Why Riverdance Is Still Funny 20 Years On

nun-wackoRiverdance, it’s iconic. Riverdance as we know it began as a kind of half time match during the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. That’s a sort of a Superbowl or World Cup of talent shows. It has spawned the likes of Nana Mouskouri, Abba, Bucks Fizz, and Dancing Russian Grannies. And they are just the talented ones. So you know what sort of performance to expect. A kind of scrum with sparkles and streamers for sufferers of Restless Leg Syndrome. A cross between the Pogo and St Vitus Dance for the hyperactive. Line dancing hepped up on speed and e for the ADHD generation.

While it is dressed in the green trappings and glittery slippers of Celtic mythology, accompanied by music with jolly, carousing, lamenting or shouting vocals (in musical terms the whisky progress scale) and lots of drumming, fiddling and skirling, it began to the beat of a simple percussive thwacking in Irish Catholic Schools.

Nuns thought, “Now dancing would keep the little buggers worn out and stop them touching themselves and each other. We can’t be having that now, can we?”

So the spaztastic, twitch-footed leaping about with arms rigid at the side was invented. It perhaps bore some little origin in Morris Dancing, except instead of the dancers leaping about a pole, clacking sticks together, the dancers would leap like a pole, and the nun would deliver a sound wack with ruler or paddle if they inadvertently collided.

It’s said all dancing is sexual. In an ironical twist (that’s a wack! We’ll have no twisting here, straight up and down if you please!), because we all know what the pole symbolises in Morris Dancing, in Riverdance, with people thrusting up and down into the air, and perhaps with the nun overseer present in spirit, wacking them with a stick as they leap like spawning trout, the frankly bizarre sexual symbolism, a narrative of repression, sef-abuse and punishment, doesn’t bear contemplating.

So while Riverdance appeared to be moshing for jitter-footed touchophobes, when the dancers become the pole, and leap up and down while holding themselves erect, feet flying and arms rigid, they are in all earnestness declaring, “Look at me, look at me! I’m a penis! I’m a penis!”

I know, it’s all disturbingly Catholic and Freudian, with a good measure of the Rites Of Spring. Now if they could only work in some foot fetishism and burn some Wicker Men, we’ll have a back to the corn cult fit for the 21st century.