Young Irish dancers on the air alongside hoarders, Honey Boo Boo
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org October 8, 2012 7:00PM
Marina Flatley-Griffin of New Lenox is seen on the on performance stage on the documentary, "The Big Jig," on TLC. TLC Photo
‘THE BIG JIG’
9 to 10 p.m. Tuesday
Updated: November 10, 2012 6:15AM
You might get a kick out of this: TLC, the network that takes viewers into the lives of the Amish, hoarders, conjoined twins and Honey Boo Boo, is taking on Irish dance.
An hourlong documentary called “The Big Jig” bows at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the basic cable net. It features five girls — two of them from the Chicago suburbs — as they train and compete in the 2012 World Irish Dancing Championships, held earlier this year in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
“Quite frankly, I’m just shocked the world would want to watch Irish dancing,” said Elmhurst resident Sheila Wright with a laugh.
Her 11-year-old daughter, Grace, took up the leg-centric dance style when she was 5. The regional champ takes lessons at Mullane Healy Godley, an Irish dance academy with studios in Elmhurst and Edison Park.
“If I keep getting more awards, I’m probably going to need a bigger room,” Grace says in the show.
Her instructor is “Scary Gary” Healy, who coaches another local girl in the TLC program: Marina Flatley-Griffin, 12, of New Lenox. Marina is the niece of Michael “Lord of the Dance” Flatley. No pressure there.
A recurring theme in “The Big Jig” is the ferocious dedication the girls must have — the eye of the Celtic tiger, if you will — to compete at this level.
One dancer, an 11-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., models her workouts after Rocky Balboa, right down to drinking raw eggs. Others spend countless hours in their garages and studios, being told that kick wasn’t high enough, do it again.
Grace, who competed in her first world championships this year, sometimes practices five to six times a week. She’s had to take it easy lately. Her foot is in a cast.
“I fractured my growth plate,” the sixth-grader said in a phone interview during a birthday party. “I was on my friend’s trampoline doing an Irish dance move and fell down on it funny.”
The feet take quite a pounding in Irish dance, where powerful kicks and steps are as much a hallmark as the girls’ elaborate, pricey costumes and tightly curled ringlets of hair.
“The Big Jig” illustrates how punishing the dance can be on the body and how nerve-wracking it is to compete. One girl loses her lunch on stage. Another scene — shown in slow motion — depicts a young dancer painfully rolling her ankle during rehearsal.
We see hints of stage-mom behavior from some of the mothers, who aren’t shy about driving their daughters to push harder or shelling out a few thousand dollars on costumes.
Sheila Wright said that’s not her style.
“I consider us a very normal family,” she said. “This is just something Grace has found that she loves, and she’s really, really good at it.”
Wright was confident that producers wouldn’t — couldn’t — make her out to be a stage momster, and they didn’t. But she admits to having some initial trepidation about Irish dance being portrayed in a child pageant-like fashion. She felt better knowing that the board that governs the world championships worked closely with “The Big Jig” producers, Sirens Media, the same company behind Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
“The Irish dancing community is very well respected,” Wright said. “It does not want to portray Irish dancing in a ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ light. To them, this is a sport. These girls are athletes. They want to protect that.”