Irish dancing isn’t just for the Irish

Morgan Bullock’s viral dancing has exposed the nonsense of the ‘cultural appropriation’ debate.

Ella Whelan
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Sometimes people try to mimic other cultures and the results are terrible. But sometimes they’re brilliant. Morgan Bullock is one of the more successful examples of cultural fusion. Bullock has enjoyed viral fame after posting a short clip of her Irish dancing to Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé’s hip-hop track, ‘Savage’.

Inevitably, Bullock’s brilliant moves have been used to fuel a discussion about cultural appropriation. She made headlines in the British and Irish media for talking about the handful of comments under some of her videos arguing that, as a black woman, she shouldn’t be allowed to do Irish dancing. Thankfully Bullock has taken no notice of such comments, telling the BBC that ‘it’s important for people to recognise that there’s a difference between appropriation and appreciation’. Thanks to her viral fame, Bullock has bagged herself a top gig and has now been asked by Riverdance’s Padraic Moyles to join the crew on stage at a performance in Bullock’s home state of Virginia.

Most national cultures have a political element. This is particularly true for Ireland. The body that runs the world Irish dancing championship (‘the worlds’) – An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha – was set up in 1927 to promote the dance. Following the founding of the Irish Free State – and the ensuing civil war – there have been many marked attempts to cement a notion of Irish identity. This was most famously (and most crassly) characterised by Eamon de Valera’s 1943 radio address heralding the ‘island of saints and scholars’.

Long before that, in the late 19th century, the Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) was founded as part of a bid to ‘de-Anglicise’ Ireland. The league played a role in parts of the liberation movement (1916 rebel Pádraig Pearse was a notable member). It also inspired what became known as the ‘Gaelic revival’ among literary figures like Lady Gregory and WB Yeats – though it was later mercilessly mocked by Flann O’Brien, an even greater writer, in his book An Béal Bocht (The Poor Mouth). From the Gaelic Athletic Association’s promotion of gaelic football to the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann with music and dance, there has always been a manufactured element to Irish nationalist culture. To call Morgan Bullock’s dancing ‘inauthentic’ is as ridiculous as the suggestion that all Irish children are born with a spring in their step and a tin whistle in their gob.

The great irony is that Irish dancing might be the most international dance there is. It has even been taken up in China. There is a wonderful tradition of unlikely individuals taking a shine to Irish culture. Some of the most beautiful sean nós singing (think trilling, traditional sounds) can be heard from London Imam Muhammad Al-Hussaini who won international fame for his love of Irish traditional singing. You can even find clips of Al-Hussaini singing ‘Sliabh Geal gCua’ on the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Irish trad fans will know of Tim Edey – a shy Englishman with incredible skills on a melodeon who has played with all the greats, from The Chieftains to De Dannan’s Frankie Gavin.

Perhaps the most famous attempt to claim ownership of Irish culture came in the form of American president JFK’s visit to Dunganstown, Wexford, when he went back to the home of his relatives (now known as The Kennedy Homestead). Another American, Bob Dylan, was so in love with the Aran-jumper-wearing Clancy Brothers that their version of ‘The Patriot Game’ inspired his own hit ‘With God on Our Side’.

Bullock should be held up as an example of why the cries of ‘cultural appropriation’ – which seem to get louder every time someone borrows from, meddles with or simply tries out a different culture – are such nonsense. Just as Bullock can apply a step dance to any music she likes, so can white boys sing the blues and English teenagers wear bindis at music festivals. (As long as it’s done well – John Peel infamously said Van Morrison was the only white man allowed to shout ‘Lord have mercy’ on his show in 1973.) Some of the most innovative and interesting cultural moments have come from the fusion of different cultures.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way. Bullock told the Irish World:

‘I did receive some racist comments. It’s the internet. People are going to say what they’re going to say. It’s no secret there are racist people out there. They’ll find you and they’ll troll the internet like they enjoy doing and I’ll just keep dancing.’

In the face of calls to ‘stay in your lane’ or ‘stick to what you know’ – from both racists and cultural puritans – here’s hoping more people take inspiration from Bullock and keep on dancing.

Ella Whelan is a spiked columnist and the author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.

Picture by: YouTube/BBC.

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Comments

Ian Murray

28th July 2020 at 8:11 pm

Maybe you would have a different comment if she was dressed up covered in green shamrocks?

She is just doing a dance!

Garreth Byrne

26th July 2020 at 12:06 pm

When I see people of colour putting on their dancing shoes and doing an Irish jig I am tickled pink. May we see a photo of Ella Whelan stepping out in her dancing pumps?

Jolly Roger

23rd July 2020 at 12:14 pm

I absolutely support this lady’s Irish Dancing and I loathe the confected notion of ‘cultural appropriation’, and racism in all its true forms as opposed to invented ‘unconcious’ forms, but as is often said – “it wuz them that started it guv”.
Unfortunately, Black radicals – such as BLM – have used so called cultural appropriation time and again as a way to attack mainly white people. They have critisied food dishes, rapping by whites, etc – actually there is not all that much to usefully appropriate, but they have a go about anything and everything. Unfortunately as the old saying goes – don’t throw stones when you live in a glass house. The turth is, that Black people do far more ‘cultural appropriation’ than any other ethnic group.

Walter Mitty

23rd July 2020 at 9:18 am

Cultural appropriation is a ridiculous concept and I wish this young woman well.

She’s been lucky in some ways though as I’m sure if she had been a young white woman accused of cultural appropriation she would not have had the benefit of a fluff piece video on the BBC website which will be seen by millions worldwide and I expect she will get a grant, funding, scholarship or something off the back of the positive publicity.

Anthony Christie

22nd July 2020 at 6:02 pm

Phil Lynott was Irish. Why is this stuff even controversial?

CJ Hawes

22nd July 2020 at 6:04 pm

It isn’t.

Gordon O Gopher

22nd July 2020 at 5:50 pm

You’re overthinking it. How many people actually said it was ‘cultural appropriation’? Probably the same number as the ones who wanted to comment but didn’t ‘cos they thought they’d be abducted by aliens.

You know if you just ignore these people they eventually go away. And even if they don’t, you get so good at ignoring them it’s as if they practically don’t exist anyway.

Tage1959 Tage1959

22nd July 2020 at 5:42 pm

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Tage1959 Tage1959

22nd July 2020 at 5:44 pm

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Tage1959 Tage1959

22nd July 2020 at 5:44 pm

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etidretni noinipo

22nd July 2020 at 4:10 pm

Accusing her of cultural appropriation is complete nonsense of course, but if these accusations can be seen as part of a backlash against all the other asinine cultural appropration rot we hear whenever a white person does/wears/cooks/plays something that originates from a non-white culture then it shows where playing these stupid games is likely to lead us.

Dominic Straiton

22nd July 2020 at 3:43 pm

I knew an Englishman who could drink 24 pint of Guinness in one sitting.

George Whale

22nd July 2020 at 10:10 pm

I shouldn’t be impressed but…

Jolly Roger

23rd July 2020 at 12:16 pm

Marvelous – my hero!

Gareth Edward KING

22nd July 2020 at 3:38 pm

About 15 years ago in Madrid a group of three Valencian men did the rounds of the many restaurants in the capital that claim to put together a ‘real’ paella. As natives of Valencia, of course, only they ‘knew’ the secret.The results were hilarious but the three were charming and tongue-in-cheek enough to get away with it! For those not in the know (and what do I know as a mere Brit), the basic ingredients are always the same twelve which include rabbit, rice, saffron, prawns etc., etc. In the Civil War years in Valencia Brown Rat (Rattus norwegicus) was known to enter on occasion!

etidretni noinipo

22nd July 2020 at 4:14 pm

I wonder if that quirk of valencian cooking is where the Stranglers got the inspiration for Golden Brown from?

I’ll get my coat…

Vivian Darkbloom

22nd July 2020 at 4:34 pm

Gareth: I’ve seen a recipe for cat stew from the time of the Civil War (not the sopa de gato de Cádiz). I’ve heard it said that rabbit is sold with its head attached because unscrupulous butchers used to pass skinned cat as rabbit; without the head the two animals look similar. It’s probably apocryphal but people will eat anything if they’re hungry enough.

I must say this article cheered me up; I watched the video from Irish TV and the young lady is absolutely charming with a healthy positive outlook on life.

Gareth Edward KING

24th July 2020 at 11:24 am

Hi Vivian, Foil, Arms & Hogg are three Irish comedians who are an absolute hoot-they’ll cheer you up no end. They would’ve been on tour in the British Isles this spring, but this virus thing messed things up, in case you were wondering. They’ve got new dates set up as from September all over-I’m really tempted.
Good news at last! Tomorrow there’s a meet (a little surreptitious) in El Retiro for those interested in ‘taking on’ the hysteria in Madrid, additionally, there’s a press conference tomorrow to be held by a group of doctors led by Natalia Priego Cancelo to try to dispell the myths around this non-existent health crisis. Excellent stuff! This state of permanent angst cannot go on.

Vivian Darkbloom

24th July 2020 at 8:23 pm

Hey Gareth: I’ve just spent the afternoon watching Foil, Arms & Hogg on YouTube; cheers for the heads-up, these boys are brilliant and so sharp. They’re really good at accents as well; my favourites are the angry Frenchman and the smug Englishman. Ridiculous in the best sense of the word but with no real malice. So much unfunny comedy around; these lads are a breath of fresh air.

Afterwards I walked to the little Waitrose nearby to buy fish. Get me, flouncing around the posh shop. Actually, the footfall is so very low that they have to discount almost every fresh product in the late afternoon. Anyway, around 10 shoppers wandering around and only one wearing a muzzle, and this on the Day of the Masks. Don’t they know they are killing Grandma? The woman I followed into the shop was wearing a muzzle but took it off when she realised no one else was wearing one. Social psychology is extraordinary; presumably if everyone was muzzled she would have kept hers on. Of course I was unmasked; I was expecting to be challenged and had prepared my answer but no objection was raised. I really hope this dissent – or is it indifference? – will spread.

We had a small demo on Sunday in Hyde Park, perhaps a hundred souls or more. It’s just not enough. The Serbian demonstrations were extraordinary but I suppose us lot are a bit slow to anger. Time will tell. Cheers.

Vivian Darkbloom

24th July 2020 at 8:40 pm

Oh, I forgot. Finally watched the Spanish classic short film La Cabina from 1972, a reasonable print from RTVE Archive on YouTube. So many interpretations, the most obvious being a critique of Franquismo society. I must admit I read it as a lockdown parable; social distancing and the mockery of the crowd against the individual, but it resists simplicity I think, despite being presented as ostensibly a straightforward narrative.

Gareth Edward KING

25th July 2020 at 9:33 am

Vivian! Oh! Look at her in Waitrose! Watch her go! Foil, Arms & Hogg are Cambridge Foot-lights, Edinburgh Fringe and Monthy Python all rolled into one! In fact, they’re the new MT, stuff that in your pipe BBC! They’ve put out two Brexit sketches: a ‘divorce’ (even down to the Scottish ‘kid’) and a song, what a hoot! Your supermarket experience is NOT like Madrid-I wish! Even just two days ago I young guy kitted out in a ‘snout mask’ on his pretty face would not take up my kind offer to ‘¡Adelante!’ ¡Venga! in the queue! We’re four months into this ‘tufo’ and now with ‘España la Intervenida’ the laughing stock of Europe! Berlin Love Parade anyone?

fret slider

22nd July 2020 at 3:21 pm

Hmm, only the western music tradition has melody, harmony and rythmn.

The drone was left behind centuries ago.

Warren Alexander

22nd July 2020 at 3:01 pm

I’m English but I cooked an Italian dish for lunch. From whom do I beg forgiveness?

Gordon O Gopher

22nd July 2020 at 5:54 pm

The other people you cooked for.

George Whale

22nd July 2020 at 10:12 pm

Hahaha!

Gareth Edward KING

24th July 2020 at 11:29 am

Good on you! It wasn’t tiramisú was it? Careful! In Italy there isn’t one recipe but several in case you were wondering. Two years ago I was in an area of Cuneo, Piedmonte (as one is) and the cook served up a ‘pink’ version the likes of which I’ve never seen before (and I’ve eaten a few tiramisú in my time), and who was I to complain?

Mor Vir

22nd July 2020 at 1:38 pm

B is silent about his tap jigging days. Fair enough, but no more infatuation and sycophancy toward the British monarchy – like with that single ‘neutral’ sentence. Only kidding, mate. : )

Claire D

22nd July 2020 at 1:20 pm

When it comes to dancing and singing and music, there are so many crossovers culturally. Irish dancing is similar to Northumbrian, Welsh and North country clog dancing, also male Romany dancing, Scottish country dancing, even Flamenco. I can understand people from Ireland, Scotland, Northumberland etc, all being proud of their heritage, I think they should be. Surely when people from elsewhere are inspired by this, work hard to acquire the skill, that’s something to celebrate, it unites us in our common humanity, it’s beautiful and good.

John Lewis

22nd July 2020 at 1:06 pm

I like “Appreciation not appropriation”.

It has precisely a snowflake in hells chance of being accepted if used by a white person.

HABEO DICERE

23rd July 2020 at 10:56 am

Absolutely, the vast majority of what has been called “appropriation” has always just been “appreciation”. One of the greatest of all American musicians B B King praised British bands, including The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, for revitalising blues music in America in the 1960s. At the time, blues music was rapidly loosing its natural audience to soul and pop music; when these enthusiastic British musicians helped it maintain its popularity for a good 50-years (so far). Is this a good or bad thing?

Jolly Roger

23rd July 2020 at 12:19 pm

Exactly. The ridiculous notion of cultural appropriation has been entirely a BAME construct used as a way to foment bad feeling and to attack white people. I feel sorry for this lady and wish her well, but they cannot have their cake and eat it.

CJ Hawes

22nd July 2020 at 12:50 pm

Can’t imagine that the shouts of cultural appropriation for this were other than to highlight the silliness of the wider discussion/ disagreement/ whinge. If this is to be considered as such then everything that is done is up for discussion eg preparing Asian cuisine when you’re not Asian. Whilst I think of it, perhaps my marriage is a prime example of cultural misappropriation. There is no logical conclusion to the subject so just let it be and feel sorry for life’s inadequates who are triggered by anything and everything.

Echo Romulus

22nd July 2020 at 1:39 pm

Exactly, the people who were calling this cultural appropriation were doing nothing more than highlighting the hypocrisy of it all. Cultural appropriation is only valid when White people do it, everyone else it is fine.

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