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The Irish Dancing: Cultural Politics and Identities, 1900-2000
The Irish Dancing: Cultural Politics and Identities, 1900-2000

Our Price:39.00
Authors: Barbara O'Connor
Publication Year: Hardback November 2013
Pages: 192
Size: 234 x 156mm

ISBN: 9781782050414

This book engages with the role of dance in Irish culture and society over the course of the twentieth century. The book adopts a perspective that sees dance as a prism through which to view key aspects of Irish society over the period under review. Partly thematic, partly chronological this account of dance in Ireland emerges out of a broader interest in the body in society as well as in the construction of national and gender identities. It comprises seven chapters each of which addresses a particular form of cultural identity. These include national, ethnic, gender, social –class, postmodern and global identities. It is structured in such a way that many of the chapters are devoted to a specific identity formation while issues of gender and social class are interwoven into most chapters. Apart from the last chapter on stage/theatrical dance, the book's main focus is on social/recreational dance. Underpinning the discussion throughout is the assumption that dance both reflects and produces the social, cultural and politic contexts within which it is performed and represented. This is so because bodily movement including dance reflects societal structures, norms and values as attested to by sociologists and dance scholars alike. Interwoven into the dance narrative, therefore, is the 'flow' of Irish society over this time; a flow that incorporates social stability and social change, tradition and modernity, men and women, rural and urban, as well as the local, the national and the global. Barbara O'Connor has written extensively on aspects of Irish popular culture including tourism and media audiences/consumption as well as dance. She worked previously as Senior Lecturer in the School of Communications, Dublin City University.


The Irish Dancing: Cultural Politics and Identities

The Body Politic: Dance and National Identity

The Devil in the Dancehall: Church, State and Dance Regulation

Ballrooms of Romance: Dance, Modernity and Consumption

Return of the Repressed? Set Dance, Postmodernity and Community

Dancing the Diaspora: Ethnicity and Cultural Memory

The Riverdance Effect: Culture Industries and Global Irishness

On With the Dance: Concluding Thoughts

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  1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
5 of 5 The Irish Dancing September 5, 2014
Reviewer: Kristina Varade, New Hibernia Review from USA  
Irish dance is, by nature, peculiar. It has been variously called a dance form, a hobby, and a sport, and arguments about which term best suits its nature are frequently posed. It is loved or vilified as indicative of performative and competitive brilliance, or as gaudy spectacle. Irish dance continually pushes the boundaries of tradition and post modernity. Moreover, it can lead people to ponder deeper questions of race and gender, nationality, ethnicity, and socio-economic status. As such, the field of Irish dance is ready for a retrospective, which Barbara O'Connor successfully sets out to record in The Irish Dancing: Cultural Politics and Identities, 1900-2000. This is especially relevant this year, as Riverdance, a seven-minute performance on the 1994 Eurovision contest and subsequent global commercially successful dance show, is currently in the midst of celebrating its twentieth anniversary.

'The Irish Dancing' of the title has of been written about in books that are technical or academic in nature. Little has been written about Irish dance in books aimed toward a more general readership. O'Connor takes up the task of conveying the great changes that have occurred not only since the success of Riverdance, but also within a span of more than a century's worth of Irish dance culture and history. She wisely aims to focus on cultural politics and identities relevant to Irish dance and succeeds in maintaining a line of reasoning based upon critical cultural studies. Delving into an exhaustive amount of material, which occasionally causes her work to read like a doctoral dissertation,O'Connor summarizes the various ways that cultural politics manifest themselves through so-called 'traditional' or 'national' forms such as Irish dance.

O'Connor sets out to provide a social and cultural perspective that differs from those of her predecessors or contemporaries. Her work is written to be easily digested by a reader not intimately familiar with the dance form and seeks,in her own words, to contribute positively to the field of Irish dance research 'by complementing and developing some of the themes already addressed by these scholars.' In the chapter 'The 'Body Politic,' she begins with a socio-historical discussion of the Gaelic League and the origins of Irish dancing in the formation of Irish national identity. She subsequently moves forward in history to broach such topics as dance regulation and its national and postcolonial implications, the influence of dance halls and so-called 'foreign' dancing on traditional Irish dance, and the effect of Riverdance on both a local and global level during the rise, and after the fall, of the Celtic Tiger.

O'Connor examines topics through the lens of cultural politics that, in the past, have primarily been examined in a purely historical or technical light. For instance, the author is well-versed in consumption culture, and she makes several enlightening connections between Irish dance hall culture of the 1930s to the 1950s and how it 'ushered in new forms of identities for women in particular;identities that aspired towards and aligned themselves with the urban and the modern, and with an ethos of romance and consumption.' Any Irish dancer, or any scholar of Irish dance for that matter, knows that these categories of identity and economy have become increasingly relevant to dancers of both genders.

Later, O'Connor employs Riverdance as a gateway for an in-depth examination of post-millennial Irish dance culture. To better understand the legacy of commercial Irish dance shows with respect to globalization and cultural identity, the author interviewed several of the show's dancers; she concludes that, 'Global Irishness as expressed through dance has the potential to be mobilised for consumer capital through spectacle, sensation and technically brilliant entertainment. It also has the potential to break through the constraints imposed by the commodity culture and to be as genuinely creative, innovative, and exciting as the original performance of Riverdance in 1994.' These legacies of spectacle and commodity culture continue to manifest themselves in such current Irish dance television programs as An Gig Jig and Jigs and Wigs; the former is conducted in Irish and aimed at a particular linguistic interest group, but the latter is a more mainstream reality television program.

O'Connor's analysis of the show as a case study in globalization nicely juxtaposes with an earlier chapter titled 'Dancing the Diaspora'; there, she picks up on the work of previous scholars in order to elaborate how the 1970 World Irish Dance Championship reciprocally shaped the Irish diaspora's understanding of Irishness and Ireland's understanding of its own Irishness. These two chapters underscore the extent to which Irish dance has struggled to maintain an identity of tradition, while still striving to act as a competitive postmodern and global entity.

In the last chapter, 'On With the Dance,' O'Connor summarizes the challenges and limits to her work, one of which is that 'the analysis is based more on women's than on men's experience of dancing.' Because so much of O'Connor's argument surrounding Irish dance touches on gender-specifically in the control of power that Irish dance has traditionally engendered-it would be good to see a consideration of the current change occurring with respect to male Irish dance performativity. Perhaps a follow-up work might further address this issue.But as a whole, The Irish Dancing succeeds in its goal of bringing 'what was a relatively 'unmarked' aspect of popular culture into the foreground,' and creates a path for future Irish dance scholarship.

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