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

PLEASE USE NEW LINK FOR THIS ARTICLE at our new site, IrishBliss.org

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 music: It’s child’s play

PLEASE USE NEW LINK FOR THIS ARTICLE at our new site, IrishBliss.org

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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