Jig Time; New Movie Uncovers Secret World of Irish Dancing

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), April 23, 2011 | Go to article overview

Jig Time; New Movie Uncovers Secret World of Irish Dancing


Byline: Brian McIver

IT'S a world of big wigs, velvety, sequinned dresses and legs that move faster than sprinter Usain Bolt's.

But, for most people, the small but fanatically dedicated community of Irish dancing has always been a bit of a unknown quantity.

But this may be all about to change thanks to a new documentary film.

Jig looks beyond Riverdance to the hundreds of boys and girls who devote their lives to an art form that is as athletic as it is creative, for no reward other than a shiny trophy.

Award-winning Scots filmmaker Sue Bourne's movie follows the triumphs and heartbreaks of kids from Scotland, Ireland and all over the world who took part in last year's world championships in Glasgow.

Billed as a mix of Riverdance and the hit documentary Spellbound, about teenagers trying to win a spelling contest, it opens in Scotland next month and will give Irish dancing its highest profile since Michael Flatley did a jig on stage.

And one of its biggest stars is 20-year-old Suzanne Coyle, a member of one of Scotland's most famous footballing families.

Sue is best known for moving television documentaries 9/11's Falling Man, My Street and Alzheimer's, Mum And Me, about her mother's illness. She used her own cash to fund Jig, which took two years to make.

As the first documentary-maker to be allowed into the publicityshy community, Sue, from Ayr, uncovered incredible stories of sacrifice and commitment.

She said: "I didn't have a particular ambition to make a film about Irish dancing.

"But two years ago, it was pointed out to me that the world championships were coming to Glasgow and it was their 40th anniversary.

"I realised it was a competition that might make a great story. It was a bit like My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. You're going into this world that nobody knows about and has all these big frocks.

"For me, it's not about the dancing. It's more about the human stories with the tension of this nail-biting competition.

"These kids are incredible. The first time I went to a contest, my jaw dropped.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing - the wigs bouncing about, the fake tan, the make-up and diamante dresses. Then they start dancing and you are utterly mesmerised. The kids put a spell on you. It's amazing. It's so inspiring to see just how incredibley hard they work.

"They practise several hours a day, 365 days a year, for six minutes on stage.

"All the families sacrifice an enormous amount for their children, even though there is no money in it, no fame and fortune."

With 6000 people competing last year in Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, Irish dancing is a hugely popular and competitive world that most people know nothing about.

It's also strictly amateur, with no prize money. But the costs are high with the girls' dresses costing thousands of pounds and the obligatory curly wigs up to pounds 100.

Sue was convinced it would make a great film, but it was no easy matter persuading An Coimisiun, Irish dancing's governing body in Dublin, to let her shoot it.

She said: "I wondered why nobody had ever done a film on Irish dancing before.

"But I realised it was because the body that runs it had never let any outsiders in. …

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