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The Great Irish Dance Costume Debate

Ally Giannini is an Open Champion dancer for the Lenihan School of Irish Dance as well as a student at Fairfield University. She loves keeping updated on all things Irish Dance. For more from Ally, follow her on twitter @ally_geeniee019.

Screen shot 2014-02-12 at 1.05.49 PMery recently there was a huge uproar from the online Irish Dance community due to a very controversial article posted on Irish Central. There was a very heated argument about the use of wigs, tanner, makeup and of course our very expensive dresses. What disturbed me the most was the view that somehow wearing makeup and wearing something brightly colored hides our dancing talent. Any judge will tell you that the thing they are most concerned with is the actual dancing. While a put together appearance definitely makes one seem like a more serious competitor, a very expensive dress is not a key to winning first place.

As women in the Irish Dancing world, we are constantly being bombarded with conflicting messages. “Wear makeup and make sure your legs are tan!” “That is way too much makeup!” How do we make sense of all of this? One of my friends recently overheard a conversation in which a few men were talking about how Irish Dance sexualizes young girls. This comment shows a deep misunderstanding of our community. The messages denouncing wigs and makeup teach young girls that they should be ashamed of the way that they look on stage instead of feeling confident. I am by no means saying that makeup that is acceptable for a twenty year old is acceptable for a ten year old. However, young girls should not be taught that lipstick and a curly wig sexualizes them. Irish Dance teaches us how to perform, and performances require a costume. Girls and young women should not be ashamed by the fact that they wear eyeliner and a wig. This does not make them gaudy or over the top. I don’t know about everybody else but wearing a tiara makes me feel like a princess. Every girl has the right to feel like a princess.

Nobody is forced to wear tiaras or sequins. It is a personal choice. Those who say Irish Dancing has lost its way because of costumes and makeup are neglecting many other elements of Irish Dance. We still dance to the same music and hold our arms in to our sides. Rhythm, timing, crossed feet, turned out feet and pointed toes are still vitally important. The talent in the Irish Dance community improves every year because we challenge each other to become better and have an excellent support system. Most of the dancers I know feel beautiful in their wig and costume and who is anybody to tell them that they’re not.

Photo credit: Image is courtesy of and belongs to blog author.

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  1. I believe the majority of modern young women enjoy pretty dresses, shiny things and makeup! I know I did back in the day. When my daughter first started I thought I would never put her in a wig since her hair is so beautiful. My first 3 hour hair rolling session cured me of that notion. I was standing at Celtic Curls table the minute she opened. Wigs also hide sweat and look good in humidity and all kinds of weather.

    I’ve had the opportunity to watch the competitions at the Boston World’s. These dancers are comparable to Olympians in my opinion. They practice countless hours and hone their craft and should not be dismissed simply because they like to wear makeup and their costumes have sequins and rhinestones. Are figure skaters given this kind of grief?

    I think for an Irish dancer to be successful they need to feel confident. If that includes tanning and a tiara, great. If you prefer natural hair and minimal makeup – fantastic! Do what makes you feel like a winner and it will reflect on stage.

  2. One thing that you failed to mention – is the fact that the dresses are EARNED! They are not something any dancer can wear, they are something that is earned by hard work & advancing in competion & skill levels. It is a symbol of achievement and pride. I love the costumes. I do not like the fake tanner so much. I do think that is not necessary. Wigs are a part of the whole picture, as is appropriate makeup. When my daughter started to compete at age 8 – we did not use makeup. As she grew and progressed, she bgan wearing the appropriate amount for her age, the costume & dance level. And honestly, the world of Irish dance is one of the most positive environments I have ever been involved in. Everyone is so supportive and encouraging. We have NEVER had a negative experience. And I totally support the fact that a win is earned. Irish Dancers do not get a trophy just for being on the dance floor. Children learn that there are winners & losers in the world, and that a win takes hard work and dedication. However, as long as you put in the work, you will win!

  3. I honestly think the cost of dresses is out of control. yes they are custom made but it makes it a sport for those who have $$$ ….

    as for wigs and stuff.. the teachers feel you can’t win without them.

    i also feel some of the dresses HIDE mistakes,

    there is good and bad in Irish. For some it’s a real boost for others it destroys their ego … when they just don’t move up and their friends do.

  4. I recently watched a competition where a girl at championship level wore a very simple dress. She did have very beautiful hair and makeup. Her dancing was supreme and she won first place! This proves that it is the dancing that counts.
    I think everyone can also remember that Irish dance when compared to other dance forms – has no suggestive movements and does NOT “sexualize” young girls. This is one of the reasons we love it so much!
    A performance of any kind is boring where the performers don’t dress up and wear makeup- whether it is theater, ice skating, musical groups, dance, etc., etc.

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