Provisional Irish Dancing vs. Real Irish Dancing?

I have been rudely reminded this week that most people consider Irish step dancing to be “real” Irish dancing, and other styles such as sean nós are of a lesser ilk. This came when I was asked the question “Is Edwina Guckian an Irish dancer?

The fact that this question was attached to one of my YouTube films clearly marked “Irish dance sean nós brush dance”  and showed her dancing made me think that the person was joking.

But no. Full scale war was launched after my (quite sarcastic) response to this question, which included:

 Of course she’s an Irish dancer!

I was then told that:

It might happen to occur to you that the term “Irish-Dancer” is primarily used for STEP-Dancing

And I  was also informed that:

Actually, very few if any Trad-Dancers are actually Irish-Dancers as well.  So you obviously know nothing at all.

Really?  In truth, I  don’t know the answer as to whether trad dancers are also Irish (step) dancers. Perhaps we could have a show of hands from the “trad” community about their dance origins? In fact, I’m not sure it’s relevant. What the person then said was:

I was only asking because I’d say she could be good at Step too and was literally just wondering if she ever dipped her toe (pardon the pun) in Step-Dancing

Ouch! It’s a little hard not to find that insulting on her behalf for such a talented dancer. I try hard to see the best in all the different styles of Irish dance, although I admit I have made a few wisecracks about hair and dresses in previous posts. Perhaps someone can set me straight about why this aspect is so important?

I was unable to ascertain whether this person commenting was actually a dancer themselves – wouldn’t answer my questions about this.

And for the record, to answer the question about whether Edwina ever did Irish step dancing, she said:

Nope, never did Irish (step) dancing. Tried once when I was about 4 and the teacher gave out to me that my hands were flying all over the place and that was the end of that!! 🙂

She also said:

My great- grandfather was a mighty sean nós dancer from Roscommon…

Plenty of “real” Irish there, don’t you think?

So, could I respectfully suggest that those people looking down their noses at styles other than Irish step dancing please open your eyes, ears, minds and hearts to all aspects of the wonderfully rich, complex and growing tradition of Irish dance?

Nora Stewart (chancer)
Irish Bliss

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7 thoughts on “Provisional Irish Dancing vs. Real Irish Dancing?

  1. bravo! I see this response regularly from students of competitive Irish step dance schools. That unfortunately typically quite dancing about age 17 because of the belief that sean nos and set dancing aren’t “cool” enough or are beneath a step dancer. I know obviously that is a generalized statement about step dancers, but I am surprised and disappointed in that attitude. Having been involved with 6 different tcrgs in the US, I only came across one that valued sean nos and set dancing. I think the rest didn’t want to promote a style maybe they felt were unable to teach and make money from those styles, so it became something they made fun of. Edwina, Kieran, Siobhan, & Jackie are beautiful talented female dancers that have spent decades on their craft. And each one of them has their own unique style as one should with sean nos!

    • Hello Lila – Hopefully this attitude is just a lack of awareness and understanding and that more information that is interesting will help change that attitude. (When Martin and I danced together in the middle of the pub on St.Patricks day this year, we were surrounded by wee girls in their costumes with their mouths open-and they had the good grace to smile and clap at the end. So you never know!) Thanks for taking the time to comment. Nora

  2. When I am talking to people about the differences, I tend to refer to them as Traditional Irish Dancing (covering sets, ceilis an sean nos) and Competitive Irish dancing (covering the much more strenuous Irish dancing made popular by Michael Flatley, etc). I am saying this as someone who dance competitively for over 16 years, and now (in between prolonged injuries) do set and ceili dancing, and I come from a family of dancers – mum does the set and ceili with me, and my 18 year old brother used to dancing (including twice at the World Championships) and my 11 year old brother has danced at the World’s twice, qualified again for them in Canada in 2015, and came 2nd at the European Championships in May of this year!

    • Hi there – That sounds like a useful way of describing the differences. How do we make the other styles “traditional irish dancing” more interesting to dancers who can’t think past competition? There seems no end of downsides such as losing all the time, the cost, the training, the excessive injuries, and unfortunately, the bitchiness and bullying by a few that make it hard for the rest. What makes people choose that? Love to hear your thoughts and those of others.Nora

  3. In my experience learning competitive Irish dance (as an adult) there was nothing taught about Irish culture or history. The connection to live Irish music was negligible except during competitions, and even then the music is submissive to the dancing. There were no stories, no real deeper meaning or history taught. It was just execute steps with the image of Riverdance in our heads, and winning gold medals being the end game. Having attended many competitions, I think we all know that there are many tears and little joy there, except for those who win. I eventually began to dig deeper on my own, and found the Sean nos and Set dancing to be very intriguing, fun, joyful and more connected to, and respectful of the music. The teachers I’ve had are steeped in knowledge of these traditions, and I feel more bonded to, and enriched by, Irish cultural history through these forms. The skill in these forms is at a very high level, and the uninformed mistake low to the ground as low skill, which is woefully inaccurate. For me personally, I have a deep respect for all forms of Irish dance, and for dancers of one form of Irish dance to dismiss another, clearly demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge of Irish culture. I think your commenter is clearly a young person that just doesn’t know about all the dimension that exists in Irish dancing, but will hopefully come around in the future 🙂 Piper Call

    • Lovely comment, thank-you. I’m saying that of course because your journey resonates with my own- purely selfish! I’d love to hear from you also about what makes people choose Irish step dancing, other than perhaps they are unaware of other options or perhaps it’s the only option available locally? Thanks again. Nora

      • hi, been reading this thread and I totally agree with piper call, sean nos dancing is a more natural form of dance, it doesn’t require ridiculous wigs and costumes, it can be done anywhere, the dancer connects with the musician, its like a conversation between the two. I took up sean nos dancing a few yrs ago, I moved to Ireland from London 12 yrs ago and I absolutely love it! every sean nos dancer has their own style and interpretation and sean nos means old style, meaning its been around longer than competition step dancing (correct me if im wrong there!. To my knowledge, this type of dancing was passed down through families from granddads to grandsons back in the day (although women didn’t do it then), that to me is real irish dancing and I am delighted by the recent surge in popularity of sean nos dancing. Some of the best nights out ive had In my local happen when theres a good box player and I can get up and do a bit of sean nos dancing, the tourists love it

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