Irish dance music: It’s child’s play

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Great music is tSeamus_Begleyhe lifeblood of dancing and fortunately, Ireland has it in abundance. One of Ireland’s most beloved musicians and singers, Séamus Begley reveals more (hear audio link below) about the unbreakable bond between Irish music & dance when being interviewed by Joan Armatrading for the BBC.

As he says, his experience of playing music on his accordion was only for dancing and when there was no dancing, he was told to “put it away”.

So, how do you tell a jig from a reel? Or a polka from a slide?

As with most things Irish, it’s complicated. The intricacies of music mathematics can be a difficult thing to get your head around: even the best musicians seem to struggle to explain how it works mostly because there are style differences in the playing, in some cases. In addition, some of the names sound like musical timings – eg, “treble jig” and  “light jig”, but are actually names of a dance rather than a specific musical timing. So, thinking about all this too much will not help your understanding.

Happily, one of the best ways of learning this difference is by moving or by singing/ humming to each different signature timing, and this also goes for musicians who are learning to play Irish music. And why not try to remember each different type – hornpipes, reels, jigs, waltzes, polkas, slides– by what we did when we were kids?

By having fun – playing, clapping and singing to nursery rhymes, and using pictures and word games to remember the basics.

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Provisional Irish Dancing vs. Real Irish Dancing?

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I have been rudely reminded this week that most people consider Irish step dancing to be “real” Irish dancing, and other styles such as sean nós are of a lesser ilk. This came when I was asked the question “Is Edwina Guckian an Irish dancer?

The fact that this question was attached to one of my YouTube films clearly marked “Irish dance sean nós brush dance”  and showed her dancing made me think that the person was joking.

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Irish Dance History: A Contrary Tale: Part 2

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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

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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 music and dance: The Ard Macha (Armagh) Fleadh

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keady

I was cleaning out some papers today and I came across this little poem I wrote over 12 years ago when I was living in Ireland. It brought a smile …

“How’s about ye?”
They say with a grin
“One more couple needed…”
“…You’re welcome in” Continue reading