How Riverdance shaped Irish dance and reflected multicultural Australia

Ireland won the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest, but their victory was overshadowed by a seven-minute „filler”.

The combined talents of Jean Butler, Michael Flatley and their supporting cast bring Irish dancing to life in a new, exciting way in Riverdance. The world noticed, including Australia.

Thirty years later, Riverdance is still touring the world, with many groups touring in different locations. So, is Riverdance important in Australia? Yes, I believe so.

The Irish in Australia

A in Australia People of notable Irish heritage From the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.

Throughout the 19th century, „Irish Not Wanted” signs were in general In job ads.

The 20th century saw some progress, but Comedians continued to promote The Irish were of low intelligence and often drunk.

McFayden & Peake’s general store flew the Irish flag at Naracoorte in South Australia in 1869.
State Library of South Australia

Performing or watching Irish dancing is a way to stick together and celebrate the Irish. Records of Irish dancing in Australia date back to the early 19th century, with the first mention of an Irish dancing teacher in Sydney in an Australian newspaper. Published in 1829.

The country music renaissance of the 1960s and 70s, when Irish artists such as The Chieftains gained worldwide popularity, brought about a positive change in perceptions of the Irish here. All over the world.

Black and white photo
Irish dancers in the Sydney suburb of Blacktown in 1980.
Blacktown City Libraries, CC BY-NC-SA

Riverdance themes of migration and feelings of longing for a former homeland A chord struck With Australians of Irish heritage, and a rise to fame Irish dance.

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An emerging dance form

Riverdance showed that „traditional” need not mean „frozen in the past”; Classical dance is suitable for a modern audience.

Irish dance has always been a harmonious art form. When there is evidence for it 17th centuryMost records date back to the 19th century.

A Video from 1929 It shows the dancers keeping their feet low and dancing in small spaces.

In the 1980sThe gait was very athletic, the legs sometimes reaching above knee level.

In 1994, Riverdance put a lot of new ideas into a seven-minute performance.

A key change, Flatley burst onto the stage using her arms in a way never before seen in competition dance. Until then, the dancers kept their arms straight at their sides. Suddenly, control flew.

Traditionally men wore kilts to competitions, which did not attract boys to Irish dancing in Ireland or Australia. Riverdance men wore black trousers. Irish dancing was portrayed as an activity in which men and boys participated, excelled in it – and even became glamorous during the performance.

Women also wore new clothes. Instead of tight competition dresses, Riverdance has women wearing short, body-hugging dresses.

The first full-length production of Riverdance was performed in Dublin in 1995 and first toured Australia. In March 1997.

Most elements of Riverdance have remained unchanged since those first performances. But the cast has changed several times and now includes a truly international one Morgan BullockFirst African American actor.

But although Riverdance is very similar to its first performances, the production’s popularity has led to changes in Irish dance.

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Riverdance resulted in high enrollment in both Irish dance classes Ireland And Australia.

The large number of contestants has led to many changes in the style of competitive dance, as the more dancers there are, the more difficult it is to win. Competitors are increasingly introducing new elements such as more complex steps and innovatively designed costumes (within prescribed competition guidelines). Get the attention of the judges.

A multicultural art

When I attended a show at the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne last month, it was packed with people of all ages and cultural backgrounds. Riverdance Stills attracts large audiences 30 years later, giving Australians a rare opportunity to see culturally specific dance on the concert stage.

Many immigrant communities in Australia have dance groups, and typically, group members are from that community. Until the mid-1990s, Irish dance behaved the same way; It is was inside Irish society.

After the river, that cultural boundary was destroyed: Anyone Irish dancing can be learned and excelled at.

At 30 years old, Riverdance still exudes a sense of multiculturalism: one of the many cultures of Australia’s population is publicly celebrated, with many Australian dancers performing over the years.

Riverdance is important in Australia because it weaves a thread into Irish-Australian history and draws many people to the dance, both performers and audiences. While other dance works have come and gone on the world’s concert stages, Riverdance has remained a constant presence for three decades.

It is no doubt still an Irish dance, but performed and witnessed by people of many backgrounds. A rare feat indeed.

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