I am going to come right out and say it; I am embarrassed of the fact that my daughter does Irish dancing.
Of course I love my daughter and I am proud that she has a hobby that she loves and one that she is quite skilled in but it doesn’t mean I share her passion, far from it. Despite spending probably thousands on it, I find myself actively trying to persuade her to drop the dancing and try something else. She’s hooked, I’m not.
My problem isn’t the dancing. I don’t have some kind of mad aversion that will see me running for cover every time I hear the sound of an accordion; I danced for years and even now I find it hard to keep my feet still if I am on a wooden floor. It’s all that goes with Irish dancing that I need to take an allergen for.
I hate the dresses, especially my daughter’s dress. I am the sort of person that likes to quietly observe from the back. It’s not standoffish, snobbery or superiority, it’s simply me. My daughter’s dress does not allow me to stand unnoticed at the back of the hall. It is a dress that screams, ‘Look at us’ (her and me because let’s face it, put her in a dress like that and you’re bound to look for who’s responsible). Her dress has more bling on it than Blackpool and cost more than my monthly mortgage repayment. I admit it has ‘stage presence’ as when she’s on stage the lights catch her and she looks like she’s dressed up as the cockpit of a plane but it’s a constant reminder to me of how stupid I was to leave her dress to ‘the people who know what they’re doing.’ I hate what her dress says about me: I have more money than sense (I wish) and I have no class (I like to imagine/pretend that I do). Her dress is a distraction (just try and take your eyes off her dress and look at her feet) and a money-making gimmick where schools of dancing are tied up with such and such a dressmaker.
The dress thing isn’t new for me. I’ve hated Irish dancing dresses since the beginning of time. My own dress was a musty secondhand velvet number that reeked of years worth of someone else’s sweat then years worth of my sweat (at least it made me keep my arms clamped by my side). I wore it until it could no longer be described as decent and then it was probably sold on to some other poor child. The point is I was no different to anybody else. We were all in secondhand dresses because the dress didn’t matter so much; it was the dancing that set us apart. When Jean Butler sashayed across the stage during the interval in Eurovision 1994 from head to toe in black, my relief was palpable. Irish dancing was about to undergo a revolution, it had just got fashionable, practical and affordable.
The image of Irish dancing did not move forward, it regressed. In a world where we tell our daughters they can be whatever they wish to be, that they are the equal of boys and that with hard work their dreams will come true (and I don’t mean the dream of standing on the top box) we dress up our girls and expose them to an antiquated world where talent will only get them so far. We put them on a stage where we tell them to smile, stick out their chest and sparkle. I hate what my daughter’s dress suggests to people who don’t know me. To people who do know me it must be an awful contradiction and I’m afraid it will soon get worse; she will soon be at the age when make up is permitted and I’m in complete fear of the thing that is a full wig.
At the moment she wears a bun wig. I gave into this request of her teacher’s after realising I just had to plonk it on her head and we were ready to go. The full wigs look farcical and I have no idea why they have become the favoured look in Irish dancing. I get that they bounce but are the adjudicators not skilled enough to not be fooled by trickery? It’s all about illusion now. Have a wig on your head making you look like Rumpole of the Bailey and the judge (clever) will think you’re jumping higher. Wrap your heavy shoes with white tape and it will elongate your leg making your foot look smaller and your steps neater and I don’t know what the white laces on the soft shoe are for although it’s probably the same thing. The face makeup applied by some schools (including ours) looks like Widow Twanky’s (it’s always panto season at a feis) and the fake tan on the legs, well it’s just not Irish is it?
I am trying to bring all my children up to be good, kind, decent people who know the value in working hard today for their tomorrow. For my dancing daughter, I want her to be grateful for the gift of dance (she does to be fair get a great deal from it) but I want her to know it is what’s in her heart and mind that matters most and these can’t be validated on a stage with her in a dress embellished in crystals. Irish dancing has not moved with the times, it is old-fashioned and sexist, it teaches our daughters to get used to being judged on their appearance and it encourages them to cast a superficial eye over everyone else.
I love to Irish dance but I am embarrassed of the fact that my daughter does Irish dancing.