Celtic Dance/Riverdance

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Skylar Garder

December 12th 2020

Celtic Dance

Heather Sparling

Over the span of the course, Celtic Dance, I have learned many styles of dance primarily self-taught due to the era and setting of place but not Riverdance. This notion is further explained in the following quote. In the article Safe Sets: Woman, Dance, and Communitas By Barbra O’Connor, it states, ‘’the recent success of Riverdance: The Show in Britain and the US has given Irish dance a certain cultural cachet beyond its traditional milieu. At home in Ireland, it is likely to have the effect, at least temporarily, of an increase in the number of young girls, and perhaps, even some boys, attending step-dancing classes and diligently practising their steps in the hope of becoming future Jean Butler or Michael Flatley.'’

Jean Butlers and Michael Flatley are the stars of Riverdace. They're both American step-dancers. Equally as talented and proclaimed. Flatley is known for being the lead male dancer of Riverdance but also known for doing most of the choreography for Riverdance. Butler on the other hand is angelic with such grace and precision. She has won many world-wide competitions and shines on stage alongside her magnificent dance partner, Flatley.

The history of Irish dance transformed and evolved when Riverdance was introduced to the audience and widescreen television at Eurovision song contest. Riverdance first opened in Dublin in 1994 and has become internationally the most successful music productions in the world. The following quote puts emphasise on how Riverdance became such a spectacle. In the article Riverdance by Barbra O’Connor says, ‘’The process involved the selection of certain dance repertoires and styles and the omission of others to create an authentic national cannon, generally accepted style of dance. And then, almost one hundred years later, along came Riverdance, marking yet another transformation in Irish dance.’’

Now I’ll focus on the spectacle part of Riverdance which I’ll further speak more about as the essay proceeds. First, one must think what it takes to do these extreme dances. The energy and stamina it must take to perform with such emotion. How the production and celebration of Irish music, song and dance created a unique spectacle. The visuals, the lights and the projections are just the beginning as to why the show was so appealing and has grown to be famous. Also including the over-the-top excitement from the crowd and the sonic element of the footwork that penetrates the stadium. Also, the beat and the sound of the full piece band including percussion wars with the step dancers, mainly Flatley.

The audience was mesmerized by his foot work and the choreography. After the stellar performance they were joined on stage with fellow dancers. They were joined by many people and stepping and tapping in unison. The whole performance was bold and vibrant. Not missing a beat.

There are other parts of the spectacle which include the dancer's costumes that are quite striking to the eye and performance appropriate. When Riverdance first started in 1994 the video can be described as hauntingly beautiful. Jean Butlers entrance was ethereal she was wearing a silk cloak when she walked on stage and a dark velvet dress with lace sleeves. Her outfit was revealed when she removed the cloak with a flourish as it seemed to float away. Michael Flatley was wearing dark coloured trouser pants and a top with batwing sleeves. The top was rich silky looking blue and shimmered as he moved. The video proves this observation. As they fly across the stage and their feet never stop moving. Leaving the audience in awe over their ability to perform high kicks with their legs.


Above I mentioned that I learned about multiple styles of dance throughout the course. I would like to draw some connections to the different types of dance. Costumes for Riverdance are like costumes worn by the Irish dance competitors in the documentary, Jig. It should also be known that the costumes are not gender neutral. In Jig and in Riverdance the boys and men's costumes are freer flowing while the girls and women's costumes are stiffer and tighter with a short crinoline skirt.

Not only are the garments similar the dancing is also similar. The dancer's arms are held very close to their body and they hardly move. However, in Riverdance there is more freedom with the arms since Riverdance is not a competition but a spectacle. The footwork has many intricacies and are hard at work to showcase their professionally practised talents. I can hardly imagine the number of hours it must take to reach such perfection.

The first time Riverdance was performed was with champions Butler and Flatley. They were accompanied by a dance company. A choral group Anuna and the music and lyrics by Bill Whelan. In the article, Riverdance, by Sean McMahon, it says ‘’the seven-minute spectacular was to give Irish hard-shoe step-dancing and its accompanying music a global success, largely owing to the dynamics and talents of Flatley.’’ This quote is important because Riverdance only began as a 7-minute performance designed to keep the audience entertained during the interval between the final performances. According to our notes it says, ‘’the host country has the opportunity to showcase something of its culture during the interval shows.’’ This particular year was obviously Dublin, Ireland. On the 30th of April 1994 there was a spectacular performance.

Dance can change the world, and that’s what Riverdance did. Step dancing was done either individually, duos, contras or sqaure dance. Either way, their feet were always stepping and choregraphed in a certain set or pattern. When Flatley and Butler came on stage it stirred the audience and lit a fire because it was so different. They didn’t know what to expect compared to old-school step dancing. The audience could almost feel a sensation in their own bodies. The dancers received immense standing ovations.

Thanks to the direction of a classmate who suggested that Riverdance can create a direction for Irish competitive dancers such as those from, Jig, who graduated from their age group and otherwise had no career to move into other than a teacher or something. Riverdance has created positions for young dancers to contribute their talents, which is very important. If you dance your whole life, since a child, there should be an adult incentive to carry those hard worked talents elsewhere and beyond the status of a teacher. The dancer’s strict lifestyle from a young age can benefit the spectacle of show business which is Riverdance. Jig dancer's lifestyle was so strict, so they have a chance to win World championships. If they can provide that much discipline to their lives at such a young age, they would be perfect for a spectacle.

Another suggestion from a classmate was to read an article by Olivia Stefan. This article was very helpful. I mentioned previously that Riverdance is a global success but how did it transform traditional Irish dance into what it is now? The article reads, ‘’Riverdance correlates to the expansion of Irish dance, because the administration of the previously sheltered and localized Irish dance community was able to capitalize on sudden global popularity and expand the reach of their art form, so that I can help others in the Irish dance community understand how this one show has transformed their art form.’’

In conclusion, due to Riverdance becoming such a world-wide spectacle, the ‘’popularity [of it all] benefits an entire organization or entire art form’’ for Celtic Dance. Eurovision song contest has created a new would for step dancers. A retreat for professionally trained step dancers to showcase their wonderful, and sometimes, naturally born talents.

O'Connor, Barbara. 1997. "Safe Sets: Women, Dance and “Communitas”". In Dance in the City, edited by H. Thomas, 149-172. Palgrave MacMillan.

O'Connor, Barbara. 1997. "Riverdance". In Encounters with Modern Ireland, edited by M. Peillon and E. Slater, 51-60. Dublin: Institute of Public Administration.

https://youtu.be /w0v_pu6miJ8

Sue Borne. 1 May 2011. Ji g. https://youtu.be/5G7nAjEVIwg

Riverdance (2009) Brewer's Dict ionary of Irish Phrase and Fable. Web.