From Clare to Canberra: The Jack Canny Story Part 3-The Half Set

This half set began it’s life in Canberra over 3 years ago at the King O’Malleys music session with Libby and Richard Conrick, amongst others. Richard and Libby knew Jack well : in fact, one of their sons is named after him, and Jack Conrick is now a fabulous fiddle and concertina player himself.

Go directly to each figure of this set:

Figure 1: The Clare Cosy

Figure 2: The Bridge

Figure 3: The Canny Chase

Martin and I would often go to the session on Tuesday nights, and occasionally, we would get up and “throw a few shapes”, as they say, just the two of us in a very small dance space, enjoying whatever music they were playing.

Some of the signature moves came from experimenting at the session. But mostly, the influences have come from my years dancing in Ireland, and in Clare, reflecting many of the Clare dance moves we know and love, with a few twists.

martin and Nora O'Malleys

Martin and Nora dancing with Jack Conrick playing concertina in the background at King O’Malleys, Canberra.

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Irish dance basics: How going backwards can help you go forward

MOST Irish traditional music is very lively, and it really makes you want to tap, hop, skip and generally jump for joy. I share that feeling but those steps are not always in keeping with the traditional flat style of set dancing, particularly in Clare, Kerry, Galway and surrounding areas.

It’s another contrary fact about Irish set dancing that what makes you want to go up, actually asks you to come down.

The style of Irish set dancing is subtle and I have had great difficulty over the years putting my finger on what it is, what it’s not and how best to explain it simply. I have found it most tricky explaining the style to dancers who already dance many other styles because it can seem counter-intuitive to them.

Some basics for set dancing style & steps:

1. Keep your feet close to the floor – some say “dancing from the ankles down”
2. Take small steps
3. Listen to the rhythm of the music to keep time

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Irish dance: On pointe – is it safe?

“I’m jealous. I’d like to be able to dance up on my toes like this”.

About six months ago, my new young FaceBook friend from Vietnam emailed me, including a photo of Irish dance shoes on point or toe dancing.irish hard shoes toe dance

My instinctive response was quite horrified (also shows I am out of touch with what Irish step dancers are up to),  and I told him that it wasn’t safe to do this without training and knowledge of how to do this properly. After my initial response, I then reflected on why I was horrified. I did ballet for 5 years as a youngster and dancing en pointe (on point or tips of toes) was something you had to be selected to do and undertake considerable training for.

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Irish dance: Tips for Body Style

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 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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Irish Dance Music: Irish eyes are smiling and Irish feet are tapping

When I first started Irish set dancing in Dublin 1999, my friend Maureen used to occasionally stop mid-step when we were dancing, turn her head and say in a slow, breathy voice “Isn’t that just beautiful music?”.  I could only politely agree with her, not really knowing whether it was any better or different to the last 20 tunes I had been dancing to.

But it was a useful tip for an Irish dancer new to the scene, who was more consumed with the terror of forgetting what comes next (until I realised that’s a contagion amongst set dancers!), standing on my partner’s toes or trying to remember how the reel step goes.

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Irish dance – no laughing matter?

My last post alluded to my view that craic – fun, humour and general horsing around – is a treasured part of Irish culture, and has been an important part of my life and dance experience in Ireland.

Amuse yourselves with examples of a few well-known Irish people – Niall Tobin and The Builders, Maeve Binchy and her famous Veal Casserole, Dillie Keane and the Fascinating Aida troupe doing Cheap Flights – to name but a few.

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Grace, rhythm and a little bit of craic – still part of Irish dance?

I love trawling YouTube for Irish dancing of all different styles, and I find myself going back to the older recordings – not that long ago, but not contemporary. They have a grace and class that I don’t see in newer recordings – even in most of my own, I have to confess. RTE, the Irish national broadcaster, did a lot of filming of Irish traditional music, dance and song in the late 60s’ through to the 1980’s and produced some wonderful stuff. Most of the best of these recordings are available in the “Come West Along The Road” series of DVDs.

I understand the need to update, move and change with the times to inject new influences and trends into Irish dance but a lot of what I see seems to be a move backwards from what was. In Irish set dancing, the trend to play faster and faster music means that the nuances of the tunes are lost, and the rhythm and flow of the dance is completely overtaken by tempo-not nice to dance to really.

In Irish step dancing, it’s hard not to laugh out loud (LOL) at some of the get-up- the bouffant hair matched with the bouffant dresses – a real distraction from the dance itself. The amazing athleticism and skill of  the dancers is impressive – it must take a huge amount of time and commitment to be able to pull off some of those moves, and that is a truly admirable quality.

But mostly, I am left cold watching these performances, as the experience seems lacking in joy and spirit, the music is like wallpaper – just background, and not integral to the rhythm and meaning of the dance. Perhaps I am expecting too much?

As I write, I have just seen a nice bit of updated Irish dancing (to Michael Jackson music)  that has much of what I am talking about – rhythm, graceful dance and looks like they are enjoying themselves!

So there is hope. What we  had once we could have back again, and even better, if we tried and took a bit more thought and care with the beautiful Irish tradition.

An áit a bhuil do chroí is ann a thabharfas do chosa thú.

Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.

Nora Stewart EasyIrishDance.com
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Irish music and dance: The Ard Macha (Armagh) Fleadh

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