Waiting on Flatley

Last night we went to see Riverdance with our good friends Barb and Doug. It was Doug, who is constantly finding tickets to concerts and sporting events, that created the force to alter our typically suburban-bound inertia. Riverdance downtown? Sure, why not. How can you not like Riverdance? It is an Irish show that combines Tibia and Talus bone crushing dance, intermixed with singing and instrumentals. Ostensibly the show tells the tale of Irish immigration to the United States, using traditional stepdance and music, but I think the non-dance elements were added intentionally to let those poor people ice their legs.

Throughout the first half of the show, I couldn’t help but wonder how and when stepdance came to be. I also found myself in awe of the gentleman to my left, who demonstrated unparalleled mastery of the art of napping. From the moment he sat down, he began his sequence of three minute naps, punctuated by applause at the end of each number. Before the applause completely died out, his hands would return to his thighs and chin would hit his chest. As a person that believes that I have the ability to nap anywhere, I was schooled in a new level of napping… the ‘nap / clap / nap / clap’. As the show moved through a soloist on the uilleann pipes, the Irish version of bagpipes, I wondered if it was possible to play anything upbeat on that class of instrument. Maybe the dance was invented to counteract the depressing effects of their traditional music?

At the break, I pondered out loud my question regarding the origins of Irish dance. Without missing a beat, Doug responded that it originated during World War II when dance had been outlawed. By holding the upper body rigid, he continued, dancers would not be seen dancing by their occupiers through the windows of their homes. What a brilliantly ridiculous thesis! It conjured up images of observing a family through a waist high window, all in formation, bobbing slightly as they moved around room. I chuckled my way through the intermission and into the second act. As the show progressed, I had more questions. Was Dr. Scholl, the inventor of modern foot products, of Irish origin? Maybe his name was Padriag Liam Scholl. How could one percussionist do justice to a drum kit that was larger than a step van? He did, and then he performed an amazing solo on one handheld backless drum using a knobby stick, producing an incredible range of sound almost equal to that quarter-stage pile of drums. How long will it be before some producer in Las Vegas decides that Riverdance au Naturale is a good idea? Ouch; hopefully that one is a ways off. Is Irish stepdance really the godfather of tap and flamenco dance as the show suggests? That certainly could be, yet these other cultures clearly felt liberated enough to throw their arms into the act. Did the impossibly skinny legs of the lead dancers create some aerodynamic advantage? They certainly demonstrated the ability to flip their feet around faster than all of their slightly less skinny backup dancers.

One might think that with all of these inane ramblings, I didn’t pay attention to or enjoy the show. That simply isn’t true. It was hugely entertaining, and generated a lot of questions for me, which was likely the point when they created the show’s storyline. Irish stepdance, I now know, likely dates back to pre-Christian times. The rigid upper body posture may have originated from the practice of using unhinged wooden doors as the stage; there simply wasn’t room for arm flailing when you put a couple of people on a door. Dr. Scholl was of German descent, not Irish. The drummer was the hardest working person in that show, in my opinion. As for the rest of the questions, there doesn’t seem to be any definitive answers at this point. I guess we’ll be waiting on Michael Flatley to clarify a few points.

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