How It’s New York:  The Bad Arm:  Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer appears as part of the New York Fringe; an unjuried festival each August with some gems in the sand; this is one of them.  This is the New York debut of Maire Clerkin’s play, which was a critic’s pick by Back Stage in Los Angeles.  At the Fringe through Saturday only!
How It’s Irish:  It’s about Irish dance, from a London Irish girl who grew up immersed in that world.

Mix a little stand-up, a little memoir, a little Riverdance, a little Jig, and you get something a lot like Maire Clerkin’s delightful new fringe show, The Bad Arm:  Confessions of a Dodgy Irish Dancer.  
“Growing up an Irish dancer, your chief emotion is jealousy,”  Clerkin informs us, and proceeds to demonstrate it with her tale of sidestepping into dance, despite a right arm that kept wanting to fly from her side.  She was jealous of other girls who got more praise from her mum, who ran the dance school (Mum overcompensated).  She was jealous of the little girls from poor families to whom she had to lend her costume (in one funny sequence, she can’t run onstage to get her trophy, because she’s in her underwear).
Clerkin grew up in Crouch End, North London, one of 5 children of  Irish immigrants.  When they visited their relatives in Armagh, they thought “youse are English.”  In England, she was Irish.  Throughout, she’s self-deprecating, honest, and very, very funny.
Clerkin’s plastic face and constantly amazed/outraged delivery draws you in– as does a bout of intense dancing that opens the show.  She does all the voices along the way, hilariously imitating the Irish dance mums, and later on in life, a drunken priest going for the  exam to be an official judge.
For those who are in the Irish dance world, The Bad Arm must feel like a series of wonderful in-jokes; for those, like myself, who are just audience, it’s the deep dish from the real deal.  

True to its title, The Bad Arm does give us Maire’s confessions– minor(ish) cheating, drinking, and  “experiencing sex, drugs and rock and roll like only a convent-educated Catholic girl can.”  It’s her own story (accompanied by often hilarious family photos) of growing up in the 60s and 70s: visiting relatives in Ireland that involved getting water from the well, turf for the fire, and a first kiss from a boy disappointed she had no chest; being “closeted” as a dancer in high school because it wasn’t cool; dying her hair pink; working at a temp agency in an era when employers said right out loud “she’s white, all right,” who made her go by the name “Pat” because  employers would be put off by the “weird spelling” of Maire (pronounced Maura).
Director Des O’Connor keeps things moving.  I really appreciated the terrific score– with tunes from Beoga, John Carty, Frankie Gavin, Lunasa, the Sex Pistols, the Pogues, and more.  One thing Maire always got praise for during her competition days was her musicality, and it shows. 
Maire believes Irish dance can be as versatile as any other dance form, blending theatre and comedy, and with The Bad Arm, she proves it.  
Despite her complaints about the lunacy of some of this world, her affection for it shines through.  And after all, she’s still doing it, and she’s choreographed Colin Dunne/Jean Butler in Dancing on Dangerous Ground, and won 7 Irish dance drama regional titles, among others.   She told me she’s working on a sequel (listen for her on this week’s podcast)– this episode ends in 1988, when she passed the adjuticator exam (miraculously, because she was wildly hungover). 

I can’t wait.

Presented by the New York International Fringe Festival, at the Bowery Poetry Club, Wed. Aug. 17, 5:15; Thurs. Aug. 18, 7:15 p.m.; Sat. Aug. 20, 9:45 p.m.

Tickets 866-468-7619 or online

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.