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Jig (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 20


JIG (2011)

Featuring Brogan McCay, Julia O’Rourke, Joe Bitter, John Whitehurst, Claire Greaney, Simona Mauriello, Suzanne Coyle, Sandun Verschoor, John Carey and Ana Kondratyeva.

Directed by Sue Bourne.

Distributed by Screen Media Films.  93 minutes.  Rated PG.

Irish step dancing does not seem like it would be the most popular activity in the world.  In fact, in all fairness I have to admit the majority of my experience with the art form comes from actively avoiding Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance or Riverdance.

Yet, Jig shows that there is a passionate subculture on step dancing – and not the Broadway-versions of it that I mentioned before.  Jig looks at quite a few different youngsters – aged about 8 to 20 – who have devoted their lives to the sport and competing.

To a slight extent on the surface it seems like a more civilized version of American Junior Miss pageants, with ridiculously flamboyant outfits and wigs on small children as they display their skills.  But like I said, it does seem more civil – the contestants are mostly supportive of each other and the stage moms seem to have much more perspective as to the importance of the competition.

Though, of course, leave it to the little American girl to be the one diva about winning here, squealing like she just took the Miss USA pageant when her final score is read off.

By the way, the suspense that the film is trying to build up on each winner seems a little overdone.  As far as I could figure out, each contestant gets three scores for three routines.  After they are added up, the one with the highest total is the winner.  And each of the contestants waits in rapt anticipation to see if they won.  Which leaves the viewer wondering – can’t any of these people add?  Not one of them seemed to go, let’s see, I got this and this and this and my highest opponent got that and that and that and so, let’s see, that means that I got more total points.

Still, Jig does show everyone – even that little girl – to dance for the pure joy of artistic creation and the love of the competition.  These children face many hours of practice, great hardship, the extreme likelihood of injury to compete.  Their families spend money, time and travel all to fulfill these dreams.

However, too many times the film just drops the ball when it could be the most interesting on just those points.  For example, there is an interview with the father of a teenaged California dancer who tells of how he gave up a very profitable medical practice in the States in order to move the family to England – to allow their son to pursue a career which doesn’t even pay.  It’s a fascinating, human story which has an opportunity to explain the passion that people feel for the art form.  The film’s audience wants to know how this idea was broached, how it came about, whether it was the father’s idea or the son’s, did anyone think it may be overkill, what were the ramifications for the family?

However, Jig never thinks to ask any of these questions, letting this enticing little tidbit just sit there as a given – like it was natural for a father to sacrifice his career and uproot the family for the love of Irish step dancing.

Also, the film could spend a bit more time explaining the competitions in general.  As a step-dancing novice, I could never quite tell whether they were doing a great job or not because I did not understand the intricacies of the art form.  It all sort of looked about the same to me, a variation of American tap dance (and don’t email me saying that step dancing came first – I believe it and don’t really feel the need to look up which came first, just for me that was the art form I knew which felt similar.)

Then the scoring is also very confusing for a novice – it took me until the last competitor to figure out the totaling up part, but lord only knows how they come up with the individual scores.

Still, it is always fun to watch artists and athletes performing completely for the love of their art or sport, and Jig finds some fascinating characters from around the world who have dedicated themselves to this craft.  The dance is of the utmost importance to them.  Due to their passion and conviction, it becomes more important to the viewer.

You grow to care for these kids and their families – which is the most important thing which a documentary can achieve.  On that level, Jig is a success.

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: June 17, 2011.

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