Irish Set Dancing: Keep People Coming Back to Classes

Keeping people interested in coming back to class is so important to ensure there are enough numbers to keep a class going but also to have a blend of skill and experience levels, that lifts everyone in the group.

Classes are also vital to keeping the set dancing going because there is so much to know, so much to learn and that makes for a great time dancing.

Why do people stop coming to dance classes?

A very complex set of reasons are possible but the most likely in my experience are:

  • People have moved away or moved far enough away that class location is an issue;
  • This can have a knock-on affect with others they know or are close to in the class choosing not to come back;
  • Dancers gain new caring responsibilities that clash with class time;
  • Dancers have an injury or illness that puts them out for a while, and they never get around to coming back or can’t dance any more;
  • Women who like to dance with a man find there are not enough at classes;
  • Dancers feel they don’t fit in with the group or don’t feel welcome;
  • Experienced dancers can get bored with classes.

How many do you need for a class?
Based on my experience, you probably need at least 20 people on your list of regular dancers to keep a class properly sustained. You have to expect that possibly 20%-50% may not be able to come to any given class. That may leave you with 10- 16 dancers, worst case scenario, which should be enough to keep people active and interested.

My most recent class at the Wodonga Tradathon. Credit:J.Moran

However, if the group drops below 10 or so, you may find that you start to lose others, simply because there is not enough energy in the room or critical mass to sustain interest. Teachers / organisers must be vigilant and keep a close eye on the numbers and level of interest. Don’t leave this to chance – start doing something about it immediately or you will risk losing the whole class.

Inviting people who are already part of a small group of friends – can be good if they are genuinely interested in dancing, as they will have another reason to come to class. However, my experience also tells me that if one is away, they will often all not come. So, beware having everyone in your dance class part of a friendship group.

Payment in advance- I have played about with various models of payment for classes. There is a traditional view that dancers should not have to pay much for a class, if at all, and we are all sharing our knowledge that has been passed to us from others.

I respect that view, and if teachers/ organisers can make a class work on that basis, hats off to you! However, in the days of hall hire costs, public liability insurance costs, digital marketing costs and just generally time taken to organise to teach classes, I think attaching a payment is a sign of respect, attribution of value for effort, and also helps to ensure the continuation of the class.

I have recently moved to offering an EARLYBIRD option for a pre-paid term of classes, aimed at about 75%-80% of the regular casual class fee, paid before term starts. The aim is to get at least 10-12 people signed up this way to ensure there is a quorum of people in the group before we start.

This has the effect of ensuring dancers turn up for classes more often than not, and also ensuring there is enough money in the kitty to pay for hall,insurance and other outgoings.


CLASS CONTENT & STRUCTURE
Needs to be flexible; able to deal with the varying numbers and skill levels of dancers. The teacher should try to gauge that and make a class that is appealing to as many people in the class as possible. This is where having an idea of how many people are coming, and who they are will help planning.

DANCING,  NOT BORING!
It is very important to get people active as quickly as possible. Avoid leaving people sitting out of the class & do not spend long periods of time talking at people.

Some options you might like to try:

  • Do a simple group warm-up at the start for 5 minutes or so to some lively music. A simple 4 or 5 part dance that includes lots of quick walking in a circle for 8-16 bars and interspersing it with some advancing and retiring, little kicks, knees up, steps to the side (think Nutbush), then more quick walking the other direction, with few claps and stamps thrown in for good measure. Something very easy that gets the blood going, warming up the body before starting and that gets the whole group working together with a smile.
  • Half sets – this is really the best way of getting good practice in for sets, whether you have full sets or not.
  • Couples dancing for practicing dancing at home, swinging or indeed any movements done in pairs by all the pairs in the group.
  • Solo for some basic step learning or practice – reels, jigs, hornpipes or polkas can all be done solo. Slides are probably a little trickier.
  • Teach a two-hand dance for variety – Peeler and the Goat.
  • Teach a few simple sean nós steps with a broom. This is great fun and gets people focused on what they are doing rather than feeling awkward in front of others. Get people to bring a broom to class.
  • Finish the class with a 3-5 minute head-to-toe stretch to music with everyone participating.

You can see more of my posts about teaching sets and teaching kids to dance.

MUSIC
We’ve all been to ceilis where we think we’re done, we’ve danced our feet off and suddenly, on comes a tune that we ABSOLUTELY have to dance to and up you jump, enlivened all over again. You need an injection of that energy for your classes as well.

I know it’s easy to rely on music that has been recorded for specific sets (Matt Cunningham and others) to ensure the right length but really there is a world of AMAZING Irish music out there that can be used and adapted for set dancing.

Add some variety to your music – music that has great lift, music that perhaps is a little slower for learning, and a little faster for some fun once everyone is able. You could even experiment with other non-Irish music for simple reels etc – anything with a strong 4/4 timing and rhythm can be great fun.

Make sure the music is loud enough to be heard clearly, but not so loud it drowns everything else out.

EXPERIENCED DANCERS & BEGINNERS
Every teacher faces this dilemma – trying to manage teaching a class those who know how with those who don’t. It’s always a balancing act but an important one in set dancing as every group needs experienced dancers to help guide those not yet confident with their dancing.( This is also the case at ceilis – more on that later).
It is useful if the teacher acknowledges this as well and show appreciation for those more experienced people.

Knowing what motivates them is important to ensure you keep enough interest for them to keep returning. It might be the social, it might just be the act of dancing itself, to get out of the house, it might be to help others (a possible teacher in the making) or whatever. Find out what it is and practice getting better at offering as much as you can.

I will post more about managing these kind of teaching specifics soon.

TRICKY PEOPLE DYNAMICS
Aaah! We have all had that experience of negotiating around a person we like dancing with much less than everyone else, let’s say. Bad breath, heavy on their feet to dance with, gripping your hand/ back /other parts too tight or hands in the wrong place altogether…you get the idea.

This can be a real turn-off and can cause people to not return to class because they feel uncomfortable or dancing becomes an unpleasant experience for them. It’s embarrassing but real.

What to do?
In the first instance, every teacher should address this issue in class on a regular basis as a matter of dance etiquette. With the class leader acknowledging these issues up-front, this gives dancers permission to raise this with their partner, if they need to and feel they can.

In the case of tight grips and squeezes, teachers can be address this in the class as part of the lesson showing people where and how to hold, and to be aware that some dancers can have arthritis in their body, injuries or other sensitivities that we should all be aware of.

Bad breath? Bad body odour? You could venture talking privately with the person but this may not work. I’d love your suggestions about how to deal with this.

Heavy to dance with? Sack of spuds? Good luck with that. Very difficult to fix, I’d say…! If you have any strategies that work for this, please let me know.

SO…
It might all sound like a lot of effort; a lot of work for a class. But taking an interest in the people who want to come to class and learn to dance, being prepared and ready for them is the least you can do. And, if you want to dance with other people, what choice do you really have?

Wishing you all the best with classes,

Nora Stewart
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2024 Traditional Irish Music and Dance Summer Schools and Festivals

Ireland is fast becoming the land of summer festivals or féile samhraidh. I have picked out as many festivals and summer schools that have any traditional music and dance connections from late May to the end of August 2024.

Yours truly at the Fleadh

(To see a wider range of non-Trad festivals across Ireland, you can have a look at the Irish Road Trip listing or The Life of Stuff listing.)

You can find your way around all 51 festivals and summer schools listed here by either using the interactive map below OR by date listing below.

***MAY-JUNE 2024***

25th May-3rd June 2024
Fleadh Nua 2024
Cois na hAbhna, Ennis, Co Clare
2024 Fleadh Nua in Ennis promises to be an exciting and innovative festival, full to the brim with Concerts, Ceilis, Sessions, CD Launches, Recitals, Sean-Nós Dancing and Street Entertainment.
https://www.fleadhnua.com/

29th May-2nd June 2024
Clancy Brothers Music and Arts Festival 2024
Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary
We’re looking forward returning for our 17th year with live music and events over the June Bank Holiday Weekend for all the family to enjoy, including: Live Music in the Strand and Brewery Lane Theatres, the Live Music Pub Trail, the Eoghan Power Memorial Ballad Singing Competition, Lunchtime Theatre in the Brewery Lane, Walks and Tours, and family fun.
https://clancybrothersfestival.com/

30th May –3rd June 2024
Limerick Fleadh 2024
Kilfinane, Co.Limerick
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
http://www.limerickcomhaltas.com

30th May-2nd June 2024
Monaghan County Fleadh 2024
Scotstown village, Co.Monaghan
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://comhaltas.ie/event/monaghan-county-fleadh-cheoil/

31st May–3rd June 2024
Sligo County Fleadh
Easkey, Co Sligo
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://sligocountyfleadh.ie/

31st May – 2nd June 2024
Laois County Fleadh 2024
Portlaoise, Co.Laois
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://spinkcomhaltas.ie/event-calendar/laois-fleadh-2024/

1st-2ndJune 2024
Cavan County Fleadh 2024
Killeshandra, Co.Cavan
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://thisiscavan.ie/event/cavan-county-fleadh-2024/

2nd-9th June 2024
Fermanagh County Fleadh 2024
Newtownbutler, Co.Fermanagh
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://comhaltas.ie/event/fermanagh-fleadh-2024/

8th- 16th June 2024
Kerry County Fleadh 2024
Ballybunion, Dromin, Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
http://kerrycomhaltas.ie/

8th,15th-16th June 2024
Clare County Fleadh 2024
Gaelscoil Mhíchíl Cíosóg & Cois na hAbhna, Ennis, Co. Clare
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing in Ennis, County Clare.
https://www.clarecomhaltas.com

14th -16thJune 2024
Doolin Folk Festival 2024
Hotel Doolin, Doolin,County Clare
A who’s who of Irish traditional music performers. Don’t miss it!
https://www.doolinarts.ie/event-details/doolin-folkfest-2024

14th-16th June 2024
Scoraíocht Lann Léire Festival 50th Anniversary Weekend 2024
Scoraíocht Lann Léire, Dunleer, Co Louth.
Scoraíocht Lann Léire aim to promote Irish music, history and culture in the Mid-Louth area.
https://www.facebook.com/p/Scora%C3%ADocht-Lann-L%C3%A9ire-100057428628959/

14th- 16th June 2024
Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival 2024
Ballydehob, County Cork
The Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival is an international festival based in the picturesque village of Ballydehob, West Cork, featuring Maritime and other Folk music, Song Writing Competition[Maritime] which is sponsored by IMRO. Sea songs, shanties,Song Writing Competition, workshops, Craft Stalls, a new Maritime play plus music in the pubs and a Fundraising Concert in Levis Corner House.
https://fastnetmaritime.com/

16th June 2024
Trim Haymaking Festival 2024
Trim, Co. Meath
A nostalgic look at days gone past with haymaking, traditional music and dance.
https://trimhaymakingfestival.com/

19th-24th June 2024
Down County Fleadh 2024
Warrenpoint, Co.Down
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://comhaltas.ie/event/down-county-fleadh-2024/

20th-23rd June 2024
Jim Dowling Uillean Pipe & Traditional Music Festival 2024
Glengarriff, Co.Cork
The sound of the uilleann pipes will be back and taking centre-stage in the picturesque village of Glengarriff in West Cork with a festival of great music to beat them all. We have a great line-up, a top Session Trail and a few surprises.
http://jimdowlingfestival.ie/

22nd June 2024
Buskfest 2024
Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland
BuskFest is an international busking festival that takes place in Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland
http://www.buskfest.com/

24th June -5th July 2024
BLÁS – BLAS international summer school of Irish traditional music and dance 2024
University of Limerick, Co.Limerick
Intensive “deep dive” workshops and master classes for experienced singers, dancers and musicians with a focus on collaborative integration of understanding between the disciplines. A residential program at the University of Limerick including international accreditation.
https://www.blas.ie

24th-28th June 2024
Craiceann Bodhran Summerschool 2024
Inis Oirr (Inisheer) Galway
A unique bodhran (drum) summer school on the island of Inis Oirr in the Galway Bay.
https://www.craiceann.com/about/about-craiceann/

28th-30th June 2024
Féile na mBláth 2024/ The Park Festival 2024
Town Park,Tralee, Co Kerry
This Summer series has all the ingredients for a magnificent Park Festival in Tralee celebrating the return of Summer live music, food and arts to Kerry. Featuring a host of activities including the traditional Féile na mBláth family festival of Flower Presentations, Demonstrations, Street Theatre and Arts, Craft and Food Stalls both outdoors and under our Festival Marquees.
https://www.festivaltralee.com/juneparkfestival

29th June – July 2nd 2024
Patrún Festival 2024          
Inis Mor, Co.Galway           
Pátrún is a three-day festival consisting of sports, currach and Galway Hooker boat racing, tug-of-war, art and sandcastle competitions, Triathlon, traditional Irish Music on the Pier with dancing. This is the big local festival of Inis Mór and has been celebrated for centuries.
https://inismor.ie/festivals-inis-mor-island

30th June-5th July 2024
International Harp Festival for Irish Harp 2024
Termonfechin, County Louth
Established in 1985, An Chúirt Chruitireachta ranks among the top international harp festivals for Irish harp.
We warmly welcome harpers of every standard from all over the world to our 2024 festival. We are passionate about the music of the harp tradition and its place within Irish traditional music. We guarantee top quality workshops, sessions and concerts and an opportunity to engage online with other harpers, gain a better understanding of Irish music, song and dance as well as learning more about the harp and its’ music.
https://www.cairdenacruite.com/festival

***JULY 2024***

1st-7th July 2024
Connacht Fleadh Cheoil 2024
Strokestown, Co. Roscommon
Provincial-level competitions for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.connachtfleadh.ie/

6th-14th July 2024
Willie Clancy Summer School 2024
Miltown Malbay, County Clare
Affectionately known as Willie Week, this festival is held in traditional music heartland that calls music and dance lovers back year after year. There’s a great atmosphere in the town and surrounds, with plenty of sessions, céilis and busking to complement the official program of classes and recitals. An additional program of dancing is also held at the Armada Hotel- see additional website link- Armada Festival of Music & Dancing.
https://www.scoilsamhraidhwillieclancy.com/
https://www.armadahotel.com/music-and-events.html

8th -12th July 2024
Ceol na Coille Summer School & Trad Fest 2024
Letterkenny, Co.Donegal
The Summer School comprises a 5-day programme of workshops, recitals, sessions and concerts.
https://ceolnacoille.ie/summerschool/

10th July 2024
Ballina Salmon Festival Heritage Day 2024
Market Square, Ballina, Co Mayo
The streets will resonate with the sights and sounds of years gone by. Displays, Demonstrations, Music, Sights, Smells, Sounds, Food & Drink.
https://www.heritagedayballina.ie/

12th-14th July 2024
Leinster Fleadh 2024
Wicklow Town, Co.Wicklow
Leinster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
https://www.leinster-fleadh.ie/

13th-28th July 2024
Earagail Arts Festival 2024
County Donegal
Earagail Arts Festival is a bilingual arts festival that takes place in County Donegal. It comprises 16 days of music, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, circus, and carnival along the Wild Atlantic Way.
https://eaf.ie/

14th-20th July 2024
South Sligo Summer School 2024
Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo
The South Sligo Summer School was founded in 1987 in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo to conserve and promote the rich tradition of music, song and dance of the area. With a full programme of classes, workshops, céilithe, concerts, recitals and talks, there is special emphasis on the old Sligo traditional style of playing whilst also including a range of instruments from uilleann pipes to bodhrán as well as embracing new ideas and giving a platform to young emerging local musicians, many of whom are former pupils of the summer school, to share their talents with our visitors of all ages from near and far.
https://www.southsligosummerschool.com/

15th-19th July 2024
Westport Scoil Cheoil 2024
Westport, Co.Mayo
Full summer school with tuition, concerts and recitals. The mission statement of Westport Scoil Cheoil is to facilitate and sustain the development of Irish music and to inspire people to become Irish musicians.
https://westportscoilcheoil.com/

15th-21st July 2024
Munster Fleadh/ Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan 2024
Thurles, County Tipperary
Provincial-level competitions for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.munstercomhaltas.ie/

20th-27thJuly 2024
Joe Mooney Summer School 2024
Drumshanbo Co. Leitrim
Every July, Drumshanbo plays host to the award winning Joe Mooney Summer School, a week long festival of traditional Irish music, song and dance named after the man who did so much to promote the cause of Leitrim and his beloved town. The committee continues to emulate his high ideals, endeavouring to promote Leitrim’s heritage of traditional music while handing on the best traditions of the past to future generations.
https://www.joemooneysummerschool.com/

21st-28thJuly 2024
Belfast Tradfest 2024
Belfast. Co.Antrim
Belfast TradFest, the pinnacle of world-class traditional music concerts, fiery pub sessions & Ireland’s fastest growing summer school of traditional music, is set to celebrate its 6th edition across Belfast UNESCO City of Music.
https://www.belfasttraditionalmusic.com/

21st-28th July 2024
Ulster Fleadh 2024
romore, County Tyrone
Provincial-level competitions for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.facebook.com/FleadhUlster/

22nd-26thJuly 2024
Meitheal Residential Summer School 2024
St. Flannan’s College, Ennis
Residential summer school for young traditional musicians.
https://tradweek.com/

23rd-27th July 2024
Meitheal Residential Summer School 2024
Villiers School, Limerick
Residential summer school for young traditional musicians.
https://tradweek.com/

24th-28th July 2024
Fiddlers Green Festival 2024
Rostrevor, Co Down
Fiddlers Green International Festival has become one of Ireland’s longest running and most successful festivals. The festival includes a number of highlights each year including: The Festival Folk Club, nightly in St. Bronagh’s Social Club, hosts a line-up of internationally acclaimed artists. The Acoustic Stage in An Cuan every afternoon features a mixture of local up and coming performers and major established artists.
https://www.fiddlersgreenfestival.co.uk

28th July – 3rd August 2024
Scoil Acla Summer School 2024
Achill Island, Co.Mayo
Traditional music courses, art workshops, sean nós singing, writers workshop, dance workshop, sean nós dancing, basket weaving workshops in a most unique location.
https://www.scoilacla.ie

***AUGUST 2024***

29th July – 5th August 2024
O’Carolan Harp Festival 2024
Keadue, Co Roscommon
The Festival was started in Keadue in 1978, to commemorate the famous Harper Turlough O’Carolan who lived in the area and is buried beside Keadue. Keadue is a small village of 200 people located on the shores of Lough Meelagh at the foot of the Arigna Mountains. The Festival includes Concerts, Céilí, Tuition on the Harp, Set Dancing, Harp Recitals and a Harp Competition.
https://www.ocarolanharpfestival.ie/

31st July- 5th August 2024
Kilrush Traditional Music and Set Dancing Festival 2024
Kilrush, Co.Clare
Set your self up for five days of music, dancing, and fun at the Kilrush Traditional Music & Set Dancing Festival from 31st July to 5th August 2024. This year’s festival will feature all sorts of activities, from interactive music and dance workshops to open air céilís and more.
https://visitclare.ie/events/kilrush-traditional-music-set-dancing-festival-2024/

1st- 4th August 2024
Ballyshannon Folk Festival 2024
Ballyshannon, Co Donegal
Welcome to Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival, the oldest festival of its genre in the world coming to you from Ireland’s oldest town. We are situated on the Wild Atlantic Way in the beautiful county of Donegal – the coolest place on the planet!
https://www.ballyshannonfolkfestival.com

2nd – 5th August 2024
Cahersiveen Music and Arts Festival 2024
Cahersiveen, County Kerry
The Festival is a Family friendly annual community festival of music and arts every August bank holiday weekend with entertainment for adults and children alike.
https://www.facebook.com/CahersiveenFestival/

2nd- 5th August 2024
James Morrison Traditional Music Festival
The Diamond, Riverstown, Co Sligo
Come and celebrate the musical legacy of James Morrison at the much-anticipated James Morrison Festival, with plenty of activities like pub sessions, music and art workshops, a symposium, outdoor céilís, and a remarkable concert, there’s something for everyone. Plus, the festival emphasizes a traditional ambience that will transport you back in time.
https://www.inishview.com/events/james-morrison-festival/

4th–11thAugust 2024
Fleadh Cheoil na h’Eireann 2024
Wexford, Co. Wexford
The best kind of celebration and competition, with provincial finalist musicians, dancers and artists competing to win their All-Ireland categories. Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann (CCE) showcase fabulous music, dance and a wide range of concerts and other events celebrating Irish culture. Don’t miss it!
https://fleadhcheoil.ie/

7th-12th August 2024
Feakle Festival 2024
Feakle, County Clare
We look forward to welcoming everyone to the village of Feakle in August 2024 for another memorable week of music song and dance.
https://feaklefestival.ie

8th -18th August 2024
Kilkenny Arts Festivals 2024
Kilkenny, County Kilkenny
Since its foundation in 1974, Kilkenny Arts Festival has gathered many of the world’s finest musicians, performers, writers and artists in Ireland’s medieval city. For ten days each August, the city’s historic churches, castle, courtyards, townhouses and gardens offer a magical setting for unique collaborations and intimate encounters between audiences and artists.
https://www.kilkennyarts.ie/

9th-11th August 2024
Howth Roots and Blues 2024
Howth, Co.Dublin
The Howth Roots and Blues Festival is a free music festival in Howth showcasing the best in Irish roots and blues artists and is organised by Paul Byrne of In Tua Nua for Howth Tourism. While many of the artists are blues based the festival caters for fans of Country, Rhythm and Blues, Bluegrass, Americanna and reggae. Basically anything rootsy!
https://www.howthrootsandblues.com/

16th-18th August 2024
Dan Furey Set Dancing Weekend 2024
Labasheeda, Co Clare
Dan Furey was a music and dance teacher who had the good fortune to live in a beautiful corner of Co Clare on the Shannon River.
https://www.facebook.com/p/Dan-Furey-Set-Dancing-Weekend-Labasheeda-100076345141750/

21st-25th August 2024
Masters of Tradition 2024
Bantry, Co. Cork
Celebrating traditional music in its’ purest form through a series of concerts and performances, directed by Martin Hayes.
https://www.westcorkmusic.ie/masters-of-tradition/

30th August-1st September 2024
Desmond O’Halloran Music Weekend 2024
Inishbofin, Co.Mayo
Celebrating the Inishbofin maestro with concerts, workshops, arts events and free traditional and folk music trails across island venues and landscapes. Promising an unmissable late summer reverie on the beguiling Connemara island, with contemporary music legends, Galway favourites and exciting new stars.
https://www.inishbofin.com/events/desmond-ohalloran-music-weekend-2/

I’d love to hear your experiences at any events in Ireland this year, and hope you have a little craic!

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss
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Irish Set Dancing: Attracting New Dancers to Classes

It’s a new world out there since I started learning set dancing way back in 1998 in Cork. Classes then were for 2 hours in the evenings, and they focused on teaching one set at a time, sometimes taking 2-3 classes to get to the end of a set. (My first set was the Ballyvourney, and we only ever danced this set figure by figure. Imagine my astonishment when I went to the big céilís and it was non-stop…and fast!)

Time, people and focus is now fragmented, with people ever increasingly busy with other things – children, grandchildren, work, and a general exhaustion from the stress of modern life. There are a lot more offerings now to tempt people including every type of online pastime imaginable.

The other challenges of set dancing classes were ever thus- not having enough people to make sets, not having enough men (men go to céilís; women go to classes!) and not being able to get commitment from people to stay the long course of time it takes to learn sets.
Oh, and set dancing having such a low profile that most of the general public not having a clue what it is – refrains of “It’s not Riverdance”. (I will write more soon about making set dancing visible)

And yes it’s hilarious that set dancing is one of Ireland’s best kept secrets:-except for one thing. Dancing sets is a numbers game, a bit like politics. You need lots of people, and you need most of those people who know what they’re doing.

The occasional upset, misdirection and mistake is great fun for a laugh in sets but not when it’s a complete frustrating shambles every time because there’s just not enough skill and confidence in the group to know how to right itself.

So, here are some insights and suggestions from my long years of teaching and running classes of all kinds;- my efforts of trying to light little fires with the hope of an eternal flame.


PEOPLE-DRIVEN CLASSES
Sets are fundamentally about people in a group – attracting them, keeping them happy and ensuring they come regularly. All other aspects of class (below) are secondary to getting people there.

As a teacher/ organiser, you may think that most of your effort should be in perfecting your steps or knowledge of the sets but really about 80% of your time should be about looking after the people you have and attracting as many new genuine dancers to your class group.

Welcome in – In my role as a teacher and organiser, my most important task is to make a welcoming, inclusive environment, where people have a good time, feel they are appreciated, encouraged, not judged and that their time at class is noticed. I also try to take time to speak to each person one-on-one at some point along the way to make a more personal connection. Hopefully, this positive atmosphere sets the tone for everyone in the class.

My experience has also been that the best classes have most people in the class making you feel welcome, not just the teacher.

Providing name tags for all dancers (and the teacher) sounds a bit basic but seeing your name tag on the table as you come in to class makes you feel your presence is expected and welcomed. It can also overcome the embarassment of the teacher and other dancers not knowing someone’s name.

Every dancer will have a different reason for coming – with my friend, with my spouse, likes the social; the craic, Irish heritage aspect, loves the music, likes to dance, needs to get out of the house, is lonely or bored, needs to exercise, wants to be a champion dancer or performer, just for starters. All these motivations need to be sought out and reflected as much as possible in what the class is offering. It also helps with marketing your classes “What message?”– see below.

Feeling part of a group – For my current classes, I text/SMS every group before each class with a little reminder, tell them a bit about what we’re going to do at class and that I’m looking forward to seeing them…”You’ll be missed!”. Be open to suggestions from the group about social activities they might like to do – having a drink/ coffee after class or if they are interested in doing a performance and want to put it to the group.

All these things should help to ensure people to come back, which is what is needed for them as new dancers to survive and navigate the long and windey road of learning sets.


BASICS TO APPEAL & ATTRACT
All these things will be driven to a large extent by the interests, motivation and availability of your dancers.
TIME, TIMING & LOCATION are all practical considerations that might need review if you are missing out on lots of people because this is not right.
Time and Location – most people no longer have long hours to devote to dancing, unless they are already passionate devotees. Take into consideration how long people may need to travel to get to class and home again, including finding parking if needed. Also, a lot of people are possibly not as fit as they might be, and 2 hour classes may also be a physical challenge for some.
Think about offering shorter classes -1 hour – and perhaps coupling this with a longer class once a month, or for a weekend workshop, if dancers are interested and available.

Timing – what time of day is best? Traditionally, most weekday classes are held in the evenings. Perhaps daytime classes might draw a better or different crowd of people. Another possibility is running classes immediately after business hours so people working can come straight after work for a class for an hour or so and then go home to relax.

MARKETING & COMMUNICATION
This may seem obvious but I know that there are many classes trying to operate that have almost no visibility outside of the class. I also know that marketing takes effort and can be disappointing if it doesn’t yield results.

Have a variety of ways of getting the message out about your classes and having a plan to keep it going is really important. Trying out new ways of marketing/ communicating is well worth spending time on, and reviewing each method over time to know what works best.

What message?
In my experience, this is very tricky to get right. Set dancing is great fun, good for socialising, keeping fit, has great music, has cultural value… the list goes on. You may need to really think hard about what message you are giving, depending on what drives your audience/ new dancers.

Word of mouth is really the best form of marketing for your classes and this will work well when you have an attractive offering that people want to share with their friends.

Having an online presence is now not optional, even if it’s just a FaceBook page or group. Domain names and simple DIY website packages are now affordable via Wix or WordPress or other options, could be included as part of your charges for classes (see below).

It helps if you have someone in your group that is digitally able and interested who is willing to set up a website and maintain it, including ensuring you have exceptional Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) so people can find you online. It’s not really that hard to do a basic site. What it really takes is a genuine interest in communicating with people.

Images – Ask your class if you can take photos or post very short videos of the class in action. Images are so important to give potential newbies an idea of what goes on or to completely break the stereotypes that people expect!

Testimonials – Ask your class if they would be willing to give a testimonial that you could add to any of your marketing material.

Signage – Other options include having some proper signage OUTSIDE your class to help locate your class but also to market to others who might be passing by- include your class times and online address. For example, I have invested in two full sized heavy A-frame stand with corflute signs that slot into each side that includes my online address.

Handouts – Print yourself some simple business-size cards with class details on to hand out to people and to share at your registration desk. (I keep a supply of these with my phone)
I always have A4 printed posters with the little rip-off sections at the bottom (SEE image below)  with contact & online details, to pin up in busy local places- supermarket noticeboards, post offices, bus stops, health centres and cafes are all worth a try.

Newsletters and newspapers – you may have a local paper to provide some editorial to and advertise in, or there may be local newsletters including schools that may be happy to take editorial and/or advertising.


GETTING PEOPLE TO TAKE ACTION
Contact and get their details– Make it easy for people to contact you and to register.
All your marketing material should have either a phone number and another way to contact you to either ask questions or register.

However, take care to NOT SHARE your phone number or personal email address directly online, otherwise your SPAM traffic will go crazy! The simplest way of adding contacts online to minimise spam is to turn the contact into a LINK, with the contact visible only on clicking the link.

I use Wufoo online forms to set up very simple, digitally shareable registration forms for my classes (I also use it for getting feedback, testimonials, etc). A basic Wufoo account is free and I know people LOVE filling out these forms because they are so simple and quick to do.
You can of course collect the same details from people if they turn up to class without notice, using a good old-fashioned piece of paper and pen.

Keeping in communication – Keeping a decent email address list is also important for re-connecting with dancers who may have taken time out or just to share longer form information for your group. For example, I usually only email my class groups at the beginning of every term if the information is longer than is sensible for a text message, contains links or photos. Find out what type of communication works best for your group and for you.

In summary, always have your eye to growing the group because there will always be reasons for people to not be there, and for those who leave or move away. But if there’s always a room of people, there’s a buzz and that bit of extra energy that is magnetic.

Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below or to ask questions.

I wish all you organisers, teachers and dancers the best of luck for more dancers and more classes.

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

Irish Step Dancing: The Inevitable Fall

The world of Irish step dancing is in disarray after allegations of teachers and competition adjudicators allegedly involved in cheating has now found its’ way to the High Court of Ireland.*

In a complex set of twists and turns, one teacher/adjudicator of a group who were suspended by the dancing governing body An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG) in November 2022, has brought the CLRG to the High Court to have her suspension lifted, and won.

The  group of others against whom allegations have been made has now grown to 44, and it has also been reported that “Some teachers had complained that their suspensions had resulted in a loss of earnings.” **

This is a clear demonstration that Irish step dancing has become a highly lucrative business, and seems to have lost it’s way as an art form and as a community.

In addition, there is growing alarm at the lack of proper safety and concern for dancers at competition venues as it has been reported in April 2023 that “A spectator has been left disgusted by what they described as disastrous stage conditions which saw one dancer break their foot at the World Irish Dancing Championships in Canada earlier this month.”***

What a sad turn of events for step dancing, as a less-than-attractive underbelly is being exposed for the ruthless level of competition, money and status that I believe has no place in what should be a proud and beautiful form of cultural Irish dance.

However, I am not one bit surprised.

Irish step dancing has for too long been an extremely crowded arena with very limited opportunities for highly trained and talented dancers. The pressure has been building for years and it is not surprising that something had to give.

In my previous post from May 2016 Riverdance: Have We Lost What Captivated Us So?, I made the following observation:

“Now, with the influx of thousands of young hopefuls, the sheer volume of interest has begun to move the dance in a whole different direction: a tidal surge causing it to lose it’s mooring of grace, rhythm and a deep connection with the music. I am concerned about much of what that means for the dancing, the dancers and the Irish culture it supposedly represents.

It’s now all about the extremes, intensity and deadly seriousness, and a slightly nasty edge that comes with all that… For many dancers, there is an expectation of very intensive training, that dancing on pointe and extreme ballet turnout is the norm, that getting injured is de rigueur, that money is no object and that dancers will do almost anything to win including moving schools – sometimes even moving country to improve their chances of winning a competition.”

There are, of course, other styles of Irish dance that could accommodate and welcome lots more dancers. Sean nós dancing is an obvious alternative for any step dancer, albeit with limited structured competition via the Fleadh competitions run by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (CCÉ). Set dancing could also be an option for dancers as it blossoms with more people, and also because competition is only a very small part of the overall set dancing experience, and is all the more healthy for that.

I hope very much that the entire Irish step dancing community- governing bodies, teachers, judges, parents and dancers- take this opportunity to critically review their priorities and the the way the dancing is structured, including providing more opportunities than just competing and performing.

This could allow the dancing to thrive in a more congenial, trustworthy and ethically sound way that places the welfare of it’s young dancers at it’s heart.

I wish them all well.
Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

*https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-dancing-body-under-pressure-to-lift-more-suspensions-over-alleged-cheating-as-teacher-wins-high-court-bid/42358694.html
**https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/irish-dancing-body-lifts-suspensions-on-teachers-over-alleged-feis-fixing-due-to-cost-of-court-challenges/a1094210142.html
***https://www.irishstar.com/news/ireland-news/parent-disgusted-disastrous-stages-saw-29820146

2023 Traditional Irish Music and Dance Summer Schools and Festivals

Yes! It’s that time again when you start thinking about what you might like to do for your holiday vacation, with hopefully lovely memories of years past where you have partaken of a festival or two. And what a pleasure it is to be able to do that in a relaxed way after years of COVID restrictions.

I have expanded the listing to include as many local fleadh competitions as possible, and also a number of other festivals that have a mix of Irish traditional music options with other related styles of music.

You can find your way around all 83 festivals and summer schools listed here by either using the interactive map below OR by date listing below.

LISTINGS BY DATE & MONTH
(If you don’t see your festival here, please let me know)

EVENTS April 2023
EVENTS May 2023
EVENTS June 2023
EVENTS July 2023
EVENTS August 2023
EVENTS September 2023
EVENTS October 2023
EVENTS November 2023

APRIL 2023

7th-9th April 2023
Co.Roscommon Fleadh 2023
Strokestown, Co.Roscommon
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.

11th-16th April 2023
Co.Longford Fleadh 2023
Edgeworthstown,co.Longford
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.facebook.com/fleadhcheoillongfoirt/

16th-23rd April 2023
Co.Kildare Fleadh 2023
Kilcock, Co.Kildare
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.kildare.ie/heritage/events/details.asp?EventID=3103

15th-23rd April 2023
County Antrim Fleadh 2023
Cushendall, Co.Antrim
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/antrim-fleadh-2023

28th April-1st May 2023
Cup of Tae 2023
Ardara, County Donegal
The festival honours legendary fiddle player John ‘The Tae’ Gallagher who was born in West End, Ardara in 1923, with live traditional music, masterclasses and performances right across the lively pubs, bars and cultural locations in the town.
https://cupoftaefestival.com/

28th-30th April 2023
Co.Offaly Fleadh 2023
Rahan, Co.Offaly County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.offalyfleadh.com/

28th April-1st May 2023
Féile Chois Cuain 2023
Sancta Maria College, Louisburgh, Co Mayo
Louisburgh is a small town on the western seaboard in an area of great natural beauty, rich in heritage and tradition. Féile Chois Cuain is an annual celebration of this cultural heritage and it has a well-deserved reputation as one of Ireland’s premier traditional arts festivals. It is a magical weekend of music, song and dance, where an extraordinary atmosphere prevails as old friends get together and new friendships are forged. Come to Louisburgh this May Bank Holiday Weekend and experience it for yourself!
https://feilechoiscuain.com/

29th April – 30th April 2023
Co.Leitrim Fleadh 2023
Glencar/ Manorhamilton, Co.Leitrim
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.facebook.com/leitrimcomhaltas/

29th April-1st May 2023
Fleadh Cheoil Chorcai 2023
Bandon, County Cork
The Cork Fleadh Cheoil is a weekend festival comprised of céilí dancing, music sessions, street entertainment and competitions in music, singing, dancing and storytelling. Under 12 and 12/15 competitions will take place on Saturday, April 29th while 15/18 and Senior competitions will take place on Sunday, April 30th. The County Dancing Finals will be held on Bank Holiday Monday, May 1st. Two qualifiers from each competition over the Fleadh weekend will go forward to represent Cork in the Munster Fleadh Cheoil in Tralee, Co. Kerry in July.
https://www.corkfleadh.ie/

29th April -1st May 2023
Half-Door Club Castletown TradFest 2023
Castletown Co.Laois
After a long break for Covid, The Half-Door Club international Music and Dance Festival has returned this year for a four day event of set dancing and traditional music in Castletown, Co. Laois.
https://www.halfdoorclub.org/

MAY 2023

4-7th May 2023
Baltimore Fiddle Fair 2023
Baltimore, Co.Cork
Irish traditional music mixed with old-timey US music.We believe that a festival is like a river, in that it must keep moving in order not to stagnate. Our festival has certainly evolved over the years. Originally 9 concerts of traditional Irish music over 9 nights on a tiny stage on McCarthy’s Bar, it now takes place over 4 days all around the beautiful village of Baltimore. And while traditional Irish music is still at the heart of what we’re all about, the festival now features music from all over the world. As well as great concerts, our festival now features a packed programme of additional events such as workshops, sessions, musical boat trips, historical walking tours, film screenings, exhibitions and even some Fiddle Fair yoga.
https://fiddlefair.com/

5th-7th May 2023
Sweets of May 2023
Abbey Hotel, Ballyvourney, Co Cork
Like many other festivals in hibernation,the Sweets of May weekend of set dancing returns this year and has relocated from Kerry to Cork for their return.
https://www.facebook.com/kerrydancers/

10th-14th May 2023
Mayo Fleadh Cheoil 2023
Westport, Co.Mayo
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann Mhaigh Eo will be hosting the 2023 Mayo Fleadh Cheoil
https://mayocomhaltas.weebly.com/?fbclid=IwAR3mct0KpQoWmInOwsOg8JDepComKHGkUgjd8grmflHNWjOFoJY1TrUH7_A

9th-15th May 2023
Co.Donegal Fleadh
Letterkenny, Co.Donegal
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/donegal-fleadh-2023

13th May 2023
Co.Tipperary Fleadh 2023
Ballycommon, Co.Tipperary
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
www.facebook.com/TippCountyFleadh

12th-14th May 2023
Co.Westmeath Fleadh 2023
Castletown-Geoghegan, Co.Westmeath
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://topic.ie/westmeath-fleadh-to-take-place-in-castletown-geoghegan/

13th-28th May 2023
Co.Armagh Fleadh 2023
Lurgan. Co.Armagh
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/armagh-fleadh-2023

13th-15th May 2023
Co.Dublin Fleadh 2023
Balbriggan, North Co.Dublin
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://dublinfleadh.com/

14th May 2023
Co.Louth Fleadh 2023
St. Olivers Community College, Rathmullen, Drogheda
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
http://www.comhaltascraobhdhundealgan.ie/fleadhanna

19th-21st May 2023
Feile Binn Eadair 2023
Howth, Dublin
A mostly free Irish and traditional Music Festival in the fishing village of Howth. For one weekend in May, Howth will be filled with Irish music of the past and present. Wander from gig to gig like you’re at Electric Picnic but without any entry fee thanks to our sponsors Rockshore Lager and Fingal County Council. There will be almost 30 FREE GIGS and sessions in total.
https://www.feilebinneadair.com/

19th-21st May 2023
Co.Galway Fleadh 2023
Dunmore, Co.Galway
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
http://www.galwaycomhaltas.ie/galway-fleadh-2023

20th May 2023
Co.Waterford Fleadh 2023
Coolnasmear,Co.Waterford
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.munstercomhaltas.ie/event-details/fleadh-cheoil-phort-lairge

20th-21st May 2023
Feile Nasc 2023
Marley Park, Dublin, Leinster
Féile Nasc began as a one-day traditional music and folk event in Marlay Park in 2019. In 2023, the festival will expand to two days. Two incredible days of Music and more in Marlay Park.
https://nasc.ie/

25th-28th May 2023
Co.Tyrone Fleadh 2023
Coalisland, Co. Tyrone
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/tyrone-fleadh-2023

27th May 2023
Co.Wicklow Fleadh 2023
Avoca Village, Co.Wicklow
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.facebook.com/WicklowFleadh/

27th-28th May 2023
Galway Early Music Festival 2023
Galway, County Galway
Performing and promoting ‘early music’ in Ireland. Galway Early Music is a not-for-profit voluntarily run arts organisation. The aim of GEM is to promote both Irish and European music and dance of the 12th-17th centuries. The objectives are threefold: To bring alive the music and dance of the 12th – 17th centuries in the context of Galway’s medieval heritage through concerts given by international and national performers To increase awareness and interest in this music and dance among youth and the general public through education and participation. To attract an already existing early music audience from outside of Ireland to Galway for The Galway Early Music Festival.
https://galwayearlymusic.com/

27th May-5th June 2023
Fleadh Nua 2023
Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland
2023 Fleadh Nua in Ennis promises to be an exciting and innovative festival, full to the brim with Concerts, Céilís, Sessions, CD Launches, Recitals, Sean-Nós Dancing and Street Entertainment. Since 1974 Fleadh Nua has developed from a 3-day event to a festival spanning 10 days, with more than 120 separate events, where there is a welcome for everyone. There are many Irish traditional festivals organised throughout the summer months but there are few people who will dispute that Fleadh Nua which started in Dublin in 1970, is the forerunner of them all. The concept of bringing together concerts, céilithe, music, song and dancing workshops, street entertainment, and much more was innovative in its time. However, it’s still a winning formula today as evidenced by the thousands of visitors who flock to the festival every May for a week of unsurpassed traditional entertainment.
www.fleadhnua.com

31st May- 5th June 2023
Clancy Brothers Music and Arts Festival 2023
Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary
We’re looking forward returning for our 16th year with live music and events over the June Bank Holiday Weekend for all the family to enjoy, including:Live Music in the Strand and Brewery Lane Theatres, the Live Music Pub Trail, the Under 18s Busking Competition, the Eoghan Power Memorial Ballad Singing Competition, Lunchtime Theatre in the Brewery Lane, Walks and Tours, and family fun.
https://clancybrothersfestival.com/

JUNE 2023

1st-4th June 2023
Monaghan County Fleadh 2023
Scotstown village
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/monaghan-fleadh-2023

2nd-4th June 2023
Co.Cavan Fleadh 2023
Belturbet, Co.Cavan
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/cavan-fleadh-2023

2nd-4th June 2023
Co.Sligo Fleadh 2023
Easkey,Co.Sligo
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100064030297856

2nd- 5th June 2023
Limerick Fleadh 2023
Kilfinane, Co.Limerick
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
www.limerickcomhaltas.com

2nd-5th June 2023
Co.Laois Fleadh 2023
Abbeyleix, Co.Laois
https://spinkcomhaltas.ie/event-calendar/laois-fleadh-2023-hosted-by-spink-comhaltas/

5th-11th June 2023
Co.Derry Fleadh 2023
Dungiven.Co.Derry
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/derry-fleadh-2023

9th-11th June 2023
Co.Fermanagh Fleadh 2023
Roslea, Fermanagh
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/fermanagh-fleadh-2023

9th-11th June 2023
Doolin Folk Festival 2023
Doolin, County Clare
A who’s who of Irish traditional music performers. Don’t miss it!
https://www.doolinarts.ie/doolinfolkfest

10th-18th June 2023
Co.Kerry Fleadh 2023
Ballybunion, Dromin, Ballybunion, Co. Kerry
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
http://kerrycomhaltas.ie/

10th-18th June 2023
Co. Clare Fleadh 2023
Cois na hAbhna, Ennis, Co. Clare
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing in Ennis, County Clare.
www.clarecomhaltas.com

15th-18th June 2023
Jim Dowling Uillean Pipe & Traditional Music Festival 2023
Glengarriff, Co.Cork
The sound of the uilleann pipes will be back and taking centre-stage in the picturesque village of Glengarriff in West Cork with a festival of great music to beat them all. We have a great line-up, a top Session Trail and a few surprises. We hope you enjoy!
http://jimdowlingfestival.ie/

16th June-20th June 2023
Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival 2023
Ballydehob, County Cork
The Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival is an international festival based in the picturesque village of Ballydehob, West Cork, featuring Maritime and other Folk music.Song Writing Competition[ Maritime] which is sponsored by IMRO.Sea songs, shanties,Song Writing Competition, workshops, Craft Stalls, a new Maritime play plus music in the pubs and a Fundraising Concert in Levis Corner House.
https://fastnetmaritime.com/

18th- 25th June 2023
Co.Down Fleadh 2023
Warrenpoint, Co.Down
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/down-fleah-2023

19th-30th June 2023
BLÁSBLAS international summer school of Irish traditional music and dance 2023
Limerick, Co.Limerick
Intensive “deep dive” workshops and master classes for experienced singers, dancers and musicians with a focus on collaborative integration of understanding between the disciplines.
A residential program at the University of Limerick including international accreditation.
www.blas.ie

23rd June- 2nd July 2023
Connacht Fleadh Cheoil 2023
Ballina. Co.Mayo
Provincial-level competitions for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://www.facebook.com/ConnachtFleadh/

24th June 2023
Buskfest 2023
Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland
BuskFest is an international busking festival that takes place in Banbridge, County Down, Northern Ireland
http://www.buskfest.com/

25th-30th June 2023
International Harp Festival for Irish Harp 2023
Termonfechin, County Louth
Seize this opportunity to become immersed in all aspects of traditional music for Irish harp. Develop skills and repertoire from ancient harpers’ tunes to songs and slow airs to jigs and reels.
https://www.cairdenacruite.com/festival

26th-30th June 2023
Craicean Summer School 2023
Inis Oirr (Inisheer) Galway
A unique bodhran (drum) summer school on the island of Inis Oirr in the Galway Bay.
https://www.craiceann.com/

JULY 2023

1st-8th July 2023
Willie Clancy Summer School 2023
Miltown Malbay, County Clare
Affectionately known as Willie Week, this festival is held in traditional music heartland that calls music and dance lovers back year after year. There’s a great atmosphere in the town and surrounds, with plenty of sessions, céilis and busking to complement the official program of classes and recitals. An additional program of dancing is also held at the Armada Hotel- see additional website link- Armada Festival of Music & Dancing.
https://www.scoilsamhraidhwillieclancy.com/
https://www.armadahotel.com/music-and-events.html

2nd-9th July 2023
Leinster Fleadh 2023
TU Dublin, Grangegorman, Co.Dublin
Leinster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
https://www.leinster-fleadh.ie/leinster-fleadh-2023/

4th-6th July 2023
Slí Dhála Summer School
Blanchardstown Dublin 15, Co.Dublin
The Summer School has been organised to give musicians in Dublin 15 and beyond the opportunity to come together to meet one another, learn music together and enjoy the atmosphere of a session or two. All ages will find something of interest at our workshops and trad music, singing, and dancing sessions. There is something for all of the family.
The music workshops cater for younger musicians with our Under 12 tunes workshop.
The Teen Trad Group Workshop returns for it’s 4th edition and this is always very popular. There will be dancing and singing workshops which shouldn’t be missed.
http://www.craobhslidhala.ie/workshops/schedule-of-events

8th-23rd July 2023
Earagail Arts Festival 2023
County Donegal
Earagail Arts Festival is a bilingual arts festival that takes place in County Donegal. It comprises 16 days of music, theatre, visual arts, film, literature, circus, and carnival along the Wild Atlantic Way.
https://eaf.ie/

9th-15th July 2023
South Sligo Summer School 2023
Tubbercurry, County Sligo
The South Sligo Summer School was founded in 1987 in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo to conserve and promote the rich tradition of music, song and dance of the area. With a full programme of classes, workshops, céilithe, concerts, recitals and talks, there is special emphasis on the old Sligo traditional style of playing.
https://www.southsligosummerschool.com/

10th-16th July 2023
Munster Fleadh/ Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan 2023
Tralee, County Kerry
Welcome to Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan 2023 which will be hosted by Kerry County Board of Comhaltas in Tralee, Co. Kerry.Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan is the largest provincial Fleadh in Ireland as thousands of musicians, singers, dancers, storytellers and visitors from the six counties of Munster and beyond gather for an annual celebration of our Irish cultural traditions. The town of Tralee is steeped in tradition and previously has hosted Fleadh Cheoil na Mumhan in 1978.We invite you to join us in Tralee from July 10th -16th 2023 for an action-packed programme of events including a wide selection of outdoor entertainment, concerts, lectures, céilithe, sessions, and most importantly the Munster Fleadh competitions where competitors from the six counties of Munster will compete for a place in the All-Ireland Fleadh in Mullingar.
https://www.munstercomhaltas.ie/event-details/fleadh-cheoil-na-mumhan-2023

10th-14th July 2023
Ceol na Coille Summer School of Irish Traditional Music 2023
Letterkenny, Co.Donegal
Learn Irish Traditional Music, Song in a county known for its culture, its beauty and friendliness. We welcome enthusiasts – adults and children from beginners to advanced levels on a full range of instruments, and boast a list of first-class tutors. A busy programme of classes, workshops, recitals, nightly sessions and concerts. Immerse yourself in Irish Traditional Music song and Gaeilge in a fun, relaxed and welcoming environment amid some of the most beautiful scenery in Ireland – a great week of music and fun for all. Instruments include – Uilleann Pipes, Fiddle, Whistle, Flute, Concertina, Guitar and Piano Accompaniment, Button & Piano Accordion, Banjo, Bodhrán, Traditional Singing – for all ages.
https://ceolnacoille.ie/summerschool/

10th-14th July 2023
Westport Schoil Cheoil 2023
Westport, Co.Mayo
Full summer school with tuition, concerts and recitals.
https://westportscoilcheoil.com/

15th-23rd July 2023
Joe Mooney Summer School 2023
Drumshanbo Co. Leitrim
Drumshanbo is delightful – a similar format to South Sligo Summer School, the difference here is the focus is very much around the unusual main street, which has a pedestrian mezzanine above the lane of traffic, where you can sit out in the sun, dance, listen to music & enjoy the people going by and enjoy a number of excellent evening céilís.
https://www.joemooneysummerschool.com/

16th-23rd July 2023
Ulster Fleadh 2023
Dromore, County Tyrone
Provincial-level competitions for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing.
https://ulstercomhaltas.com/events/ulster-fleadh-2023

17th-21st July 2023
Meitheal Residential Summer School 2023
Villiers School, Limerick City, Ireland
Residential summer school for young traditional musicians.
https://tradweek.com/

22nd-29th July 2023
Scoil Acla Summer School 2023

Achill Island, Co.Mayo
Traditional music courses, art workshops, sean nós singing, writers workshop, dance workshop, sean nós dancing, basket weaving workshops in a most unique location.
www.scoilacla.ie

23rd-29th July 2023
Belfast Tradfest 2023
Belfast. Co.Antrim
Belfast TradFest Summer Fest returns jam-packed full of traditional music, song and dance, with some of the best traditional musicians, singers & dancers from across these islands. Featuring a week long programme of workshops and a full programme of concerts, talks, lectures, sessions, céilís & festival clubs, this week is the only one of its kind in Northern Ireland and brings together both the Irish and the Ulster-Scots musical traditions, in a shared celebration of culture & heritage.
https://www.belfasttraditionalmusic.com/

26th- 30th July 2023
Fiddlers Green Festival 2023
Rostrevor, Co Down
A wonderful festival of music, arts and culture held in July each year in Rostrevor Co. Down.
www.fiddlersgreenfestival.co.uk

AUGUST 2023

31st-July- 7th August 2023
O’Carolan Harp Festival 2023
Keadue, Co Roscommon
The Festival was started in Keadue in 1978, to commemorate the famous Harper Turlough O’Carolan who lived in the area and is buried beside Keadue. Keadue is a small village of 200 people located on the shores of Lough Meelagh at the foot of the Arigna Mountains. The Festival includes Concerts, Céilí, Tuition on the Harp, Set Dancing, Harp Recitals and a Harp Competition.
https://www.ocarolanharpfestival.ie/

2nd-7th August 2023
Kilrush Traditional Festival 2023
Kilrush, Co.Clare
Kilrush Traditional Music and Set Dancing Festival, 2023, is a seven-day festival that takes place in Kilrush, Co. Clare. It has four free open-air céilís in the square, displays, concerts and workshops.
https://visitclare.ie/events/kilrush-traditional-music-set-dancing-festival-2023/

3rd-6th August 2023
Scariff Harbour Festival 2023
Market Square, Scariff, Co Clare
A fabulous, packed three day festival of all things local, Irish and interesting! Don’t miss a fascinating interview with Martin Hayes.
https://www.scariffharbourfestival.ie/

5th-7th August 2023
Ballyshannon Folk Festival 2023
Ballyshannon, Co Donegal
Welcome to Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Festival, the oldest festival of its genre in the world coming to you from Ireland’s oldest town. We are situated on the Wild Atlantic Way in the beautiful county of Donegal – the coolest place on the planet!Every year over the August Bank Holiday we celebrate the very best of traditional and folk music, where our artists and audiences blend along the banks of the Erne creating memories that last a lifetime.
www.ballyshannonfolkfestival.com

5th-7th August 2023
Cahersiveen Festival of Music & the Arts 2023
Cahersiveen, County Kerry
The Cahersiveen Festival will be in its 26th year in 2023 and each year we strive to bring you bigger acts and greater street entertainment. The Festival is a Family friendly festival with entertainment for adults and children alike.
https://www.celticmusicfestival.com/

6th-14th August 2023
Fleadh Cheoil na h’Eireann 2023
Mullingar, Westmeath.
The best kind of celebration and competition, with provincial finalist musicians, dancers and artists competing to win their All-Ireland categories. Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann (CCE) showcase fabulous music, dance and a wide range of concerts and other events celebrating Irish culture. Don’t miss it!
https://fleadhcheoil.ie/

9th-14th August 2023
Feakle Festival 2023
Feakle, County Clare
For a few days each August, Feakle village becomes a very special place where the best in traditional music can be heard, songs sung, dances danced and friends meet up again for another Feakle Festival.
https://feaklefestival.ie

10th-20th August 2023
Kilkenny Arts Festivals 2023
Kilkenny, County Kilkenny
Since its foundation in 1974, Kilkenny Arts Festival has gathered many of the world’s finest musicians, performers, writers and artists in Ireland’s medieval city. For ten days each August, the city’s historic churches, castle, courtyards, townhouses and gardens offer a magical setting for unique collaborations and intimate encounters between audiences and artists.
https://www.kilkennyarts.ie/

11th -13th August 2023
Howth Roots and Blues 2023
Howth, Dublin
The Howth Roots and Blues Festival is a free music festival in Howth showcasing the best in Irish roots and blues artists and is organised by Paul Byrne of In Tua Nua for Howth Tourism. While many of the artists are blues based the festival caters for fans of Country, Rhythm and Blues, Bluegrass, Americanna and reggae. Basically anything rootsy!
https://www.howthrootsandblues.com/

12th-13th August 2023
Loinneog Lúnasa 2023
Teac Jack, Derrybeg, Co Donegal
On the second weekend of August every year a musical festival hosting concerts, cabaret craiceáilte and workshops in Sean nós dancing, sean nós singing and musical instruments held in the parish of Gaoth Dobhair.
http://www.teacjack.com/?fbclid=IwAR2RlxbuyKSQEiNpqaIy7ek7ngCiemLheCKIwDHRbub8jSHY4sB-Vad2Uzc

19th- 21st August 2023
Dan Furey Set Dancing Weekend 2023
Labasheeda, Co Clare
Dan Furey was a music and dance teacher who had the good fortune to live in a beautiful corner of Co Clare on the Shannon River.
https://www.kilfenoracéilíband.com/gigs/2023/8/20/dan-furey-set-dancing-week-end

23rd-27th August 2023
Masters of Tradition 2023
Bantry, County Cork
Celebrating traditional music in its’ purest form through a series of concerts and performances, directed by Martin Hayes.
https://www.westcorkmusic.ie/masters-of-tradition/

25th-27th August 2023
Desmond O’Halloran Music Weekend 2023
Inishbofin, Co.Mayo
Celebrating the Inishbofin maestro with concerts, workshops, arts events and free traditional and folk music trails across island venues and landscapes. Promising an unmissable late summer reverie on the beguiling Connemara island, with contemporary music legends, Galway favourites and exciting new stars.www.inishbofin.com
https://www.facebook.com/people/The-Desmond-O-Halloran-Music-Weekend/100084137379416/?paipv=0&eav=AfZ5ctBitHmO794hm27ZxxGADlMONdIUDVzKj5Mm-nVPDt6adH4-ug60r3qN38w8JOQ&_rdr

SEPTEMBER 2023

1st-3rd September 2023 TBC*
Harvest Time Blues 2023
Monaghan, County Monaghan
https://www.harvestblues.ie/

1st- 3rd September 2023
Glenties Weekend of Dancing 2023
Highlands Hotel Glenties, Co Donegal
15th Annual Weekend Of Irish Set Dancing with set dancing workshops on Saturday and plenty of céilís.
https://www.facebook.com/events/glenties-co-donegal/glenties-set-dancing-weekend/396348040883366/

28th September-1st October 2023
Cork Folk Festival 2023
Cork, County Cork
The Cork Folk Festival is back this September October in Cork City, Ireland’s southern musical capital. The festival will showcase Ireland’s best folk and traditional acts in 12 venues around the city.
https://www.corkfolkfestival.com/

29th September- 1st October 2023
Follow Me up to Carlow 2023
Seven Oaks Hotel, Carlow
A lovely weekend of set dancing workshops and céilís.

OCTOBER 2023

13th-15th October 2023
Diamond Set Dancing Weekend 2023
Diamond Coast Hotel, Enniscrone, Co Sligo
A weekend of music and set dancing.
https://www.diamondcoast.ie/Set_Dancing_Weekend.html

20th October 2023
Ed Reavy Traditional Music Festival
Blackwater, Cavan
Cavan Town CCÉ present a festival celebrating the music of Ed Reavy, renowned Irish-American musician/composer of traditional dance tunes.
http://cavantowncomhaltas.ie/wordpress/

27th-29th October 2023
Carryduff Set Dancing Halloween Weekend 2023
St Joseph’s Hall, Carryduff, Co Down
Set dancing weekend with lots of craic celebrating Hallowe’en weekend.
https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057311296278

27th-29th October 2023 TBC*
Cooley-Collins Traditional Festival 2023
Gort, Co.Galway
http://www.cooleycollinstradfest.com/

27th October – 5th November 2023
Sligo Live 2023
Sligo, County Sligo
Sligo Live is a community centred festival created by musicians and music lovers to showcase the very best of talent – internationally established and emerging.
https://sligolive.ie/

NOVEMBER 2023

3rd-5th November 2023
Longford Set Dancing Weekend 2023
Longford Arms, Longford
A full weekend of set dancing céilís, sets and two hand dancing workshops.
https://www.facebook.com/camlinweekend/

 

Wishing you hours of joy and happiness on your music and dance journey this year.
You never know – I might see you there!
Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss
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Celebrating traditional Irish music and dance in film!

Film award season has just concluded with the Oscars earlier this week, and happily a number of Irish films won BAFTA awards and also received Oscar nominations, including the very beautiful and gentle The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Cuain as Gaelige), and the absolutely stonking Banshees of Inisherin.

And of course, an Oscar winner! Big congratulations to James Martin who won on the occasion of his 31st birthday for his performance in An Irish Goodbye for best live action short film.

It has started me thinking about all those scenes in films that have entertained us with Irish music and traditional dance.

Mostly those dances have been part of the story: showing how important gathering for music and dances was to the various social and political power plays going on, like in The Field, based on the John B. Keane play.

Also in Jimmy’s Hall, a story about a young Irish man who returned to his rural homeland after 10 years in the US, who creates trouble by re-establishing a community centre for people to meet, talk and dance. This illuminates the divide in political sympathies within the community, including that of the church.

And then there’s the delightful breakout just for the craic – tapping feet, whoops of joy and some simple céilí dancing in Dancing at Lúghnasa . This is the penultimate moment for all the key characters before that gentle country Irish life fell apart and faded away.

There’s a short, sweet music session in The Banshees of Inisherin, led by the key protagonist, Colm Doherty played by Brendan Gleeson, who in real life is an accomplished Irish fiddler. This is a soft and gentle spot in a film that can otherwise be confusing, jarring and very, very funny.

And last, but not least, is the iconic dance scene from The Titanic.  No, this film is not an Irish film but we can claim the dance, the music, if not the ship itself which was built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast. Not sure Jack and Rose would win any dance medals but they sure have the right attitude!

So, what I noticed about all these films is that they are all set in the first half of the 20th century from 1912-1936 or thereabouts. This was an important time  of change for the world, with two world wars, a depression and a lot of social upheaval. In Ireland, there was the Easter Rising of 1916 and the emergence of a new and difficult republic, that created great strain between friends and families.

It was also a dangerous time for our beloved dancing, as there were forces at work to try to rid Ireland of any music and dance events in private homes with the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935.

Happily, the dancing survived all that.  What I would love to see now are some films set in our current day for all the world to see, showcasing the bright, beautiful and very talented musicians and dancers who are  carrying on an amazing legacy.

Blessings of St.Patrick’s Day on you.
Nora Stewart
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2022 Traditional Irish Music and Dance Summer Schools and Festivals

GREAT TO SEE so many festivals and summer schools lined up for Summer 2022, after a hiatus of two years with the COVID pandemic. Organisers are taking calculated risks that all will be well, and I hope that comes to fruition.

Particularly good to see the the Comhaltas Fleadh events are mostly back, giving opportunities for local musicians, dancers and singers to perform and compete.

You can find your way around all 42 festivals and summer schools listed here by either using the interactive map below OR by scrolling the date listing below.

FESTIVAL LISTING BY DATE

(If you don’t see your festival here, please let me know)

Festivals in May 2022

Festivals in June 2022

Festivals in July 2022

Festivals in August  2022

Festivals in September 2022


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Irish Fare: Farls, Wheaten Bread and Whiskey Brack

WITH ST.PATRICK’S DAY just around the corner, I thought I would share three of my favorite Irish recipes that you might like to prepare and share with your friends and family.

I am a total foodie and I do love to bake but I’m not great with fiddly, complicated recipes. So I am hoping these  three lovely recipes will be simple enough even if you’re someone who doesn’t cook much.

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Teaching Kids to Dance: Hop Skip Jump Clap!

St.Patrick’s Day beckons and with the last two years of disappointments and disruptions, the need to feel hopeful is persistent and growing. And for humans, what stronger symbol of hope are our children?

So, you’ve decided this is the year you’d like to do some dancing with the kids to celebrate- your kids or your students- but you’re not quite sure what to do or how to go about it. (You might also want to look at some tips for dancing during a pandemic)

I’ve been lucky enough to have a number of opportunities to teach children to dance and made plenty of mistakes.  What I learned though is that you don’t have to be perfect; in fact, it’s far better if you approach it as an experience and a journey of joy, much the way a child would do when learning something interesting, engaging and fun!

TIPS FOR TEACHING

Start slow and simple– Start with something you are certain every single dancer will be able to do, and preferably something that is fun and enjoyable This ensures that dancers will gain confidence and that they feel they are part of the group, not the odd one out unable to dance.

Start with each individual dancing on their own in a large group, then gradually introduce the idea of dancing with a partner. I did this by teaching a simple, 3-4 part warm-up dance with plenty of repetition. The steps learned in warm-up could then progress to be used as a base for a brush/broom dance, allowing each child to focus on their brush and their dancing, not on each other. Then move on to a group circle dance where each child is paired with another (Rattlin’ Bog see below).

Boys germs – Be aware that some children will be alive to the “yuck” factor – that hand-holding and touching each other will be abhorrent to some children, depending on their age and experience.  So, don’t force anything. All activities and dance moves should be optional and you may need to find creative solutions to elements of dance that children are finding difficult or not responding to. Keep in mind the need for a Plan B.

Introducing dance movements – Work from what people find easiest to do and then work towards the more complex things. Build the movements and steps, bit by bit.Triangle from top to bottom of simple dance moves to more complexStart with a walk – walking is very close to an advance step for sets. A retiring step for sets is just like walking backwards – a little more tricky.
Most people can STAMP one foot while standing on the other- makes a great sound and is simple. CLAPS are also pretty simple and KICKS as finishing moves.
Little SKIPS, HOPS & JUMPS  are also easy for kids – they look and sound great when controlled and in unison. Got the idea?

For set or céilí dancing, focus on the figures first, then the dance steps. Teach the figure or the pattern of the dance first, without too much focus on what is happening with the feet- it will come. Learning dance steps, and especially battering steps, can be difficult and generally takes a lot of practice. For set dancing, I find reel steps tends to take longer to learn than jig or polka steps. That should not be a deterrent to trying to teach dance steps but be realistic about your expectations as a teacher, particularly if you have limited time.

Don’t talk too much – show them what to do, walk through it once, then dance it with some repetition, maybe 3-4 times. Get people moving as soon as possible after the class starts.

Keep the teaching sessions short- 30-40 minutes at a time is plenty of time for teaching and learning. Take note when children are becoming bored or distracted- either move into a different dance, take a break or end the class.

Music is most important – needs to be toe-tapping and inspiring enough to be still interested after listening 100 times! Even better for children if it has a catchy song that can be included in the dance. Spend time seeking out the right music and make deliberate choices.

Suggest you start with music that is slower, and increase the tempo as the learning progresses.You can slow a tune down so that the music is the same and as dancers get the hang of the movement, you can increase the pace, or not, depending on how well they are going and enjoying it.

I also have S-T-R-E-T-C-H music – tunes that have been stretched (by a sound engineer) so the music is slow at the start and gradually, imperceptibly speeds up to normal speed at the end.

Build confidence– plan your class to suit the abilities of the dancers (not your needs) and give them lots of encouragement.  Focus on what they are doing right, and not what they are doing wrong. Lots of praise works.

TIPS FOR PERFORMANCE Continue reading

How will we ever get back to dancing?

Set dancing is under threat – again. It has faced extinction before and managed a successful revival, albeit after many, many years.

We have reached a stage of serious mourning for the loss of our beloved set dancing, with this pandemic stretching on into years- a loss we never thought possible.

In these dark times, it seems that life will never get back to normal and that is probably mostly true. However, it can be good again but it will have to be different.

As a person who has had my long-term health and subsequent dancing ability completely and adversely affected by other viruses, bacteria and fungi, I have strong reason for wanting this to happen.

The Virus

The SARS CoV-2 virus is highly infectious, as we all know, and is very airborne, which means it travels on the wind, on pollution particles and through people expelling it via coughing, sneezing, singing, shouting or speaking loudly. It can be spread through air conditioning systems & is obviously spread through touching contaminated surfaces.

It has on average a 6 day incubation period but can be anywhere up to 14 days- varies between individuals – which means that anyone who has come in contact with the virus may develop symptoms any time for 2 weeks – it is not safe to come in contact with anyone at any time during that period- isolation is recommended.

And most difficult of all, can be asymptomatic, which means people can be carrying the virus, spreading it without any symptoms of feeling unwell or any idea they have the virus.

Vaccinations are now being delivered and are a work-in-progress.  The timeframe for getting everyone successfully and effectively inoculated could be years, and meanwhile, other variants and other viruses are likely to arise.

Long-distance travel is going to continue to be fraught with problems for some years to come. And to top it off, the experts say that the likelihood of future pandemics is high whilst ever we continue to mess with the boundaries of wild animals and nature.

I have many more questions than answers, but now is the time for us all to start thinking and planning for a different and better future.

A NEW APPROACH?

Set dancing can only be done as a communal activity and we all need to continue to be mindful and care for our dancer friends.

Set dancing itself is inherently an up-close-and-personal experience, which is why it is a very human, socially satisfying past time. Holding hands with lots of touch, couples are close, groups of eight in very close quarters doing all the moves we love so much –chaining, christmas and dancing at home.

Past dancing environments have generally paid little attention to health basics – no obvious hand washing options, poor or no hall ventilation, scant floor and other cleaning, and no expectation that dancers who were potentially ill & contagious would exclude themselves.

This is not a criticism of organizers because I know how much work is involved in organizing classes, workshops, céilíthe and festivals – I have done many myself.

Our generally slack attitude to health basics is widespread in all our communities, well beyond dancing, particularly when it comes to public health.

Community and public amenities have often become second-class, the poor relation to well-resourced private enterprises. There was a time when society took pride in having the very best for our shared spaces- look at all the beautiful churches and halls that were built in times past.

Poor infrastructure and low expectations have combined to make it difficult for organizers to insist on a higher than usual standard of hygiene. It has also been frankly embarassing to even discuss these issues. This will all need to change if we are to have any dancing community into the future.

We need a new attitude to ensure that set dancing thrives, and that all set dancing is done in a safe and healthy environment as is possible to give it the best chance of continuing.

We need some durable options to protect ourselves, and our dancing into the future, and here are some thoughts and suggestions.

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