When I first started Irish step dancing classes as an adult in 1996, I felt happy and excited to be part of such of a complex and traditional style of dance. Mostly, I wanted to have fun and make a great sound with my feet.
I had no idea then that the complexity and tradition is truly a direct reflection of Irish history, and the connection with the Irish people, landscape and life in rural Ireland. There are twists and turns in the roads, boreens, hedges and ditches, private little snugs and back entrances, soft gentle pasture and roaring Atlantic westerlies.
What I have also come to appreciate is how convoluted and seemingly contrary the whole business of Irish culture and history really is, and that there is a story behind everything.
There is truly nothing straighforward about the Irish.
So, you’ve got the hang of the steps that you’ve spent ages learning, and finally the rhythm is starting to come after lots of practice, and perhaps also the moves in the set if you’re doing set or céilí dancing. But there’s this other elusive bit that you see “the really good dancers” doing and you can’t just work out why you’re not quite as cool as they are! They’re doing something different and you can’t quite put your finger/ toes/ feet on it….
Well, each style of Irish dance has it’s own unique body stance or sometimes you get a choice! Most styles of Irish dance require bending the knees and hips while dancing to allow looseness in the lower half of the body, giving a bit of bounce and spring – think of car suspension acting like shock absorbers. Lower centre of gravity also gives you a lot more control, particularly reducing uncontrolled sliding on the dance floor.
For those of you who have learned snow skiing, the same principles apply – bend ze knees and get control over your movements. (And no, leaning a long way forward with your butt sticking out on it’s own doesn’t count as bending the knees…!)
I’m going to try to explain for each of the 6 styles of Irish dance using static photos of Martin (below) but it will become clearer when you see people dancing and moving, and you know what you are looking at. Continue reading →
I love my Irish heritage – very proud of that and no more than on St.Patrick’s Day, when everyone wants to be Irish for the day. It does feel sad to me, however, that despite such a rich, creative and complex culture, that it all seems to boil down to one thing on the one day: drink.
Now don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy a glass of wine or two, have been known to enjoy the odd Irish coffee and love mellow Irish hot whiskeys in the winter.
But not when I’m dancing. If you ever want to feel like you’re really part of a slow-motion 3D movie, then half a dozen pints and then on to dance the Clare Plain Set is your man. Most people who’ve been dancing a long time recognise that dancing and drinking don’t really mix, and the ones that don’t, look in the mirror the next morning and hope nobody recognises them. Continue reading →
Irish dance shoes:7 tips on how to avoid sore feet, ongoing knee problems, hip problems and a plethora of other ailments that can come with Irish dancing, despite that it should be good for you! I have some suggestions for you that I have worked out over a long period of dancing. I also used to sell shoes and boots for hiking, and there are many similarities with dancing, including getting lots of mileage!
1. Supportive shoes
Supportive shoes are those that have stiffness under the arch of your foot, and that move the right way when you dance. Shoes that offer the best support for your feet are torsionally strong, which means they don’t have much twist. What you DO want is the shoe to bend forward at the ball of your foot to allow your heel to go up and down. New shoes often take a while to soften in this part of the sole. So, if the shoe doesn’t bend and give, your foot still wants to go up and this creates friction and rubbing inside the shoe, creating the potential for blisters. Something’s gotta give! Continue reading →
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One of the wonderful things about dancing at home is that you get to choose the music. Don’t get me wrong. When I’m at a céilí or workshop, I’m happy to accept the music that has been chosen by others. Most of the time.
But when I’m at home, I go through phases of being absolutely in love with different tunes, different musicians and combinations of music and far beyond the usual recorded music specifically for set dances. Don’t you find that, too?
Now that I am able to wear shoes again, I was looking at all my footwear for dancing and thinking about the progression of how they came to me and why I love them all.
The oldest in my collection by a country mile are my very traditional Australian RM Williams horse riding boots. Beautifully made with leather soles and elastic sides, they are the most comfortable boots you’ll find anywhere. I bought these off a friend (second-hand/ foot) for $20 when I was 13 years old and they are well over 30 years old (so am I!). Extremely well-travelled boots, coming to Ireland with me and back again, they have been re-soled and repaired many times since then and I gave them an outing in my first film “Sean-nOZ”. Continue reading →
You don’t realise how important your feet are until you are injured and can’t get about. Fortunately, mine is not permanent and my burn is heeling(!) well with the help of regular applications of aloe vera, growing conveniently in our North-facing sunroom. I have been unable to wear anything but very loose slippers for nearly 3 weeks now but in the last few days, going without slippers, socks or bandage has allowed the air to help the skin to grow back quickly. Thankfully, it’s warm inside the house while we have had some absolutely freezing days here in Bywong (see photo), with -6⁰C on Thursday and something similar when I was up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Continue reading →
Woke early this chilly winter morning in the bush, the sky is that very pale and deep blue on the horizon with snow threatening, forecast confirmed by the knowing birdsong of magpies.
Can’t dance today because I am recovering from a very badly scalded right foot- result of dropping a kettle of boiling water nearly 2 weeks ago and the healing has been slow. However, it’s coming good with the help of a regular covering of honey – Martin’s honey- and I am confident it will be good as new.
Then I can get on with practicing “The Priest & His Boots”, a gorgeous little old-style jig that I tried to learn from Celine Tubridy all those years ago in Ireland but without success. Frustrating because I couldn’t follow what she was doing but also I didn’t have the skills developed for the basic moves that would have helped make it easier, like doing the shuffles.
But now with the help of YouTube and technology to slow it down, I’ve been watching her husband Michael dance it beautifully with Maureen Culleton, really inspired to see such gentle, elegant dancing from people of an age where many are not advancing, but retiring.
I’ve been using the Amazing Slowdowner software to slow down a jig by Mary Macnamarato about 80% of it’s speed, and broken the dance into five parts. I don’t have each move exactly right yet but that will come with practice, when my foot gets better – I hope!
See you soon – dancing at home.