Every year the CLRG World Irish Dance Championships takes place during Holy Week (the week before Easter in Christianity). I competed at this competition in 2012 during my senior year of high school after qualifying at the Southern Region Oireachtas (regional championship). I met many girls from around the world when I was there, including a girl from Australia and a girl from Ireland who danced on either side of me at the competition.
When JIG, a documentary about the 2010 World Championships, came out in 2011 they really tried to focus on the international aspect of the championships. They featured dancers from Ireland, Holland, Great Britain, Russia and the United States. However after all of these experiences I have only met one dancer from the Middle East and she danced in Turkey. I wanted to take the time to see what opportunities were out there for those living in the Middle East to get involved in one of the things I am most passionate about.
The only thing I could find was the Dubai Irish Society. Their mission is to “harness and promote Irish culture within the Irish Community of Dubai. Siobhan Kilalea has been teaching Irish dancing in Dubai for over 20 years at the Ballet Centre. I could not tell if she was a registered teacher with the CLRG or not since she did not put TCRG after her name, but she was the only person I could find teaching classes.
One of the reasons that Irish dancing may not be very popular in the Middle East is because there isn’t a large Irish population there. Although Irish Dancing is growing internationally even with non-Irish communities, the Middle East is also in a state of unrest which makes it difficult to get registered teachers to want to go there. Since Irish dancing is a very competitive and expensive form of dance, maybe it is because people in the area can’t afford it or are unmotivated? Does this go back to basic cultural habits of the people living in the Middle East?
Since the creation of Riverdance in 1994, Irish dance has quickly grown in popularity all over the world. In 2010, they made their first appearance in the Middle East in Byblos, Lebanon. This was a great success, but when they decided to tour Israel, two open letters to the Riverdance company to cancel their tour were started. Pro-Palestinian activists held protests against the company and the dance company’s set decorator refused to join the Israel tour, saying that he supports the cultural boycott on Israel. Riverdance made the decision to continue their tour anyways by performing 16 shows in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem. Tours flocked to the venues and Riverdance was very successful in this area.
In the United States and Australia, when Riverdance and other professional Irish dance shows came through it struck up more interest in Irish dancing. Is that not the same for Israel and other countries in the Middle East? Or do they just not have the resources to hold classes? Did Riverdance make the right choice by continuing their tour? You decide.