The ostensibly quaint world of Irish dancing has been rocked by allegations of competition fixing and cheating, with some parents and teachers saying there is a code of omertà akin to The Godfather and The Sopranos.
The Irish Dancing Commission, a governing body known in Irish as An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG), has appointed a former judge to investigate claims that prominent dance schools and teachers have rigged competitions, it emerged this week.
It is alleged that at least 12 teachers in Ireland and other countries conspired to ensure certain dancers scored highly in international tournaments, known as feiseanna. Dance teachers adjudicate dance competitions, from small, local affairs to international events.
The Irish Independent, which broke the story, said in one case a teacher and a competition judge appeared to be exchanging sexual favors for higher scores. It quoted insiders who spoke of unusual scoring patterns at competitions and cozy relationships between teachers and judges.
Several parents and teachers, speaking anonymously, told the paper the tight-knit industry was like the mafia, with one former Riverdance star citing the HBO show The Sopranos. A US-based teacher said she was afraid to ask one of the allegedly crooked judges for a favor. “Because once you do, you’re indebted to them for life. It’s like The Godfather.”
The Dublin-based CLRG said in a statement that in July it had received allegations, with supporting documentation, of grievous breaches of its code of conduct. “Such unethical behavior cannot and will not be tolerated by this organisation.”
Because of the potential extent of the allegations and to ensure fairness and transparency it had hired a former appeal court judge to investigate, who will have full access to CLRG records, it said. “The process will no doubt be difficult and arduous, but this grossly unethical behavior must be eliminated from our competitions, dance schools and governing organizations.”
Any member found to have engaged in gross misconduct will be subject to due and full process under the organization’s disciplinary procedures, it said. “This process has already started and the principles of natural justice apply.” The Guardian contacted the CLRG for additional comment on Thursday.
From modest roots in parish halls, Irish dancing has become a highly competitive, global phenomenon that draws the Irish diaspora and people with no Irish heritage.
The CLRG organizes Ireland’s regional and national championships as well as the World Irish Dancing Championships, which in April drew 3,500 dancers to Belfast. There are qualifying competitions in the US, UK and Australia.
The Irish Independent said screenshots of text conversations that showed 12 teachers requesting or offering to fix competitions were passed to the governing body in July.
The paper said it had seen additional screenshots, not yet shared with the commission, that appeared to implicate at least six other teachers. The texts made no mention of payments. However, teachers and competitors said a school with a reputation for success can charge higher fees.
The CLRG, which was established in the 1930s, has members in five continents and nine regional councils. A separate body, the Congress of Irish Dance Teachers, known as Comhdháil na Múinteoirí le Rincí Gaelacha, formed in the 1960s.
Posts on Irish dancing message boards called for protests at events. Others have urged the CLRG to sideline the teachers and judges who are named in the texts from competitions until the investigation has concluded.
The All Scotland Championships began in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on Thursday and will run until Sunday. “All eyes will certainly be on the judges and results,” said the US-based magazine Irish Dancing.
“If these allegations are proven true, many are hopeful it will bring in new judging procedures and processes to prevent any real or perceived misconduct in the future.”