ED2012 COLUMN: Yes, it’s the marvellous Up & Over It with a Fringe Blog.
Yes we’ve said it; Irish dance is cooler than Hip Hop. Actually, it’s cooler than that; it’s too cool for school, cooler than Cool and the Gang and again, way cooler than Hip Hop. It might be old, but it’s fierce. In no other dance form do you get balletic, lyrical gracefulness one minute and then percussive musicality the next. It’s survived civil wars, religious apartheid and Michael Flatley’s sticky fingers. It’s a folk phoenix; it’s had more comebacks than Madonna, it’s Western Europe’s answer to Bollywood and it’s goddamn cool.
This is, of course, coming from two professional Irish dancers in their 30s, who’ve spent their entire lives wrapped up in Irish dance, but still, Irish dance is cool. We’ve already mastered the lower body and now that we’ve entered the mainstream, it’s only a matter of time before the top half gets a makeover too. Hip Hop may have the music, the clothes and the street cred but those things are just superficial dressage. Swap the diddly-i music for some electro-pop beats, ditch the velvet costumes and add some voguing and wacking and all of a sudden you’re reaching a fresh new audience. You may argue whether it’s still technically Irish dance if you strip away these nationalistic associations, but surely after years of training and a long career in Irish dance, we’re in a position to bend the rules a little and help the evolution of a dance form that’s been centuries in the making.
What’s exciting about Irish dance is that it’s a relatively new dance form in terms of performance. Since the breakout success of Riverdance in the early nineties, Irish dance has been legitimised as a professional dance practice which in turn has inspired performers to experiment more with the form. As Up & Over It, we’re trying our best to offer new audiences an alternative to the run-of-the-mill Irish dance shows and along with choreographers such as Colin Dunne, Brendan Galway and troupes such as Prodijig and TapTronic, we’re part of a very recent neo-Irish dance movement. Hip Hop of course has been going through the same process over recent years; Kate Prince from Zoonation and Boyblue are just two companies that spring to mind. Both have been propelled into the mainstream and have gained the respect of the industry along the way.
Of course what’s “cool’ is completely subjective and some ardent Hip Hop practitioners may disagree with what Prince and Boyblue are doing much in the same way some traditionalists can’t get on board with what we’re doing. However, it’s the love of our chosen art form that propels us to explore new avenues and seek out new audiences. Our intention has never been the pursuit of ‘cool’, but rather to reach out to people who may have been turned off by the nationalistic, and dare we say, misogynistic trappings of Flatley and co. We wanted our peers to appreciate the skill and versatility of Irish dance and so the work we create references the world in which they and we live in, much in the same way Hip Hop and other forms of dance have been doing for decades.
However, despite the blatantly obvious traits of coolness found in Irish dance that we’ve described above, can an art form be intrinsically cool? Surely it’s the people behind the art that makes it cool. When we watch other performers, their innovation, confidence and execution excites us most of all. It doesn’t matter if you’re a filmmaker or a Morris dancer, if your work is original, thought through and delivered with a certain panache then it seems more likely you’ll get the attention you deserve and thus go up in the cool stakes. It’s not just what you do, but how and why. We’ve seen innovative dance performed with conviction on the street by a group of 13 year olds and loved it, and we’ve been bored to tears by respected companies on big stages.
The same goes for Irish dance. Many companies have sprung up over the past fifteen years performing lazy choreography for a quick buck. It may still be the coolest dance form on the planet, but that doesn’t mean Irish dancers should rest on their laurels. Just as companies such as Boy blue and Zoonation are inspiring a whole new audience to take up Hip Hop and contribute back to the genre, so the same needs to continue to happen with professional Irish dance. Otherwise we run the risk of falling back into the folk abyss. And that just ain’t cool.
Up & Over It performed ‘Back On Our Feet’ at Assembly George Square at Fringe 2012.