Irish dance: A once time-honored tradition-turned-plastic fashion parade?
When Irish America first published a story on the Irish dance phenomena in America in 1995, the scenes at feisanna were quite different than the chaotic sea of wigs and glitter one might find today. Little girls wore simpler dresses adorned with embroidery in the shapes of Celtic knots, with matching headbands holding back their natural ringlets of hair.
Enter the new millennium and the style of Irish dance twisted the traditional garb into a catwalk of multi-thousand dollar dresses equipped with glimmering rhinestones and the occasional feathers. Top it all off with those infamous and equally ridiculous wigs and you have the sorry spectacle that is competitive Irish dance fashion.
A once time-honored tradition has digressed into a parade of overly made-up children in glittering pageantry. Feisanna are now attracting new over-the-top trends that makes one ask whether the competitions are centered on dance ability or dress-up. Little girls await their competition results with tears streaking their fake tanner and mascara running down their unnaturally rosy cheeks, as mothers and teachers tweak the girls’ wigs and tiaras. And while the boys still wear a shirt, tie and often a broach, the girls arrive in neon-colored dresses and with faces painted like dolls.
The sight of all these little orange girls with manes of faux-ringlets begs the question of where did these “traditions” came from? The Internet has been abuzz in recent years, with parents blogging about the frightening costs and absurd wigs that caused them to pull their daughters out of dance. The same story pops up several times in an attempt to rationalize the popularity of these wigs.
As the story goes, a young red-haired colleen with bouncy curls entered the feis scene and fully dominated her categories, competition after competition. Parents and teachers alike watched in frustration as the dancer enthralled judges, and in an attempt to find what exactly gave her the edge over the competition, they began to fixate on her hair. The mane of curls bounced to heighten her leaps and make her spins more dramatic. Thus began the tradition of curling girls’ hair for competition. At first the curls were a natural wave but as foam spikes became the weapon of choice in coiling the young dancers’ hair, soon every dancer was showing up to competition with endless piles of perfect spirals atop their crowns.
Now what about those wigs? Any straight-haired woman will tell you the moment rain becomes a factor, no amount of foam spikes or hairspray will hold a curly hairdo. Outdoor feisanna grew in popularity and after a few days of bad weather, wigs found their way onto the heads of nearly every competitive dancer. As for the makeup and fake tanner, there’s nothing less traditional than Irish skin delightfully browned by the sun. Those customs are mysterious infiltrations of the current cultural atmosphere that values a sun-kissed glow and a plastic sheen of cosmetics into the step-dancing world.