Blog Irish: Moving forward

I started this blog nearly five years ago, with the intention of giving some context and depth to the Irish culture surrounding the traditional music and dance we all love so much.

It has been an amazing journey of discovery for me, and I plan to continue that journey and expand it as widely as possible. I plan to write more, do more research, make more films and ask your opinions though surveys, including running the Top 5 Irish Céilí Bands poll again this August to coincide with the Fleadh Cheoil Na Éireann 2018.

I plan to continue to make as much as I can available to lovers of Irish music and dance through IrishBliss.org and also through my Easy Irish Dance YouTube channel.

So welcome to Irish Bliss Nua aka IrishBliss.org, for what i hope will be a new chapter for me, and for you, my readers.

Irish Bliss is now at www.IrishBliss.org

When you go to the new site, you will see that the layout and orientation of the new site is the same as previously, so you don’t get lost.

The immediate benefit to you of this new site will be the removal of that pesky advertising, particularly for those use cell/ mobiles or tablets to read. I may introduce some advertising that is relevant to you at some stage later but it will be less intrusive.

If you have suggestions for any topic you would like to see more of, please let me know.

Thank-you for continuing to read. support and enjoy.

Nora Stewart
www.IrishBliss.org/ www.EasyIrishDance.com

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Adults: What’s stopping you from dancing?

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Often adults talk animatedly to me about their desire to dance, finishing with a crest-fallen look and “Oh, but I didn’t learn to dance as a child”. Occasionally,  I’m not sure if this is an excuse for not dancing or a genuine regret that the potential joy of dance has passed them by. I suspect it’s the latter.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a community where dancing, singing and music-making was a normal, everyday activity. I danced at school, I sang and played my guitar on the school bus with a group of others, I danced at parties and I danced with my friends for fun in the lounge room. We were not doing any particular dance or steps, just moving to the music and enjoying it.

Fast-forward forty years, and what I see that dancing has become objectified: commodified in a way that makes it seem less accessible to people as an ordinary activity, and all about athleticism, show and performance.

The rise of TV dance shows may bring dancing into people’s homes but really not in way that makes people feel they can participate. There are dancers and there are audiences: never the twain shall meet.So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance1

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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: Tips for Body Style

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Body Style : The Sweet and Lowdown

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 whtelemark skiingo 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

Irish dance: Change your shoes, change your style

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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

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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!

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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

Irish dance is not all the same!

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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?

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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