What an Irish American mother thought when she introduced her little girl Irish dance. Who knew "that wig wearing and elaborate beauty routines are part of the Irish folk dance culture"
Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes to shed new light on accepted standards.
That’s what happened when Jessica C., an IrishCentral reader, and mother of a little girl new to Irish dance, got her first taste of the competitive field.
While her daughter loved the Irish dance class, Jessica was disturbed that she left her first day wondering whether she’d be able to continue dancing with her straight hair – so different from the curly wigs the dancers sport for competitions.
“My four-year-old had her first Irish dance class recently and the teacher (very nice) was telling the new students (four to six-year-olds) about Irish dance and dance costumes. She said, "Did you notice something else about Irish dancers? They all have curly hair." That went over fine in class but later my daughter (straight haired) asked me, "Why can't girls with straight hair dance Irish?", Jessica told IrishCentral.
“Her question shows that this standard of curly hair is an unusual and potentially hurtful beauty standard. Having a categorical beauty standard like curly versus straight hair sends kids the message that some physical features are good and others are bad.”
Jessica noted that their newness to the Irish dance world probably gives her “some distance from the nostalgia and investment that more experienced dance families might feel about the current culture.”
Still, she said that when she talked to a few other parents who are outside the dance world and some who are also new to it, “all were surprised/disappointed to discover that wig wearing and elaborate beauty routines are part of the Irish folk dance culture.”
“It seems so out of place,” she added.
Hoping to address the issue directly, Jessica wrote a letter to An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (The Irish Dance Commission), voicing her concerns about the wigs and beauty standards that seem so central to the Irish dance world.
She received a reply from the CLRG that her letter will be included as correspondence at their next meeting.
Read the full letter below:
I am writing to urge you to ban wigs at Irish dancing competitions. The wigs are relics of the 1980s, a time when big hair was fashionable and people were less considerate about the beauty obsession that is being communicated to young girls. Now we know that encouraging young girls to compete with their beauty is not healthy for them. Moreover, the wigs are a physical burden for the girls. The Irish dance community should modernize. Parents are looking to you, as leaders, to decide what is best.
Firstly, the wigs are physically damaging to the girls' scalps and, for girls with for certain hair types, can cause long term damage. Girls who wear an uncomfortable wig in the context of a skilled dance competition are physically burdened.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, girls should be discouraged from beauty competition, not encouraged. Your institution is encouraging beauty pageantry and competition -- which conflicts with advice from pediatricians, developmental psychologists, psychiatrists, and educators. Banning wigs at Irish dance competition would offer the girls a more modern, healthy environment for skilled dance competition.
Many, many parents are hoping that you will ban the wigs so their girls don't feel so pressured to engage in extreme beauty pageantry and can *just dance*.
Banning wigs would be an important signal that the organization is moving away from a beauty pageant environment and back toward a folk culture environment.
Thank you for your consideration,
What do you think of the wigs and other beauty standards that have come to be a part of the Irish dance world? Share your thoughts in the comment section, below.
* Originally published in 2015.