Learning to jig and reel as well as the traditional Irish step dancers in “Riverdance” doesn’t happen overnight. The dancers start young, train hard, and spend a lot of money on instructors, dresses, wigs and accessories.
“The Big Jig,” premiering Tuesday, Oct. 9, on TLC, steps into the world of competitive Irish dancing. The one-hour special takes a look at five girls ages 10-12 heading to the 42nd World Irish Dance Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Among the dancers is Marina Flatley-Griffin, 12, who has to overcome heightened expectations because her uncle is the “Lord of the Dance” himself, Michael Flatley. She’s hoping the judges focus on her feet, not her family name.
Emily Marino, 10, has won Nationals three straight years. Her older sister Julia, 11, hasn’t had the same success. “I hear comments like ‘Emily’s the one that won Nationals four times, and Julia’s the one that broke her foot,’ ” Julia O’Rourke tells Zap2it. “It’s really not a good feeling.”
O’Rourke, 12, won Worlds in 2010, but an injury hampered her performance in 2011. She’s among her age group’s most skilled dancers, but she has stage fright.
Having to remember and execute a routine perfectly is pressure enough, but there’s an added element of the uncontrollable in competition. In the first two rounds at Worlds, three dancers perform simultaneously onstage, and it’s not uncommon for them to run into traffic. An accidental collision onstage can knock a dancer out of contention.
Shows such as “Dance Moms” often exploit parents’ and coaches’ outrageous behavior, but there’s little of that in “The Big Jig.” The coaches are stern but understanding. The moms are insistent but sane. The girls are self-disciplined and self-motivated, and they show maturity beyond their years when things don’t go as they hoped.
“Sometimes, if it didn’t come out the way you wanted it to come out, you get frustrated in yourself,” Julia O’Rourke says. “But at the end of the day, if you just danced your best, you’ve already won.”