Your Top 3 Irish Céilí Dances

“Well, that was embarrassing!” Not a great start for a blog post but that is about the size of it. The results are in from the global poll and I received a grand total of 91 voters, the lowest response by far of the three polls I have conducted.

This is despite the fact that almost 3 times that many people read the blog post, two-thirds of you readers did not vote.

However, my thanks to those who did vote, and the High Cauled Cap was in front all the way. Continue reading

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Vote for Your Top 3 Céilí Dances

Céilí (kay-lee) dancing has a relatively short, interesting and contrary history. Born out of the Gaelic League’s desire to create a clear Irish cultural and social identity, the League created a form of modern Irish step dancing in 1893 that would be an indigenous and codified form of dance: clearly Irish.

Sadly, as part of the ban on “everything English”, they also banished the round dances, country dances and quadrilles, which were loved by many dancers.

In 1929, the Irish Dancing Commission (An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha) re-created some of those popular dances and they called them céilí dances. They were adopted to complement modern step dancing , and were also danced in social settings with gusto, particularly by Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. Some examples include The Walls of Limerick, The Siege of Ennis and The High Cauled Cap to name but a few.* READ MORE DANCE HISTORY

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6 simple Irish dances for your Christmas party

Video

Sharing Irish dancing with my friends and non-dancers is something I love to do, AND it needs to be very, very easy.

Here, I am featuring three of the 6 different Irish dance styles with videos and instructions that are linked to each dance name so you can follow along.

  1. Irish set dancing figures
  2. Irish two hand dancing
  3. Irish céilí dancing

If you’re really keen and this is your first time getting people dancing, see my next post How to work with your party crowd who are keen to dance (and have probably had a few drinks)…

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Irish Dance Style: Up or Down?

I remember learning the High Cauled Cap in Ireland, a year or two after I had moved there from Australia- I think it was a lovely weekend in Mullaghbuoy, Co.Louth.

For those of you who don’t know, this is quite a complex Irish figure dance that crosses over between being a ceili dance and a set dance: an unusual creation with  a foot in both camps!

We got to the part where we do “sevens” – dancing sideways and back again to place – and I thought, “Goody -I know how to do this bit” ( SEE FILM at the bottom of this post). Every dancer who learns Irish step dancing will pretty much start with this step. And then a funny thing happened. Everyone else was doing sevens but they didn’t look the same, although it was very like the sevens I was dancing, with pointed toes and little leaps at either end but not the same. Then, the confusion of the next few moves overtook me and I forgot that thought. Continue reading

Irish Dance History: A Contrary Tale: Part 2

Irish dance history is difficult to pin down for many reasons, most likely because the culture was primarily oral – passed down through stories, songs and dances- with very little being written down.

Indeed, there are no less than four versions of the greatly loved Caledonian Set from Clare, and despite differences between districts, it appears that most dancers had difficulty recalling all aspects of that dance clearly.* (I will write more about why the Caledonian Set is the most perfect of all sets  sneak preview below with some absolutely fabulous dancing:)

Indeed, Fintan Vallely in his book The Companion to Irish Traditional Music proposes that tunes, songs and dances that lasted the test of time were mostly those that were written down, and it appears that much of that was done, ironically, by the English.

In 1775, the Dr. Rev.Campbell wrote:

“I was at a dance in Cashel (Co. Tipperary) and the Irish boys and girls are passionately fond of dancing and they dance beautifully.

We frog-blooded English dance as if the practice was not congenial to us, but here in Ireland, they dance as if dancing was the one and only business in life. **

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Irish Dance History: A Contrary Tale: Part 1

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.

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Irish dance: Change your shoes, change your style

All varieties of Irish dance are distinguished by one main thing: style. There are other differences, of course, such as rules and structure that guide the dances themselves. However, style – the way in which the dancer moves- is key.

I have written about 6 different styles of Irish dance and referred to body stance – hand holds low vs high, low to floor flat feet style vs high up on the balls of the feet with pointed toes, and pretty much everything in between. I will write more on body stance in next week’s blog post Irish Dance: Tips for Body Style

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Wanna Be Irish St.Patrick’s Day? Dance, Don’t Drink

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

Dance shoes: Avoid sore feet!

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