Irish Dance Wigs. Why?

Crossroads Irish Dance Feis 2011

We all have hair. Why oh why must we wear a curly boomfy crazy clown wig every time we Irish dance in front of anyone? I’m sure many people have watched Irish dancers and wondered about this exact same thing. So have I. I pushed it to the last minute possible before I got one. Not until I reached Preliminary Championship did I get a wig of my own.

I have thin long straight hair, so when I put the silly thing on, it looks… wrong. Then I start dancing. Boooo-ing, boing, boing! Oh dear.

Every wig designer within the reach of this blog, PLEASE, I’m not saying that we need to eliminate wigs. I wouldn’t mind wearing one at all if the style was more natural. Create long styles and short styles, with less curl and more of a slight wave. I would be first in line to buy one.

I have actually with a leap of joy seen a spare few dancers at various feiseanna this past year wearing a style of wig close to this. More shoulder length and a LOT less clown curl. EVERYONE go buy one so that the style changes! Push the trend girls! Unless you like looking like a clown every time you get on stage.

That’s my wigginz for the day. Or shall I say anti-wigginz… ;)

Article written by Shelly Allen
Photo by Shelly Allen Photography

38 thoughts on “Irish Dance Wigs. Why?

  1. I am an older ex-dancer and I agree that those wigs make you all look like clowns. I also think the costumes are the most awful looking things ever invented. I would love to start my 4 year old dancing, but the thought of those wigs and costumes puts me off. I thought by now that the dancers would be influenced by the Riverdance style costumes and natural hair, or better yet, take note of a group called “Solas an Lae”. Their approach is modern, and the girls naturally beautiful and elegant.

    1. So true… I do wish the dresses were more like those of Riverdance. When I started I had no idea the skirts would be so stiff! At least they’ve softened a bit the past couple years. Our school does have a dance company( and we have some blue dresses that are much closer to what I’ve seen on Riverdance. So the big poofy dresses aren’t always used, which can be a relief. They are hot to dance in!

  2. u guys r so ungreatful i think its fine the way
    it is i love irish step dancing and eveything
    about u guys r just crazy

  3. I have naturally curly hair, so thank god I wouldn’t need those crazy wigs! Just wet my hair a bit, mousse, toussle it and I’m good to go! :-D

  4. I went to my first Irish Faire and dance competition. I thought the wigs looked ridiculous so decided to do a search and see just why you girls wear those. The tiny little girls with the wigs and all that makeup looked like they were competing in a “Little Miss Pageant” rather than Irish dance. Personally they looked so tacky (cheap?), can’t find the correct word to use but I am sure you understand what I am trying to say. Too bad I saw because I know how hard Irish dancers work and I love the talent – but the wigs should go.

    1. I actually think the wigs are kinda cute on the kids, but makeup on the kids??? heck no. Why touch such beautiful faces? Kids NEVER need makeup. Perhaps lipstick and blush in bright stage lights, but thats ALL!

  5. It says that the video has been removed by the user … which is sad. Can you tell me what it said? :D

    I don’t like the wigs either and I have dead-straight hair, but I don’t have a dress either and I’m competing this Sunday in all black with a red belt that I made myself to brighten it up a little!

  6. The wigs are fine if u knew the torture or curling your hair to get a simular look. My daughter does Irish dancing now but did competitive cheer leading before. It took me hours to curl her hair the night before a competition, house in the morning to remove the curlers and load on the hair spray. The cheer teams begged to use the Irish dancer curly bun wigs but the cheer team coach refused. The wig u put on and take off, that’s not hard to do, lol

  7. I’ve heard from different stories why we originally started wearing wigs, and I think the correct one was because how it makes you look like you’re jumping higher because of all the bounce it adds. Putting on wigs is stressful and hurts a lot, but I like the look with our solo dresses and I can’t stand the wavy/sort of straight ones. (Not to sound mean by giving a strong opposing opinion) :) I just think the wavy takes away the purpose of wearing a wig and isn’t as pretty as the super bouncy ones at all.
    But I guess, from an outside of dance opinion, our solo dresses look too short and the tans look ridiculous and the same for the wigs. It’s just us dancers and our weird styles! :)

  8. It’s ridiculous. Really, wigs look tacky and trashy. My daughter had her first feis today and I was horrified. As a pure irish speaker this trashy behaviour bears no roots in our tradition and has no place in the dance. It’s horrible and made beautiful little dancers look like drones. You couldn’t see the little person for the massive wig on top of them. It was horrific.

    I don’t mind putting curls but if taking part in our national dance involves dressing my child in that way I will not take part. Nor would any right thinking parent

  9. I think that wigs are a big part of putting the face of an irish dancer, its one of the important and unique things that we get to do. you wouldnt walk on a feis stage without your solo dress. if we throw out the ‘crazy clown wigs’ a solo dress doesnt look natural. tried it, it doesnt look good. and if we throw out wigs we might as well throw out a solo dress too, becasue they dont make all the sense in the world. and then we would just be normal people who dance. i think wigs and dresses, and makeup and everything we do makes our hobby unique and fun and have lots more personality and we shouldnt discourage our unique things.

  10. As an adult dancer and veteran feis mom, I have to chime in about the discomfort and distraction of the larger, heavier wigs. I’m with you, Shelley, I wouldn’t mind if the wigs were more natural and smaller, it’s just that we’re getting closer and closer to a Marie Antoinette look. When my daughter moved into the championship level, we caved in and bought her one of those monstrous heavy Grainne wigs. That thing had a life of its own and she was forever adjusting and resecuring it between dances. It would give her headaches and there are studies coming out about how heavy wigs can cause bald spots and hair loss (temporary, I believe). I say not only do the oversized wigs add cheapness (sorry, I can’t stop thinking of Toddlers and Tiaras here), they distract the focus of the dancer. Kudos to you, Shelley, for speaking your mind and trying to put some balance back in Irish dance.

    1. Oh yes… I read about wigs causing bald spots too. Insanity! I really do hope a couple years from now wigs are a thing of the past. They are just too much. All we need are enough brave dancers to step up and go wigless and the rest will follow. That’s how any trend starts.

  11. As an outsider who just enjoys watching my sister dance I have to say the wigs and dresses make you guys look like little dollies. Just sayin’. It’s too bad too ’cause Irish dance is so elegant and powerful, stunning to watch once you can take your eyes off the funny curls and dolly dresses. I love you Shelly! Great article.

  12. some of your conmments i agree with i am dancer myself and i have been dancing for 5 years i have wavy hair so use to put in rollers the night before a feis but it was agony and i didnt get any sleep before i danced which affected my performance when i first saw the dresses and the wigs i thought it looked awful but they have grown on me and i have a dress and wig of my own which i love wearing i think they look gorgous every little girl wants to dress up like a princess.

    1. I don’t get the whole “agony” claim with the rollers — I danced competitively for 10 years in NY in the 70’s and 80’s and we ALL slept in rollers the night before a feis or Oireachtas. It was part of the ritual, no one minded it all. My daughters dance now and they don’t mind the rollers either. I would take them out of Irish dancing before I would ever put a wig on them.

  13. I must weigh in on this wig issue. My sister was a traditional Irish dancer in the mid-80s before Riverdance. She had long straight hair and usually added a few curls to the bottom of her locks. Others in her school put curlers in before a feis for fuller curls. Her solo dress was gorgeous (hand embroidered by my mother) and she looked classy as she danced. The focus was on her overall appearance and the dancing itself. Now that my 8 year old daughter is taking up Irish dancing herself, I loathe the new-ish style of wearing wigs. I have been an opera singer and have had to wear a wig to look a part so I understand that wigs can be of various quality, and while it might save some styling time, there are other implications (weight of the wig, scalp issues, natural in appearance, etc). In my opinion, wigs have no place in Irish dance. I hope to see more of a natural look in years to come as my daughter becomes interested in solo dance.

  14. I think that the wigs are horrible and most of the costumes are ugly. When the embroidery was done by hand they were less busy and tasteful but someone is going crazy with the embroidery machines and do not know when to stop. The dancing should be what matters not the hair and costumes.
    I LOVE Irish dancing but am embarrassed by the look.

  15. It’s kind of tradition though, the curlier wigs. I read somewhere that way back when in Ireland, the girls would curl their hair before going off to church, and then after the mass everyone would go dancing. I like them.

  16. The REAL question is not so much why wigs over curlers, but “WHY THE HAIR OBSESSION AT ALL?” I tire of dancers sneering at people comparing their competitions to toddler beauty pageants when the dancers themselves are the ones creating and perpetuating the image! Are you so blinded by the shallower aspects of competition that you fail to see the buffoons you have become?

    IT HAS NOT ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY! It is NOT tradition. Don’t let that idiotic “Wig history” fool you. This development is less than 20 years old, and Irish dancing has been around for thousands.

    If you DON’T want people perceiving you as phony and fatuous, then DON’T spend hours with spray tans and ridiculous looking wigs – OR curls – cultivating that image. If dancers wish people would see “the talent underneath the costume and makeup”, then why cover the dancer with clownish wigs, insane makeup and ghastly tans.

    Stop doing this to yourself and then wishing people would take you seriously.

    And, by the way, I notice male dancers are not encumbered by any of this nonsense. Catch a clue, ladies.

  17. The reason for the wigs is because at first, when the wigs were just banana curls, the wigs and the dresses symbolized what little girls would wear and do with their hair when they went to church on Sunday. It does have to do with the culture, not to look stupid or “trashy.” For some reason though, split curl wigs and wigs with more curl have become a lot more popular. And it HAS always been this way. It IS tradition. Next time learn your facts before insulting EVERY SINGLE DANCER. Some, not all, of these comments have made me really, really mad. They don’t look trashy. Trashy, means that you look like a whore. Wearing a curly wig, does not make us look like whores thank you very much. I am very insulted by some of these comments. I know they’re your opinions and I know everyone is entitled to their opinions, but you are acting like you know everything when you obviously don’t. I’m not trying to say that I know everything, but at least I know SOMETHING.

  18. Also, the reasoning for the tans is because the stage lights make you look like a ghost. If people didn’t tan, the competitions would be stopping left and right because people would think the dancer was about to pass out.

    1. I danced with some of the best Irish dancers in the history of the art form – Jean Butler danced 2 age groups below me and competed against one of my closest friends, several of the girls I danced against for years own their own schools now in the NY/NJ area. The stage lights were just as strong back then, but I have to say that I never once witnessed a disruption due to pale skin. In fact, if someone had shown up with a fake tan & a wig back then, we would have laughed at them.

  19. I think it’s the teachers we have to convince. My daughter didn’t have a say in what kind of hairpiece she should wear, the teacher said we had to buy a certain style wig to match the rest of the girls for ceili. I don’t want to buy another one for solos and have to change wigs for ceili. I do think the wig distracts from the dancing.

  20. I’m irish living abroad now, I did a lot of Irish dancing during my childhood and attended many many competitions . I never wore a wig ever… when did everything change?? My daughter has just started Irish dancing and I went to my first feis with her a little while ago and I sat there in shock. These naturally beautiful little girls caked in makeup and a hideous looking wig on top of their head…….. what has gone wrong with Irish dance……… Never going again.

  21. I am took up Irish dancing in 1990. I was a teenager. I went to many a competition and never saw one wig. Long hair had to be pulled back away from your face. So I would put half in a pony tail, and the rest leave down. My hair is straight and fine.
    I married a man I met in Dublin after a dance tour. Our daughter has straight fine blond hair…she won many a championships, but by age 12 was so sick of wigs and curls, she dropped out of the competition.
    Why the hell should people with straight hair be forced to create curls or wear wigs. Is it about dancing or curls? Whoever started making curly hair mandatory for Irish dance competitions is a total dingbat and I wish to have a few choice words with such a person.

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