I know nothing about Irish dancing but I do have an empathy for people who have a dream and do everything that seems beyond humanly possible to fulfil that dream. For that reason I went to see Sue Bourne’s documentary JIG and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Not for the Irish dancing – that proved to be even more mystifying than, in my ignorance, I had thought before – but for the dancers. Most especially, for contestant No 177, a young girl from Northern Ireland, whose determination, courage and selfless warmth for her fellow competitors won over, I have no doubt, everyone in the theatre.
JIG follows the competitors leading up to the 2010 ‘Worlds’ or World Championships in Glasgow. Perhaps initially spurred on by Riverdance but having gone way beyond all of that now, young dancers torture their feet and consume every penny in the family chest to fulfil their dream to outstep the competition. In Moscow, a troop dance, not knowing if they will all be granted visas to visit Scotland. A teenage boy from the States, Joe, relocates with his family to Birmingham in order to learn form the Yoda of Irish dance, John Carey. 11 year old John is also taught by Carey. The boy’s father is just grateful that John is a boy. If he were a girl they would be spending literally a fortune on wigs and dresses. Thousands of dollars are spent on these ornate dresses, even though it is just a matter of a very short period of time before they are outgrown. And along with the wigs of ringlets and curls there are diamanté socks and fake tan by the tubeful.
The first half of the film traces the human story of the path to the championship, covering all ages and both sexes from across the world. For the older girls, young women, it is their last chance. For the youngest, there is constant work and dedication, while families sacrifice holidays and the smallest luxury. For No 177, her biggest relief is that her beloved grandmother lived long enough to know that her granddaughter had reached the Worlds. The pressure…
But despite the pressure, there is no prize other than the prize itself. There is no money to be had from it. Only a very few will be rewarded. This is shown in part 2. We share the tense wait of parents and trainers as they watch the dance and listen to the numbers of the scores. All attempting mental arithmetic and grimacing with the strain.
I had no idea this world existed but, thanks to JIG, I do now and my lesson was illuminating.