Last night I went to see Lord of the Dance.
My uncle Peter took my cousin Sarah, her friend Shayla, and I to go see it in Springfield, MA. Shay and I were last minute additions when Sarah's 2 older sisters couldn't come because of school-related engagements. But I am really grateful that I got to be the replacement. We had a great time.
I was the only dancer of the bunch (*going on 12 years, babayyy!) and for me, this show has extra special meaning. Back in the 90's when Michael Flatley, dance legend, created the show, my dad somehow heard about it and brought home a VHS of the performance live in London's Hyde Park. He thought it would be a cool thing to expose me to, culturally, musically and all...
But it did way more than that. At seven years old I became OBSESSED with Irish Step Dancing. That videoed performance is to blame. After turning it off I spent hours 'dancing' around my house, and any flat surface I could find, begging my parents to get my some lessons. I had heard of the stuff before, my friend Alanna was a dancer and her mom owned a studio in my town, but I had never really had an interest in dance. But when we popped that video in our VCR, the first song, Cry of the Celts, began and the story of Lord vs. Don Dorscha began to unfold, I was changed.
At seven, I thought Michael Flatley was not only 'Lord of the Dance,' but a real, live super hero.
Wow, I have come a long way.
For those of you who have seen Lord (or Riverdance, or Celtic Tiger) you can probably just imagine shirtless, sweaty Flatley and his "feet of flames" rhythmically making his way across the stage, doing crazy stuff with his arms and kissing his glittery girl. For those of you who haven't seen it, I just gave a pretty decent summary of the parts including Flatley. Lord of the Dance and its creator are greatly accredited for the widespread rise of Irish Step in the 1990's. Michael Flatley became the face of Irish Step. Still, now 16 years after the show first appeared, when you say any sort of sentence involving "...Irish step dance...", most people immediately bring up Flatley.
But...that is a very inaccurate picture of Irish Step. The true Irish don't so much love Flatley. They don't so much like the way that he modernized their traditional and beautiful form of dancing. They don't so much like that the pompous, American born/Irish raised man messed with their culture. They don't so much like the fact that when people think of Irish Dancing, they imagine a full-of-himself, sweaty guy with his chest painted and arms waving about, and girls with less clothing than necessary clinging to him.
I promise you, NONE of that is Irish. I know and love Irish and that is a distorted image of what it truly it. I have learned. I have competed. I have performed. I have danced on a big, bad stage in Ireland. I assure you, I have done NONE of that above mentioned shenanigans. But when Flatley did it, it turned the world's eyes to Ireland. Suddenly what they had been doing for centuries was a world wide phenomenon. Thousands of kids like me, suddenly wanted to learn what this guy knew. He more or less single-handedly changed the globe's view on Irish Step!
While it is a modernized form, it sure looked to me when I was seven! It wasn't so much the show, or him, or the costumes that enthralled me back then. It was the music. And how their feet sang the words to the songs. It was like a bunch of performers in musical, telling the story with their feet instead of mouths. I found, and still find, that fascinating. As much as I have come to love Irish music, what I love more is that WE ARE the music. Sometimes at shows my teacher (*yes, the aforemented Alanna's mom) will have a dancer perform an impressive solo, in hard shoe, to music. Then she turns off the music and the person does it again. And the feet sing the same song.
That is why I love Irish Dance. Soft shoe feels like flying and Hard shoe feels like playing a rhythm instrument. I have never lost that feeling. I remember my first class, back in the summer of 1999. The feeling I felt then, I still feel every time I go to dance. There is nothing else like it.
So while I can look back and say "You liar! That isn't Irish. Please put a shirt on and stop flailing your arms." and also can look back and see the huge affect that it had on my life. Last night I listened to that music, hummed it all by heart, danced the steps in my head, and thought back to the first time I watched the show, on my living room TV. That day quite literally changed my life. Yup, I've come a very long way.
So thank you, Uncle Peter, for taking me to see it live, for taking me back to that moment where Irish Dance captured my mind, my heart, and my feet. Thank you for reminding me of what I love. And thank you sweaty, feet of flames Flatley! Thank you for introducing me to what I love. I owe you one.