Up & Over It: They Don't Speak Usual Irish Dance

If you're one to believe that the most innovative people begin in their craft when they are young, then it will likely not be a surprise that Irish dancers Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding have been dancing for most of their lives. Cleary, who was born in Dublin and raised in Cork, Ireland, began Irish dancing at three; Harding, who was born and raised in Cardiff, Wales, began tap and ballet at seven and began Irish dancing shortly thereafter. Meeting at a Irish dance competition while teenagers, the pair, wrote Harding by e-mail, "have [since] been together our whole professional lives."

Before they became Internet sensations with their stylized hand-dance video (found at the end of this article), set to the catchy "We No Speak Americano" by Yolando Be Cool and DCUP, they were dancers for a number of productions -- including as the starring couple in the famous dance spectacle that introduced Irish dance to countless numbers of people, Riverdance. According to their website, after Riverdance they soon began touring with the show Magic of the Dance, where they eventually were appointed artistic directors. While their early start gave them the opportunity to contemplate ways to innovate and challenge the form before, their appointments in Magic of the Dance gave them the opportunity to integrate experimental dance into a mainstream show.

Now, with this varied experience behind them, they are seeking, through their production company Up And Over It they formed in 2008 with video artist Jonny Reed to "change people's perceptions of Irish dance," wrote Harding. And that challenge includes making the viewer think about "the global saturation of Irish dance shows," including Riverdance and its spin-offs.

Through videos and touring live productions, they intend to reach a broad audience - hopefully reaching the same people who have already seen shows like Riverdance and Magic of the Dance. Already, they have been heralded for their contributions to the form. UK critic William McEvoy in 2009 called them"at times refreshing and innovative," and added that "the piece is a great success at every level."

According to The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, they intentionally dress in hip, modern clothing to attract younger viewers. In that same vein, they also have engaged multiple media formats, making video versions of many stage productions and also integrating media into their stage performances.

Originally, they were using their hands to practice their steps as Irish dancers are taught to do. While hand dancing itself is not innovative, that however did not phase Reed. "Jonny found this fascinating," Cleary wrote, "[and] he suggested we make a trailer for our live show with just hands. People seemed to really like it so we put it in the show."

But they seek to be more than just entertainment, Cleary emphasized. Despite the contrary, Irish dancers as much as any other dancer convey messages and drive a point through their work, she wrote. And added Harding, "For generations dancers have used their form to convey a message, mood or feeling, and we want Irish Dance to do the same." In their case, that includes making the viewer not just think differently about Irish dance then, but the their own life as well.

"Hand dancing," Harding added, "is just part of that."