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?

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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?

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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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Elvis is alive and… well… Irish dancing!

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This is a bit of film I took in Ireland of the pretty-fabulous Brian Cunningham who danced and wowed us for a minute and a half in Tubbercurry, Co.Sligo in July 2012 (thanks to my friend Marian whose camera I commandeered in haste).

The question is – step dancing or sean nós dancing? What say you?

If you’d like to learn to dance freestyle Irish sean nós- check this out….

PS. By strange coincidence, the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, ACT, Australia is hosting an exhibition called “Elvis at 21” with gorgeous photos of the young man on the cusp of fame by Alfred Wertheimer. Went to see it today and it’s cracking.

Nora Stewart
EasyIrishDance.com
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