Irish Step Dancing: The Inevitable Fall

The world of Irish step dancing is in disarray after allegations of teachers and competition adjudicators allegedly involved in cheating has now found its’ way to the High Court of Ireland.*

In a complex set of twists and turns, one teacher/adjudicator of a group who were suspended by the dancing governing body An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG) in November 2022, has brought the CLRG to the High Court to have her suspension lifted, and won.

The  group of others against whom allegations have been made has now grown to 44, and it has also been reported that “Some teachers had complained that their suspensions had resulted in a loss of earnings.” **

This is a clear demonstration that Irish step dancing has become a highly lucrative business, and seems to have lost it’s way as an art form and as a community.

In addition, there is growing alarm at the lack of proper safety and concern for dancers at competition venues as it has been reported in April 2023 that “A spectator has been left disgusted by what they described as disastrous stage conditions which saw one dancer break their foot at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Canada earlier this month.”***

What a sad turn of events for step dancing, as a less-than-attractive underbelly is being exposed for the ruthless level of competition, money and status that I believe has no place in what should be a proud and beautiful form of cultural Irish dance.

However, I am not one bit surprised.

Irish step dancing has for too long been an extremely crowded arena with very limited opportunities for highly trained and talented dancers. The pressure has been building for years and it is not surprising that something had to give.

In my previous post from May 2016 Riverdance: Have We Lost What Captivated Us So?, I made the following observation:

“Now, with the influx of thousands of young hopefuls, the sheer volume of interest has begun to move the dance in a whole different direction: a tidal surge causing it to lose it’s mooring of grace, rhythm and a deep connection with the music. I am concerned about much of what that means for the dancing, the dancers and the Irish culture it supposedly represents.

It’s now all about the extremes, intensity and deadly seriousness, and a slightly nasty edge that comes with all that… For many dancers, there is an expectation of very intensive training, that dancing on pointe and extreme ballet turnout is the norm, that getting injured is de rigueur, that money is no object and that dancers will do almost anything to win including moving schools – sometimes even moving country to improve their chances of winning a competition.”

There are, of course, other styles of Irish dance that could accommodate and welcome lots more dancers. Sean nós dancing is an obvious alternative for any step dancer, albeit with limited structured competition via the Fleadh competitions run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ). Set dancing could also be an option for dancers as it blossoms with more people, and also because competition is only a very small part of the overall set dancing experience, and is all the more healthy for that.

I hope very much that the entire Irish step dancing community- governing bodies, teachers, judges, parents and dancers- take this opportunity to critically review their priorities and the the way the dancing is structured, including providing more opportunities than just competing and performing.

This could allow the dancing to thrive in a more congenial, trustworthy and ethically sound way that places the welfare of it’s young dancers at it’s heart.

I wish them all well.
Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss


One thought on “Irish Step Dancing: The Inevitable Fall

  1. Not the least bit surprising. Competitive ID was already like this when I competed in the 80’s and 90’s, just on a smaller playing field with fewer players. Now on a much larger and more crowded field, everything is magnified, and what we see isn’t pretty. Children broken by overtraining in an extreme style with dangerous expectations, “teachers” who think nothing of cheating, parents broke from the expense, and not one bit of it has anything to do with the “tradition” referenced only by way of lip service.

    One thing which is surprising is watching the Irish Dance Mafia, a.k.a. CLRG, try—and fail—to do something it is famously loathe to do: Discipline its members. Confronted by a mess too large and damning to ignore or sweep under the rug, this deeply corrupt “dancing commission” actually did the right thing and suspended those under investigation. To be legally compelled to rescind those suspensions is incredibly ironic. In the meantime, I don’t see how any dancer can feel they actually placed (or didn’t) in this organization’s feiseanna. Those 44 accused are just the tip of the iceberg.

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