particularly "Irish". There are so many things that we've adopted from all over the world that it really is a dance form with a mind of its own. Just like ballet or jazz or modern dance, it has really grown to include elements from many different cultures.
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