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.

As for Irish dancing, my very first recollection of seeing gorgeous solo step dancing was an impromptu performance after a  Donegal 1989 workshop, when the dancer in question kicked her leg high and her shoe went flying off into an amused audience. “Feck” she muttered, and kept going.  More of this in the very award-winning small film “Why The Irish Dance That Way”–  completely taking the p*#%, and doing it really well.

Anyone who has been along to a Timmy “The Brit” McCarthy  and Irish set dancing workshop in Ireland know he is famous for his humour – jokes, story telling and comical musical playing – as part of the learning experience. Sometimes its was even difficult to know what set dance was being taught because the laughing was so loud as to drown out the set.

Timmy McCarthy showing the lift - how it's done, Kerry-style! Image Set Dancing News

Timmy McCarthy showing the lift – how it’s done, Kerry-style! Image Bill Lynch.

Ditto many other teachers including one of best known, Connie Ryan (RIP) and his dance partner Betty McCoy, who had a huge dance following in Ireland in the 1980s- 1990s. He  was well-known for his witty repartee, not always the most politically correct, but kept people in stitches. Most importantly, he kept them coming back to more classes and workshops and thus reviving the set dancing tradition and keeping it alive.

Connie Ryan dance master, acting the eejit and dancing a buck set - all men and all smiling. Image Set Dancing News

Connie Ryan dance master, acting the eejit and dancing a buck set – all men and all smiling. Image Set Dancing News

My concern generally in Irish dancing is how terribly serious it has all become and, mostly in the wrong areas, from what I can see. And how trying to have a little fun sometimes means not being part of the conversation at all.

I recently joined an online dance forum, and saw this question posted in the Adult Dancer section:

How does your teacher feel about adults wearing solo dresses?

MY REPLY: “Can you get two adult dancers in the one dress?”

THEIR REPLY “Removed this comment as it is OFF-TOPIC. Yeah I got the “joke”. While you were amused with yourself the original poster would like the thread to stay on topic. It’s hardly censorship. Please read the rules of the forum and reread the terms of service you agreed to when you became a member.” Phew. That put me in my place.

So, what prompted me to think of this as a response? Connie Ryan’s famous advice to women in his class to “keep the two legs in the one stocking”.

Lighten up, folks, if you want to keep people coming and being part of a wonderful and funny tradition 🙂

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss
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3 thoughts on “Irish dance – no laughing matter?

  1. Great blog, Nora! I remember this blog now. I will enjoy following. Oh, how I love to set dance, but over the years it HAS become a serious venture. Is it the aging dancers clinging desperately to what they know or they think they know? I don’t have the time or energy to decipher and judge, but I do find the stern faces over missing a move to be disconcerting. One evening, everyone was pushing, pulling, and yelling about some of us doing the wrong moves in a figure. We were in a pub and there were people who knew nothing about set dancing there. They were thoroughly engaged in listening to the joyous live music and eager to watch us dance. There was so much confusion, but rather than laughing, the dancers were too serious. Now these dancers are very friendly and usually they can have a laugh, but more and more, I see these set dancers and set dancers everywhere haggling over what is right and wrong with stern, wrinkled faces. The wrinkles would disappear if they had a laugh! At the end, I myself became stern and said that it mattered not that we were getting the figure all wrong because the people watching us didn’t know a jig from a polka. And how silly we must appear with our unhappy faces telling one another what we did wrong. Have a laugh and batter away! I think knowing the timing to the music is important, no matter if you end up with a different partner or you become a woman when you were man. Who the feck cares, really? People are dying of cancer and shoot outs here in America…let’s dance and laugh until we go to the grave!

    • That’s the spirit, Cynthia! Thank-you for your considered comments. I agree – we can all get serious about it at times but really the best fun is had when it all goes pear-shaped…Appreciate your comments and look forward to what other people have to say, too! Thanks Nora

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