Irish Dance: Real Ladies Don’t Batter

I occasionally overhear fascinating conversations – as a bystander, you understand.

And so it was on this occasion when two women were recollecting their experience of set dancing and tut-tutting about other women dancers who dare to dance battering steps.

“In our day, it was never done” they said, with the implicit message was that “it shouldn’t be done”.  My face was aflame as I sat there, not sure if this missive was being directed at me or not. I kept quiet.

My initial reaction was to feel a bit indignant. Yes, I’ve been known to batter – quite loudly at times and probably over enthusiastically – but I have always found the sound and subtle rhythms used in sets and sean nós completely addictive, and is how I got really hooked in the first place. I really, really wanted to be able to do THAT. Continue reading

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Learning Irish dance steps from YouTube

I often see lovely steps on YouTube I’d love to learn – like this one from Mick Mulkerrin:

But for someone like me, this is just a bit too fast to start learning from.

Technology not only allows generous dancers to film and post great steps, but also helps  to S-L-O-W it all down – both the images and the sound- like this:

It does sound a bit strange with the slowed down audio- a bit like a horror movie- but don’t mess with this as you’ll need the sound of the feet to help guide you with the rhythm of the steps.

TIP: The key to learning new steps is to break it down into simple parts but ALWAYS do it with the rhythm of the music – even if you just hum the music to yourself rather than having the music playing.

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Irish dance: 5 tips for keeping your dancing healthy

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Staying healthy takes more and more of my time, and it seems obvious to try to enhance the benefits of dance by paying attention to a few basics. This is not an exhaustive list: I have already written about some of these tips but ’tis always good to have a reminder.

1. Dance floor – seems an odd kind of thing to put top of the list but flooring is critical to reducing knee, hip and ankle injuries and sore backs, ideally, sprung floor is the best or at least something with some bounce or give in it. You should be able to see the floor moving when someone walks or dances on it. The floor also needs to be very clean- swept first then a very hot, dry-damp squeezed-out mop over the top to get all the grease and dirt off.

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Dance and music: Wake up to a healthy, rosy glow

Falling into bed at 4am after a brilliant night of music and dancing in Sydney, followed by a long 3 hour drive home, my head barely hits the pillow and I’m asleep. I wish I could say that happened every night, but for me, it doesn’t.

The effects oawake + clockf an over-active brain, the combination of mental exhaustion & not being generally physically tired from sitting, too much screen time & effects of screen light, and now the creeping menopause effects of hot flushes and arthritis, all conspire against good sleep.

The other undesirable element is the potential for weight gain- not helped by a cold winter and the desire for lots of lovely “comfort” food – beautifully braised lamb shanks with lots of potatoes, baked rice pudding, pumpkin scones (with tons of butter, of course) – need I go on?

My typical downward spiral goes something like this:

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Irish sean nós : Rich and deep

Sean nós  (say shan-nose) means old style in Irish, and I have often wondered just how old old really is. The very first time I remember seeing Irish sean nós dancing was in  early 1989 at my very first Irish set dancing weekend in Donegal Town, Co.Donegal. The snow was all aflutter outside the big windows of the hotel ballroom and three auld fellas shuffled along, “doing a bit of shtep” during the céilí -that’s how I recall it. It was relaxed, simple, very rhythmic and obviously, memorable.

Picking up the thread from my last post  Irish dance history: A contrary tale: Part 2 , I have been exploring more about the potential roots of Irish sean nós heritage, which it seems, may possibly originate from North Africa.  Bob Quinn, in his 1981 documentary series The Atlanteans, illustrateEurope map with travel route of Berberss his theory that  dwellers on the West Coast of Ireland, particularly in Connemara,  are not Celts but what he terms “Atlanteans”. They are ancient descendants of sea-faring people from Algeria and Morocco- the Berbers – who travelled all along the Atlantic coastline – West along Spain, Portugal, Basque country, Brittany in France and then North -West to Ireland – settled in parts and continued using the sea as a big super highway, that was much safer than travelling across land.

I found the evidence presented in the documentary compelling and curious,  with potential multiple connections between ancient Irish and Berber civilisations starting with traditional singing, dancing & music, musical instruments including the Irish drum bodhrán which has a double in the Berber bandir, sailing boats – Galway Hookers with púcán sails & Felucca with lateen sails,  stone circles, standing stones and carvings in similar contexts in both countries, art and fine jewellery pieces thought to be Celtic have an eery resonance in the Berber style, and on it goes. Have a look here for picture examples.

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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

Irish dance is not all the same!

A guide to 6 different Irish dance styles

I was reminded yet again this week that most people are only aware of one style of Irish dance- Irish step dancing, brought to world fame by the Riverdance production. However, there are many other Irish dance styles –  at least six that I am aware of. The biggest difference in style is being whether the dance is balletic – with pointed toes and high on the balls of the feet – or a relaxed, flatter, gliding style with more use of the heels. 
Have a look at the videos below and see if you can spot the difference? Whatever the style, the essence is that they all use Irish music, are very rhythmic and should be fun to do!

1. Irish Set Dancing– FLAT DOWN STYLE
Social dancing with four couples in a set of eight dancers; feet flat, gliding style, relaxed body and arms, having fun!
Set dancing is a vibrant and fresh style of dance, based on dancing Quadrilles, which originally came from France. The Irish have added their own unique steps and music to this dancing to make it energetic, rhythmic and great fun.The style is with the feet very low and flat to the floor, sometimes silently pushing and swishing around the floor, and other times making a rhythmic tattoo on the floor that is hypnotic. Set dancing uses the whole body in a relaxed stance.  Irish set dancing has similar roots to American square dancing, although sets have a more disciplined structure determined by the structure of the music.

 

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Dance Down Under – Strictly Irish?

Irish dance in Australia is incredibly vibrant at the moment, with 99 approved Irish step dance schools and untold informal Irish dance classes and events that include céilí dance, set dance and sean nós dance.Australia is hosting an inaugural International Oireachtas at the end of May this year.

A 10-part TG4 TV series following Australian Irish step dancing champions in their bid to get to Ireland for the World Championships in 2011 – Damhsha Down Under– has been recently released to YouTube by TG Spraoi (say SPREE, which means to play or have fun!).

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St. Valentine – from Ireland to Australia

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Moved by the music – Annie Hayward Art

It is said, that Valentinus, as he was known before he became St.Valentine, was canonised for giving help to Christians, including marrying them, when this was a crime.

“He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome… Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded  on February 14th outside the Flaminian Gate, North of Rome.” Wikipedia

What not many people know that St.Valentine’s remains are in Dublin, in Whitefriar Church in Aungier Street, not far from St.Stephen’s Green. The remains of St. Valentine and “a small vessel tinged with his blood.” were a gift from Pope Gregory XVI to a famous Irish priest and preacher, Fr. John Spratt in 1836. Continue reading

Irish dance – whatever happens, don’t laugh!

I came across this little gem some time ago, and initially thought it was a pretty good explanation of some of the different styles of Irish dance. Re-visiting this, I was struck by some of the comments made by Ray McBride  being interviewed by Gaybo on the RTÉ Late, Late Show about his recollections about some of the most important aspects of learning Irish step dancing when he was a boy.

He starts with Irish step dancing with what he calls an easy reel (over 1,2s), then a light reel and then into a treble or tap reel.

You might also notice the complete change in his demeanour when he starts doing Irish sean nós (which he introduced as Tennessee clogging)  and then moves into what he calls the “John Travolta sidestep“.I think that last side step could easily pass for Irish sean nós dancing.

What do you think?

Nora Stewart
EasyIrishDance.com
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