By Ethan Smith
Updated January 30, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

When Riverdance, the Celtic dance spectacular, debuted in New York, I thought it both wonderful and scandalous. Wonderful that this strange dance I learned when other girls were taking ballet was now mainstream, and scandalous because the show broke the rules of Irish dance: Never let your hands leave your sides or wear your skirt much above the knee. Riverdance — Live From New York City, the latest arm-soaring, leather/spandex-fest, benefits from the absence of the preening Michael Flatley (who left under acrimonious circumstances and created his own bare-chested star vehicle, Lord of the Dance) while capturing the fiery spirit of step dancing and the rousing music that is its pulse. After a narrator touches briefly on how the Irish brought their traditions to the U.S., the tape highlights two terrific duels: freewheeling American tap dancers, accompanied by a sax, face off against the stiff Irish jiggers and their fiddles (later it’s castanets versus fiddle). Only the operatic New Agey a cappella singing disappoints — it’s hardly the stuff of great ballads, for which the Irish are known. B+