A black woman who became famous for Irish dancing on TikTok says that trolls have accused her of cultural appropriation.
Morgan Bullock, a 20-year-old from Richmond, Virginia, has been performing Irish dance routines for the past 10 years, including in venues around the world.
Earlier this year Bullock began showing off her skills on TikTok, and in May she posted a video dancing to the hit song Savage by Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé that racked up thousands of views in a matter of hours.
That video even captured the attention of the director of the world famous Riverdance spectacle, Padraic Moyles, who invited Bullock to perform with his dancers when they make a tour stop in Virginia next year.
Since then Bullock has posted dozens more videos dancing to songs from icons including Drake, Doja Cat, Janet Jackson and Michael Jackson – eliciting praise from thousands of people across the globe.
But mixed into the positive comments on her videos there have been many critical ones from people who’ve accused her of appropriating Irish culture.
‘I’m passionate about Irish dance, teaching and my identity as a young woman of color, so the comments about “cultural appropriation” were quite hurtful,’ Bullock wrote in a first person narrative published in The Guardian this week.
‘I feel like they’ve come from people who don’t understand the term.’
‘Irish dance is like any other cultural art form, it was created to be shared,’ Bullock continued.
‘It’s a dance that was born out of oppression; we can’t lose sight of that. For me, as a little black girl, it was a beautiful art I was desperate to be a part of.’
Bullock said she was ‘mesmerized’ by Irish dancing when she was first introduced to it at age 10, during a recital at a dance school where she was learning tap and ballet.
‘My mom was a bit incredulous at first, but she let me give it a shot. I fell in love after my first class,’ she wrote.
‘Now I’m 20, and Irish dancing is my life. Competitions aren’t that regular in Virginia, but until recently I was traveling every weekend to compete in major events elsewhere in the US, or international shows in Glasgow, Dublin and London.
‘I came 43rd in the last world championships in 2019 – that might not sound huge, but getting into the top 50 is a big achievement.’
Bullock said when she first joined TikTok in March of this year she tried to master the choppy dance routines that dominate the app – but it didn’t work out well.
‘I was terrible!’ she wrote. ‘I tried to learn the routine to Savage, but I couldn’t move fluidly.’
Bullock then decided to go back to her roots by pairing the beat with the tricky Irish dancing footwork she knows best.
‘To my surprise, hip-hop works well with Irish dance choreography: you can tap out the beats with your shoes,’ she wrote.
Viewers quickly fell in love with Bullock’s original TikTok style – and suddenly she was fielding compliments from people around the world.
‘I started getting Facebook friend requests from older Irish people saying how much joy it gives them to see me dance, and that my mom must be so proud – it’s very cute,’ she wrote.
Even Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar tweeted Bullock’s Savage video, writing: ‘Some brilliant moves there, we’d love to have you over,’ and inviting her to dance in Ireland on St Patrick’s Day.
Bullock’s proudest moment, however, was when Moyles invited her to perform with Riverdance next year.
‘I did an interview on Irish radio where they surprised me by having Moyles on the phone,’ she wrote.
‘He told me what I was doing was unique and asked me to take part in the touring show. I would definitely have gone to see it when it came to Virginia; now I’m going to be in it.’
It was after Bullock agreed to perform in Riverdance that she began receiving the influx of negative comments about cultural appropriation.
Instead of letting them get to her, Bullock chose to use the claims to educate people about the international popularity of Irish dancing.
‘I addressed the negative feedback in a post on social media by explaining that there are Irish dance schools all over the world,’ she wrote.
‘The supportive response was overwhelming and it felt like an educational moment.’
Bullock is now inspiring others to take up Irish dancing.
‘People in the US tell me they want to pick it up and are searching for schools, and Irish people are looking for their heavy shoes from childhood,’ she wrote.
‘The most surreal moment was a black mother telling me she let her daughter sign up for Irish dance classes because she saw me.
‘I didn’t have someone who looked like me to look up to in what is historically a very white space. That I can be that person for young black dancers is an honor.’