By David Hennessy
A 20-year-old university student from America has answered the racists and accusations of cultural appropriation when she posted a clip of her Irish dancing that went viral two weeks ago.
When Morgan Bullock from Virginia posted a 12 second video clip of her Irish dancing, the clip was so popular she was soon chatting on Joe Duffy’s Liveline and being invited to dance in Dublin’s 2021 St. Patrick’s festivities next year by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.
Morgan told The Irish World: “It’s been really surreal, honestly. Surreal is the word I would use. With all that’s happening with lockdown and Covid, it’s so strange to be spending my time doing this (being interviewed). I just didn’t expect this to happen.”
However, she was also on the receiving end of vile racist comments that she admirably rises above knowing they want a reaction.
“I did receive some racist comments. It’s the internet. People are going to say what they’re going to say. It’s no secret there are racist people out there. They’ll find you and they’ll troll the internet like they enjoy doing and I’ll just keep dancing. I never experienced any racism within the Irish dancing community.
“It’s easy for me to brush off things like that because if you’re that kind of person, then it’s not like anything I do is going to change that. It’s unfortunate. It’s a very awful way to be but that is just who they are and I am just glad they don’t represent the majority of people. It’s a minority of racist people on the internet who are responding to my videos.
“I don’t even like to fuel that because they know what they’re doing. They’re trying to get a reaction. The best thing I can do is just keep going doing what I’m doing. That’s the best revenge, honestly.”
Morgan took up Irish dancing over ten years ago at the Baffa Academy of Irish Dance in Midlothian, Virginia.
However, Morgan was also accused of cultural appropriation for displaying the skills she has put so much hours into.
She answers this by saying, “I never experienced anything like that in my almost eleven years of Irish dancing. Obviously I don’t look like how most people would picture an Irish dancer and that’s okay. I think it’s really cool that Irish dance is so widespread and something people from so many different backgrounds can appreciate. I think it’s just a beautiful dance.
“People will always say negative things on social media especially because you don’t have to say it to someone’s face. It’s easy for them to say something negative. It is what it is. The positivity definitely outweighs the negativity, that’s the amazing part of it.
“Also, it’s dance. Dance is not something you have to speak the same language as someone to enjoy. It’s a visual art and I think it’s amazing how much Irish dance has spread. I’ve met dancers from Mexico, China, Africa and we all share this common passion.
“I think that’s such a beautiful way to be connected, through dance.
“I did respond to some (comments) just because I feel like cultural appropriation is a fairly new term that people are so quick to slap it on anything that’s just different to them. I did respond to some because my aim is to educate people on the difference between appropriation and appreciation. It’s a good thing that cultures spread and people are appreciating.
“It’s not like I’m taking it and claiming it as my own without recognising the fact that it is irish dancing. I’m very open and vocal about the fact I’m an Irish dancer. It’s not something I’m trying to make something that it’s not.
“I think it’s important for people to recognise the fact that what i’m doing could be considered culutral appreciation as I think I’m participating in a respectful way.
“I’ve been met with so much love and support in Ireland and I’ve competed alongside Irish people and I do have Irish heritage. A lot of people wouldn’t expect that.
“I have friends who are dancers who are fair skinned with red hair who have zero Irish heritage that they know about and they never get questioned.”
Morgan explains that she doesn’t like to tell people she has Irish blood to refute any claims of cultural appropriation because her being Irish is coincidental, especially as Irish culture as spread to all four corners of the globe and the Irish dancing world is an inclusive community rather than a closed-off group.
“I don’t think it should matter. It is kind of annoying that people would see me and just automatically assume there’s no way I have Irish heritage but I understand that. I think my goal with responding to people who have that idea is just, ‘Open your mind, it’s an amazing and beautiful thing how cultures spread and merge and we can be connected through that’. I have it in my Tik Tok bio, ‘Yes, I have Irish heritage. No, it shouldn’t matter’. It shouldn’t matter.”
Of course the negativity was outweighed by those loving the video such as Beyonce’s mum who shared it and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar who took to Twitter to say: “Some brilliant moves there. Hope you can dance in Ireland for St Patrick’s Day 2021. We’d love to have you over.”
“I almost dropped my phone when I saw that because I never expected even hundreds of people to see the video let alone millions and just to get the attention of Beyonce’s mum to the point where she would repost it was insane and it seemed like it happened so fast too. I just never expected it.”
Morgan reacts to Leo’s invitation by saying: “That was amazing, that was just so cool to see that he enjoyed my video and made an offer and of course as soon as I can travel, it’s definitely where I’ll be. As far as plans go, I do plan to be in Ireland next year.”
Morgan has visited Ireland four times including for one of the four World Championships she has competed at.
“I love Ireland. I’ve been four times now. I’m hoping to come back as soon as I can travel. I love Ireland. It’s just such a home-like feeling and I was always met with welcoming arms, just so many nice people.
“I’ve been to Dublin and Wexford mostly. I would love to explore more of Ireland. I would love to visit to see the country more.”
Could she see herself living there in the future? “I could. Most of my family is here so that would be the most difficult part. It’s just a beautiful place and I think the more I travel there, the more I feel like I’m going to fall in love with it so we’ll see what happens in the future.”
Morgan, who is studying to be a primary school teacher, explained what she loves about Irish dancing and that she has been doing it for more than half her life.
“It’s always been a dream for me. I definitely consider Irish dance more than just a hobby just because it’s been my life for almost eleven years now. Competitively it just takes so much time and dedication.
“It’s definitely dominated most of my time over the years and my goal has always been to become a professional dancer.
“I have teaching as another passion of mine, it sounds kind of bad to say it this way but kind of as a back-up plan because becoming a professional dancer is not something that everyone gets the opportunity to do so I decided to pursue something else that is a passion of mine in teaching.”
Morgan does think about combining both passions by teaching Irish dancing and helps with the beginners at the studio she dances at.
“It’s definitely something that I’m interested in doing. It’s something that takes a lot of dedication that I don’t quite have at the moment because I’m just so focused on competing. You can’t compete once you’re a certified teacher but I definitely want to get that certification at some point.”
Riverdance’s dance director, Padraic Moyles asked Morgan on Liveline if she would like to join the cast when they perform at the at the Wolftrap Amphitheatre in Vienna, Virginia next year, to which she replied, “Oh my God, my heart just dropped.”
Mr Moyles also told Ms Bullock that she would be given a scholarship to the Riverdance academy next summer. This a week-long programme of learning the dances of the show before putting on a production. It is a week that could end with Morgan joining Riverdance as a full cast member.
“I’m considering it an audition process. Hopefully it ends up with me being part of Riverdance. That would be amazing but If not, I will have performed with them anyway and that’s a dream.”