Elvis is alive and… well… Irish dancing!

YouTube Poster

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, see YouTube videos here

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
Irish Bliss

Irish music and dance: The Ard Macha (Armagh) Fleadh

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

Irish music: Thank-you for the Irish music

Session in the front garden

One of the wonderful things about dancing at home is that you get to choose the music. Don’t get me wrong. When I’m at a céilí or workshop, I’m happy to accept the music that has been chosen by others. Most of the time.

But when I’m at home, I go through phases of being absolutely in love with different tunes, different musicians and combinations of music and far beyond the usual recorded music specifically for set dances. Don’t you find that, too?

Some of the talented folk that really lift me are:

  • Andrew MacNamara Dawn 
  • Arcady  After The Ball and Many Happy Returns

    Martin dancing and Mark playing

  • Border Collies Unleashed!
  • Dennis Liddy & Elvie Miller Tradaree
  • Feenish Rabharta
  • Four Men and a Dog Barking Mad – should be called Four Mad Men and a Mad Dog!
  • Jack Talty and Cormac Begley  Na Fir Bolg
  • Mary Macnamara  Blackberry Blossom and Traditional Music of East Clare
  • Máirtín O’Connor & Friends  Crossroads
  • Micheál O’Raghallaigh The Nervous Man and Inside Out
  • Sharon Shannon Sharon Shannon
  • Sliabh Notes Along Blackwater’s Banks
  • 10 Years of Ceili House with Kieran Hanrahan (RTE) – Liz Doherty & Fiddlesticks medley: gives orchestral music a whole new meaning!

But a real treat is to have people play for you, in your own home! We are lucky enough to have talented and generous friends Mark (flute photo above), David (fiddle) and Ann (accordion) and Denis (banjo photo below) from Canada who occasionally are available to play for us
And look, it doesn’t matter whether you are a plumber, an electrician or a rocket scientist, come as you are, throw a few shapes and enjoy yourself!

David Game and Denis Lyons playing a tune

27 August 2014
Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

Irish dance shoes: Well-heeled and well-travelled

Now that I am able to wear shoes again, I was looking at all my footwear for dancing and thinking about the progression of how they came to me and why I love them all.

The oldest in my collection by a country mile are my very traditional Australian RM Williams horse riding boots. Beautifully made with leather soles and elastic sides, they are the most comfortable boots you’ll find anywhere. I bought these off a friend (second-hand/ foot) for $20 when I was 13 years old and they are well over 30 years old (so am I!). Extremely well-travelled boots, coming to Ireland with me and back again, they have been re-soled and repaired many times since then and I gave them an outing in my first film “Sean-nOZ”.

My first set dancing shoes I bought in 1999 from the Talbot Dance Centre in Dublin – black lace-ups with leather soles and hollow, plastic heels.   There are three screws in the base of heel and these make a tappy, tinny little sound. I was pleased with them: they made me feel part of the crowd. Those are now retired, hanging up in my cupboard with holey soles from 5 years  and more of constant use. I bought another pair in 2005 from the same place, lovely people, and they are still going strong.

It was about that time that I got interested in doing sean nós dancing and I started to really look at the difference between mens shoes and ladies shoes, and noticed the effect it has on dancing style. It seemed to me that mens shoes were flatter and wider, and much better for the batter!  The shoes are wider and the soles are quite often thicker and heavier than ladies shoes, giving better sound and stability, particularly if you want to dance more on the back of your heels, rather than on your toes or balls of your feet. Have you ever noticed that?

So, I decided to try it out and I got lucky – very, very lucky. I found a gorgeous pair of MaxMara brown Italian leather lace-up shoes (right) in a second-hand shop here in Australia for $6.  They are narrow fitting – perfect for my feet but they have a very wide, heavy sole that gives a good sound, and I think they look great, too. They were initially a bit tight, so I filled them with wet newspaper and wore them a bit while they were wet… you know, we do a few mad things for our dance passion!

The greatest compliment I got was when I turned up to the céilí at Mullaghbouy, Co.Louth end June 2012, and met up my lovely friend, John Joe Brannigan (his daughter Fidelma dances, too). We had both done the sean nós dancing class in Hilltown in early 2004 with Alison Heatley, and we always met up for at least one or two dances together every year I came back to Ireland. He took a great shine to my brown Italian shoes and I offered to swap with him. So, there were were, little (him) and large (me) doing the Clare Lancers together, dancing in each other’s shoes. I promised I would put them in my will to him!

Since then, I have found numerous pairs of Italian leather shoes – second-hand – and my current favorites are black, flat heeled and buckled Santorini shoes. They are a little bit too big but a thicker pair of socks has fixed that! More about this here

So right now, it’s pouring outside now, so I am going to exchange my dance shoes for gumboots, put another log on the fire and keep warm.

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
Irish Bliss

Irish dance: The heel of the reel

Stone Henge in Bywong, Australia winter morning

You don’t realise how important your feet are until you are injured and can’t get about. Fortunately, mine is not permanent and my burn is heeling(!) well with the help of regular applications of aloe vera, growing conveniently in our North-facing sunroom. I have been unable to wear anything but very loose slippers for nearly 3 weeks now but in the last few days, going without slippers, socks or bandage has allowed the air to help the skin to grow back quickly. Thankfully, it’s warm inside the house while we have had some absolutely freezing days here in Bywong (see photo), with -6⁰C on Thursday and something similar when I was up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Continue reading

Best foot forward!

Our home in winter here in Australia

Woke early this chilly winter morning in the bush, the sky is that very pale and deep blue on the horizon with snow threatening, forecast confirmed by the knowing birdsong of magpies.
Can’t dance today because I am recovering from a very badly scalded right foot- result of dropping a kettle of boiling water nearly 2 weeks ago and the healing has been slow. However, it’s coming good with the help of a regular covering of honey – Martin’s honey- and I am confident it will be good as new.

Then I can get on with practicing “The Priest & His Boots”, a gorgeous little old-style jig that I tried to learn from Celine Tubridy all those years ago in Ireland but without success.  Frustrating because I couldn’t follow what she was doing but also I didn’t have the skills developed for the basic moves that would have helped make it easier, like doing the shuffles.

But now with the help of YouTube and technology to slow it down, I’ve been watching her husband Michael dance it  beautifully with Maureen Culleton, really inspired to see such gentle, elegant dancing from people of an age where many are not advancing, but retiring.
I’ve been using the Amazing Slowdowner software to slow down a jig by Mary Macnamara to about 80% of it’s speed, and broken the dance into five parts. I don’t have each move exactly right yet but that will come with practice, when my foot gets better – I hope!
See you soon – dancing at home.

21 July 2013
Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss