Irish dance health: Kerry fast!

My loveJanet + Nora Sneem affair with the Kingdom of Kerry started back one dark, cold winter around New Year Eve in 1989 when I found myself in Sneem, near Kenmare with a group of newish friends I had met in Australia a few years earlier.

They had invited me to join them in a rented house and we had a great time out walking, playing board games and inevitably ended up at the local pub on New Years Eve.

Two important things happened for me that night: a random connection that led directly to my long-term & current friendship with Con Moriarty from the Gap of Dunloe, and I saw my very first Irish set being danced that night in the pub.

Fast friends: Pat Falvey with me on the Skellig Michael 1997

Fast friends: Pat Falvey with me on the Skellig

And from those humble beginnings, I started to appreciate what it really means to come from Kerry and I have had many, many return visits ranging from Listowel in the North to the Writers Festival,  to flying from the Black Valley to Portmagee in a helicopter, and then out on the high seas to Skellig Michael with Con & Pat (who is an adopted Kerryman, from Cork).

For sure, that flight to Portmagee is not the only one that reminds me of Kerry. There’s the helicopter-like figure of the West Kerry Set where all couples continually double: slow dancing followed by plenty of fast (and here,happily, featuring Michael Walker, the master of energy

Think of all those lovely polka sets that Timmy McCarthy will have you up and doing – usually about 5 sets before morning tea, if he can manage it. And at the same time he’ll be standing up on that chair and belting out tunes, talking in a mix of English Irish and French, calling time and telling jokes all at once. It takes a certain kind of special person to be able to do that, and those special people come from Kerry.

What you can’t help noticing when you meet the wonderful people in Kerry is their passion for life, which at times seems unquenchable. And fast. Everything is Kerry is fast or fasht, as they say:  They talk fasht, they drive fasht, they kick a ball fasht, and they dance fasht.  They just like to get on with it.

And why am I ruminating about all things fast? Because I have started to incorporate the concept of “FAST” into my dancing & my diet in an effort to improve my fitness & health.

Most people assume because I dance that I’m really fit but actually I’ve discovered that skill can sometimes over ride fitness and you can get away with a lot more just because you know how to do it, and it can look like you are really fit when the reality is quite different. I struggle sometimes with too much sitting down – working on the computer, watching TV, talking on the phone, driving – we all have endless opportunities to sit now and it’s really killing us.

So, fast exercise or High Intensity Training (HIT) is about inserting very short, very intense bursts of activity within ordinary exercise – walking, swimming, cycling or dancing.

The jolt of high intensity creates a change deep inside your body – it creates greater numbers of more active power cells (mitochondria cells) in your body & also makes your heart muscle bigger and stronger.

This needs to be followed by recovery or much slower movement and ultimately, rest. (It’s worth noting also that there is a percentage of the population who are “non-responders” to exercise. This is genetic bad luck- it means no matter how much exercise you do, the health benefits will be minimal.)

Fast Fitness 5I started doing this High Intensity Training (HIT) in November 2014, and to make it a bit more interesting and enjoyable – works wonderfully well with Irish music. I have created some little dance routines incorporate the HIT that only takes 12 minutes. Do it 2-3 times a week to get fitter more quickly.

I have also been doing intermittent fasting – 2 days a week just 500 calories (600 for men) and then just eat normally the other five days.  I have lost some weight, particularly off my waist which is very important for reducing risk of diabetes (in my family) and I have a lot more energy and can feel the difference. It’s also not that hard – you just have to be mindful and a little bit organised to do both.

I’m not advocating doing everything “fast” all the time, but adopting a bit of the Kerry attitude into your dance, fitness and diet will go a long way to keeping you healthy.


Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

irish bliss globe of world flags




MORE INFO:If you’d like to know more about intermittent fasting & fast exercise: or have a look at this YouTube playlist below
(I’m not getting any return on this, by the way, just sharing!)

2 thoughts on “Irish dance health: Kerry fast!

    • I did! You’re right! I’m sure there’s a long list – it might be fun to put it together. Thanks for your comment 🙂

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