As soon as I looked at my season guide, way back in October, I wanted desperately to see ‘Riverdance.’ The very name sent chills up and down my spine, and I knew that, one way or another, I just had to get to Heinz Hall to see the Irish dancing. So it was with delight that I learned my grandmother, otherwise known as my generous benefactress, wanted to take us to see the show.
I haven’t been exposed to a lot of riverdancing, but I seemed to
know instinctually that it was something I would enjoy. When Wednesday
finally came I danced with anticipation; when I saw the stage
that same strange something inside of me began to grow until I was
feeling warm and tingly all over. And then, as the first number began
and I felt the stamping sound of so many feet all in unison drum in my
body, I realized why I was so excited: because my Irish roots were
To be honest, I’ve never felt particularly Irish. My family is at
least 50% German, but whatever the other percent amounts to, it’s
largely Scotch-Irish. Every now and then my parents would say to my
sister, ‘Hannah, you have the Scotch-Irish temper, just like your
great-grandmother,’ but other than that we’ve never really thought much
about our Irish roots. I certainly don’t look Irish; with my
blonde hair and green eyes I am the perfect German girl. And yet as I
watched the dizzying show on Wednesday night, I felt the unmistakable
call of Irish blood pounding in my head.
It wasn’t the first time I felt a yearning as I heard the ethereal
strains of Irish music. In fact, I have always loved the wild beauty of
Irish and Scottish music. There is something undeniably haunting about
their music that I feel reflects Irish and Scottish souls–something
that the Germans and the English don’t have. I have often wondered why
they have that note of clarity–clarity amongst questions and
fears–ringing in their music and reflected in their dances. Is it
because they still retain some of their ‘wild’ ways? Is it because when
a people are continually beaten back, they resort to forms of
expression that can’t be stripped from them, and find relief in
grief-laden music? Is it simply that their music reflects the wild,
unpredictable land they lived on?
Whatever the reason, ‘Caoineadh Chú Chulainn,’ played skillfully on
the uilleann pipes, was a call, and my heart answered. As Pat Mangan
strutted around with his fiddle, melting hearts and dazzling ears, I
held my breath in the hope that it might never end. As the Irish men
called out in time to their pounding feet through ‘Thunderstorm,’ I
felt their passion and breathless zeal. When the women came on,
flitting to the strains of piercingly clear Irish vocalists, I longed
to be able to express myself as they could. And when men and women
danced in the classic row along the front of the stage, a blend of
sound and color and passion and so much talent it made me sick, I could
think of nothing but the pure ecstasy of watching them.
I know it was just a show, and they were all performers. The
flamenco soloist and the Moscow Folk Ballet gave me time, in between
acts, to think about what the riverdancing was doing to me. And while I
know that they were all actors, I also know that it wasn’t all an act.
To dance like that you must understand it, and to understand it you
must have that longing in your heart, and to have that longing you must
be Irish. The haunting, expressive music can be beautiful to anyone,
but it only really means something to those who know what it is saying.
Apparently, to understand you only need to have Irish blood in your veins.