With the epic Lord of the Dance tapping its way into Bahrain as part of the Bahrain Summer festival, Melita Jay looks at the steps it took to get here
Time Out Bahrain staff
When Michael Flatley danced and tapped his way onto the stage for the first time in 1994, an unlikely phenomenon occurred. With his choreographed taps and pogo-stick leaps, Flatley made Irish dancing cool.
In theory, Irish jigs should be the dance world’s version of Star Trek, with pasty-faced redheads prancing about to the twee strains of a fiddle. It’s the ultimate nerd recipe, baked into a spandex-frilled cake. Yet with the launch of Riverdance in 1994, Flatley stomped onto the scene to show the world just how electrifying old-fashioned Irish folk boogie could be. After all, he doesn’t hold the Guinness Book of Records for fastest tapping speed (35 per second) and most expensively-insured legs (BD14 million) for nothing. And judging by the global popularity of the show, it’s money well spent.
In early 1995, however, Flatley had abandoned the Riverdance act he had painstakingly crafted, blaming ‘creative differences’ with the show’s producers. It seems the old folks directing the subtle, subdued, sophisticated style of Riverdance were not particularly gung-ho about Michael’s vision. To them, multi-coloured laser lights, apocalyptic theme music and gold, frilly cowboy jackets had no place in the hallowed halls of the conservative Irish jig. After all, step dancing has its roots in Irish heritage and oppression. One story suggests that the reason the form requires such a stiff upper body is because Irish captives in British jails would, to amuse themselves, try dancing in the open upper window of their cells without the soldiers realising what they were doing Granted, this myth has a few gaping holes in it (were the British soldiers deaf to the suspicious clattering coming from the cells of these poker-stiff captives?), but the sentiment behind the story has informed the style ever since. It pays homage to those who fought the repression of Irish culture in darker times. Even Flatley featured the theme in one of his most recent acts: Celtic Tiger.
Lord of the Dance may have abandoned the proprietary dignity of the tradition, but Flatley’s big vision brought Irish stepping onto the world stage, where it has remained ever since. After all, what promoter could possibly resist the triumphant ‘lightning bolt’ postures of the leading man, coupled with the whims of an over excited costume designer? What other show dares to combine fiddles with flaming pyrotechnics and leather pants?
Sadly for us, however, the master will not be making an appearance. Flatley handed the franchise to new principle stars back in ’98 so he could stick to his captain role and launch fresh stage troupes. He recently announced he’d be heading up Lord again in Europe this autumn, so it seems Bahrain has missed the boat by a few months.
Flatley or no Flatley, however, only the truly soulless would fail to get swept up in a Lord performance. Having been to one ourselves back in the ’90s, we can attest that the pitch-perfect pounding is an intoxicating rhythm. Audiences leap to their feet in standing ovation at the show’s finale, dying to get up there and start jigging away themselves.
For anyone out there who’s secretly tried the dance at home but found their moves don’t quite cut it, the upcoming performance will give you a taste of the real thing. To prepare for the big night, Time Out recommends you buy the fuzzy pink cowboy hat with the encrusted insignia from the merchandise website. It’s just the piece you need to channel your inner Michael Flatley.
Lord of the dance, July 5 & 6 at 5pm and 8.30pm at the Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre (BIECC).Visit www.bahrainsummer.bh for ticket info.
Bahrain has plenty on offer if you want to learn to dance yourself. Here’s what we’ve uncovered
Hip Hop Forget Irish dancing, those who really want to score points on the dance floor in Bahrain will need to take lessons in Hip Hop, not least because that’s what most of the clubs play. Hip hop doesn’t just involved baggy trousers and hanging a life-sized solid gold cross around your neck. It takes skill to look like a gansta when in fact you grew up on the mean streets of Surrey. Fortunately, Fitness First offers classes in hip hop to make sure you don’t make a booby of yourself on the dance floor. Fitness First run classes several times a week. Call 13 322 200
Modern jazz Modern jazz isn’t modern, nor is it particularly jazz. Think 1950’s Broadway musicals and old women dressed in leotards and you wouldn’t be all that far off. Modern jazz is all about pretending there is an application for dancing like a Fame School kid in real life, when in fact strutting around like you have just wondered off the set of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in a club in Bahrain is not about to win you any admirers. Still, there are people who would say think kind of thing is great exercise. Well, bully for them. The World Beat Fitness Cafe run classes several time a week. Call 17 612 576
Belly dancing Those people who have never been exposed to a dancing belly tend to assume belly dancing is for overweight people and involves shimmying so that one’s distended stomach rolls around uncontrollably, somewhat emulating the actions of a washing machine in its final spin. In fact, there’s a lot more to it. Much of belly dancing is about suggestion, and in this respect it is all to do with the eyes, which dart this way and that and on some occasions look startled, and on others seductive. It’s a full-body (eyes and belly) work out and can be used for fitness training. The World Beat Fitness Cafe run classes several time a week. Call 17 612 576
Salsa Some people think that salsa dancing is as easy as counting to three. They are the same people that have to be untangled on the dance floor, having tried to lead their partner down the fire exit stairs at the back of the building. Salsa requires stamina, skill, and the ability to look good in shiny black trousers. Arthur Pantaleon, Bahrain’s foremost salsa instructor, has years of experience rearranging those with no rhythm, and can be found at Latin Quarter in Pars International Hotel in Juffair every Tuesday night from 8.30pm, where he gives a classes (price is BD4 per person) for people of all ages and abilities. For more information, call him on 39 865 464