Do Irish Dance Solo Dresses & Wigs Distract The Audience From A Great Performance?

Article featured in Diddlyi Magazine.

I’m sure everyone who has ever watched Irish dancers has seen the elaborate costumes we wear when we dance. Having been introduced to Irish dance through Riverdance, most people, including myself are very surprised when the learn that competitive Irish dancers do not wear simple short dresses and tights.

I spent my first three years dancing making fun of the large curly wigs, swearing I’d never wear one. I also told myself I’d never wear a stiff colorful dress. Then I bumped into championship competition and everything changed. I had a solo dress made and with reluctance finally started wearing a curly wig. I’m not going to lie, I started to fit in more easily with the other Irish dancers, but at the same time whenever I got on stage, I felt a little embarrassed about my appearance.

I will not deny there is a certain unique beauty to Irish dance solo dresses, but in requires a very specific type of face and shape to pull off such an extreme look. When I wear my Irish dance costume, no matter how much makeup, glitter and accessories I add, the solo dress and wig will never look good on me. For heaven sakes, I’m 29 years old. My sister put it well recently when she said, “I have to say the wigs and dresses make you guys look like little dollies.”

I’m a grown woman who wants to look beautiful and graceful when I get on stage to perform dances I’ve been working on all year. I extremely dislike the fact that in order to fit in with the other competitors I have to dress up like a ‘little dollie’.

The real issue, however, is not how much I dislike what I have to wear. The real issue with wearing neon solo dresses and wigs when competing at a feis or performing for an audience is that the excessive bold costumes distract from the actual performance. I know for a fact how distracting they can be because when I watch dancers compete I am constantly comparing one dress to the other. I critique dresses without even realizing I’m doing it. “Oh, I like that one… what was that girl thinking?… that one has bad colors… that one has too many ruffles…”

After going to feis after feis for many years, I’ve learned it’s almost impossible NOT to stare at a dancer’s dress and bouncing wig. It really is frustrating to know that when I get on stage, the people watching are so distracted by my costume that they have difficulty paying attention to what my feet are doing. It’s frustrating to work so hard to become great, then get pressured into hiding behind frills and curls that don’t look good on me anyway.

Are we in a beauty pageant or are we elite Irish dancers? I’m fed up with costumes that make Irish dance something slightly embarrassing to share rather than a respected dance form that’s magnificent, graceful and strong. When I get on stage, I want feel confident and beautiful, not slightly embarrassed because of what I’m wearing.

What do you think of solo dresses and wigs? Do they distract from the performance?

To view more photos from Feile Denver, click here.

Article written by Shelly Allen
Photo by Shelly Allen Photography

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