So I played another feis this weekend: that makes five feiseanna in three weeks. I haven't played this much in quite a few years and, while I'm not back to 100%, I can feel the rust crumbling and some glimpses of the "Ryan of Old" returning.
It is hard to make a return to playing, especially in a region where I know virtually none of the dancers. Yesterday I played for children who were still in diapers when I entered the Jesuits - now they're in school! In some ways its a different world and I am a different person entering into it. While my love for Irish music and dancing has not waned, I must say that I see the 'conspicuous consumption' as an offense against good reason.
Think about the dresses. I watched small children (8-11 years old) ascending the stage garbed in $2000+ costumes. That's a lot of money! Rhinestones, fancy patterns, sparkles, etc., adorn these dresses in hopes that they will catch the eye of the judge. Wigs, face-glitter, and make-up accentuate spray-on tans (because the Irish are notorious for their natural tans).
So for all of this money, do you think that maybe it would help if the kid could dance? A really expensive dress and a raid on the Estee Lauder counter does next to nothing for these kids when they have no rhythm or timing. While being bald probably jades me against excessive hair, it does seem odd that there are children whose head size is effectively doubled by putting on one of these silly looking wigs.
It's become my belief that Irish dancing has, in many ways, ceased to be about preserving Irish culture and has become a beauty pageant with a talent show under the guise of a tradition. Without an attentiveness to the tradition, I don't see much difference between Irish dancing and a Pet Show. Cats and dogs are forced to run around and perform tricks; these animals where goofy collars and are primped and preened over; most of them don't live in a cage; the parents/owners are usually over-invested in the success of the child/pet.
Speaking of parents. I think back on my own family experiences and I'll admit that my mother and the others parents were pretty nutty. That being said, they'd kick back afterwards with a few beers and the whole feis experience was soon forgotten. Kids were left to their own devices to run around the feis and, so long as you didn't kill anyone, the day was deemed a success.
Yesterday I saw a mother go "Alec Baldwin" on her daughter because the 4-year old forgot her reel step. Another musician told me of a dicey encounter with a mother who was indignant that he wanted to take a 15-minute lunch break after playing for four hours. I went at it with a parent who attempted wanted a group of children to practice their hard-shoe dances on my stage (hard shoes = LOTS of noise) in-between competitions. Last week I saw a father give his daughter a Red Bull right before she got up on stage. As soon as she was finished, she barfed all over the place and delayed the stage for ten minutes as it was cleaned up.
Ryan's in a testy mood this morning!
I got involved, and have stayed involved, in Irish dancing because of the people. From the other Irish dancers to the parents, teachers, and adjudicators - they all have contributed much to my love of the tradition and my passion for Irish music and dance. So it is semi-traumatic to see that disappearing, to see a tradition being commercialized and children being lost in a sea of superficiality. My hope is that awareness of this grows and is addressed quickly. My fear is that, if it is not, the preservation of the tradition of a country in dance - its joys, struggles, sorrows, and triumphs - will be lost and, in its place, a rhinestone encrusted, wig-sporting, off-time idol will rise in its place.