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.Start 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.
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 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.
THERE’S NO BETTER PLACE in the world than Ireland in the summer, especially when the weather obliges. But whether the sun shines or not, I guarantee that the music, song, dance and craic will lift your spirit to the very best Ireland has to offer.
This year, I have included MAY in the summer listing, because there are too many gems not to be missed, including all the countyfleadhanna that begin towards the end of the month. This leads into the fourprovincial fleadhanna in July and the the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann being hosted this year by Drogheda, Co.Louth in August.
You can find your way around all 53 festivals and summer schools listed here by either using the interactive map OR by scrolling the date listing below, which also includes a brief description.
Friday 4th – Monday 7th May 2018 Feile Chois Cuain Louisburg, Co.Mayo
A traditional festival celebrating traditional music, song and dance.
Friday 4th – Sunday 6th May 2018 Portmagee Set Dancing Weekend Portmagee, Co Kerry, Ireland
Traditional music, set dancing and singing in the Bridge Bar, Portmagee.
Friday 4th – Sunday 7th May 2018 Half Door Club Castletown TradFest Castletown, Co Laois,
County Laois’s biggest dance festival offers plenty of great music and dancing over the four-day May bank holiday weekend.
Friday 11th -Sunday 13th May 2018 Sweets of May Tralee, Co Kerry
The weekend celebrates set dancing with workshops and céilís by top teachers and bands in a lovely setting outside the town of Tralee.
Friday 11th- Sunday13th May 2018 Féile Chnoc na Gaoithe Tulla, Co.Clare
Cnoc na Gaoithe (Windswept Hill), the Tulla Comhaltas Cultural Centre’s mission is to promote, preserve and showcase the rich Irish traditions and culture of Tulla and the East Clare area.
Monday 7th -Thursday 13th May 2018 CosCos Sean Nós Festival Rathcormac, Co Sligo,
A weekend dedicated to sean nós music, song and dance, packed with workshops, céilís, sessions and concerts.
Thursday 17th – Sunday 20th May 2018 Féile Damhsa Gaelach Gortahork, Co Donegal
Saturday 19th May- Sunday 20th May 2018 Skerries Traditional Music Weekend Skerries,Co.Dublin
Traditional music weekend in a beautiful location just North of Dublin – big line-up of well-known artists.
Thursday 24th – Monday 28th May 2018 Fleadh Nua Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland
2018 Fleadh Nua in Ennis promises to be an exciting and innovative festival, full to the brim with concerts, céilís, sessions, CD launches, recitals, Irish dance competitions and street entertainment.
Tuesday 29th May – Monday 4th June 2018 Limerick Fleadh Kilfinane, Co. Limerick
Fleadh Cheoil Luimnigh will host around 1,000 competitors on the June bank holiday weekend, all wishing to progress from Limerick for Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.
Thursday 31st May – Sunday 3rd June 2018 Monaghan Fleadh Ballybay, Co. Monaghan
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing, at the Ballybay Community College (Tullycorbet CCÉ).
Friday 1st – Monday 4th June 2018 Cavan Fleadh Kilnaleck, Co. Cavan
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing at Kilnaleck, County Cavan.
Friday 1st – Monday 4th June 2018 Laois Fleadh Mountmellick, Co. Laois
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing at Mount Mellick, County Laois.
Saturday 2nd – Sunday 3rd June 2018 Sligo Fleadh Sligo Town, Co. Sligo
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing, jointly hosted by Fred Finn CCÉ and Sligo Town CCÉ.
Saturday 9th – Sunday 10th June 2018 Fermanagh Fleadh Derrygonnelly, Fermanagh
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing hosted by the Fermanagh Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann,
Sunday 10th June- Friday 15th June 2018 Welcome to Enniscrone Irish & Country Music Festival Enniscrone, Co.Sligo
Classes will begin each morning at 11am in céili, Fior céili & sean nós. Plus ballroom, jive & salsa with piret also beginning each morning at 11am.Great Irish céilí bands including the Duntally,Foot Tappers, Salamanca, Longnote and Matt Cunningham.
Friday 15th – Sunday 17th June, 2018 Doolin Folk Festival Doolin, Co.Clare
Taking inspiration from the great festivals of the 70’s and 80’s such as Lisdoonvarna down the road and from the deep musical roots of the county, The Doolin Folk Festival presents powerful music in an intimate setting and ensures that audiences & musicians can feel at one and just enjoy the communal spirit
Sunday 17th – Sunday 24th June 2018 Tyrone Fleadh Dungannon, Co. Tyrone
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing, hosted by Craobh Úi Néill CCÉ, Dún Geanainn.
Sunday 17th-Sunday 24th June 2018 Galway Sessions Galway city, Co.Galway
The annual Galway Sessions Festival, celebrates Irish folk and traditional music and the music Irish emigrants brought with them across the world. The festival has a variety of events including gigs in theatres and pubs throughout Galway City from 1pm-1am.
Wednesday 20th –Sunday 24th June 2018 Clare Fleadh Ennis, Co. Clare
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing in Ennis, County Clare.
Friday 22nd June – Saturday 23rd June 2018 All-Ireland Sean Nós Dance Festival Athboy, Co Meath, Ireland
A summer sean nós festival with workshops, sessions, céilís and a competition with a top prize of €500.
Saturday 23rd –Sunday 24th June 2018 Down Fleadh Portaferry/Castlewellan, Co. Down
County-level competition for traditional Irish arts of playing music, singing and dancing in Portaferry and Castlewellan, Co. Down.
Monday 25th – Friday 29th June 2018 Craiceann International Bodhrán Summer School Inis Oirr, Co.Galway (Aran Islands)
Love the rhythm? The festival focusing on the bodhran drum will satisfy your need to listen and learn, in a most beautiful setting steeped in traditional Irish music.
Monday25th June – Friday 6th July 2018 BLÁS 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.
Sunday 1st July – Friday 6th July 2018 Seaosamh Macghabhan Summer School Kilmovee, Co.Mayo.
Full summer school with individual and group tuition in a wide range of instruments, dancing and singing.
Monday 2nd – Sunday 8th July 2018 Fleadh Cheoil Connaght 2018
Ballinamore, Co. Leitrim
Connacht Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians, dancers & other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Monday 2nd – Friday 6th July 2018 Westport Schoil Cheoil Westport, Co.Mayo
Full summer school with tuition, concerts and recitals.
Friday 6th- Sunday 8th July 2018 Traidphicnic Spiddal, Co.Galway
A taste of local traditional music, arts and culture in Spiddal.
Saturday 7th- Sunday 15th July 2018 Willie Clancy Summer School Miltown Malbay, Co.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 addtional program of dancing is also held at the Armada Hotel.
Sunday 8th – Sunday 15th July 2018 Leinster Fleadh 2018
Muine Bheag (Bagenalstown), Co. Carlow
Leinster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Sunday 15th- Saturday 21st July 2018 South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Co.Sligo
This has become my favorite festival for it’s laid back nature but also the learning to dance program is excellent. Different energy to Willie Clancy, it’s more intimate, gentler and very enjoyable in this beautiful part of Co.Sligo, with very deep music & dance tradition. Set dancing and music classes are in the morning 10am-1pm, a sean nós dance program in the afternoon from 4-6pm, and a range of concerts in the afternoons, and set dancing céilís in the evenings, with sessions in the pubs to follow.
Sunday 15th – Sunday 22nd July 2018 Munster Fleadh 2018 Ennis Co.Clare
Munster Provincial Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Sunday 15th – Sunday 22nd July 2018 Céilí at the Crossroads Festival Clarecastle,Co.Clare
Annual céilí at the Crossroads has expanded to a whole week – an opportunity to dance outside!
Saturday 21st – Saturday 28th July 2018 Joe Mooney Summer School
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.
Monday 23rd -Sunday 29th July 2018 Ulster Fleadh 2018 Castlewellan,Co.Down.
Ulster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE).
Saturday 28th July – Saturday 4th August 2018 Scoil Acla Summer School 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.
Monday 30th July – Saturday 4th August 2018 Sean nós dancing residency for adults, with Edwina Guckian Carrick on Shannon, Co. Leitrim
An intensive course in sean nós dance from 11-2pm daily, with sessions and ceilíthe running throughout the week.
Monday 30th July – Saturday 4th August 2018 The Irish Dance Festival Carlingford, Co.Louth
Spend a week learning from some of the world’s best Irish dance masters of three styles – step, set and sean nós – and connect with fellow lovers of Irish dance by immersing yourself in Irish culture and heritage.
Monday 30th July – Sunday 6th August 2018 Summer Festival of Dance Ballyfin, Co Laois
Maureen Culleton is an expert dancer, teacher and supporter of all forms of Irish traditional dance, with strong followings among dancers in Europe, Japan and across Ireland. She calls the sets at the céilíthe running through out the week, teaches the workshops and leads the sessions. EMAIL MAUREEN for more information.
Wednesday 1st- Monday 6th August 2018 Kilrush Trad Music & Set Dancing Festival
Kilrush Traditional Music & Set Dancing Festival is a 6 day festival of music & set dancing including open air céilis in Kilrush Square on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Music sessions, singers club, sean nós & set dancing workshops will also take place throughout the festival.
Friday 3rd – Sunday 5th August 2018 Ballyshannon Folk Festival Ballyshannon, County Donegal
The 41st annual Ballyshannon Folk and Traditional Music Fesitval is the place to be this August Bank Holiday Weekend as the sounds of traditional and folk music echo from the streets, pubs and Marquee concerts along Donegal’s Wild Atlantic Way.
Saturday 4th – Sunday 5th August 2018 (TBA) James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Riverstown, Co Sligo.
A full trad festival with open air céilís, concerts, sessions and more in the home village of a fiddler who became famous in the USA.
Friday 4th – Monday 7th August 2018 O’Carolan Summer School and Harp Festival 2018 Keadue, Co Roscommon
The Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan is the inspiration for this summer school and festival in this gorgeous town. Plenty of dancing including the famous Annual Door Dancing Competition on Monday 7th August at 7pm.
Tuesday 7th- Tuesday 13th August 2018 (TBC) Kilcar Fleadh Kilcar, Co Donegal
A 7 day festival of traditional music, songs and dance, celebrating the living heritage of traditional music in South West Donegal.
Wednesday 8th- Monday 13th August 2018 Feakle International Festival of Traditional Music Feakle, Co 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.
Sunday12th – Friday 17th August 2018 Fleadh Cheoil na h’Eireann & Scoil Éigse 2018
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!
Wednesday 22nd – Sunday 26th August 2018 Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork
Celebrating traditional music in its’ purest form through a series of concerts and performances, directed by Martin Hayes.
Enjoy the craic and I hope the sun shines strong for you. Nora Stewart
FOR MOST OF USset dancers, the idea that the original Lancers set from County Clare was not always danced to reels could seem very strange indeed. The evolution of our beloved dances have an interesting past, as told by Larry Lynch in his extensive and beautiful book,Set Dances of Ireland: Tradition and Evolution (1989).
This trove is based on oral history told by dancers from each area, and is a written and illustrated record of music, musicians, dances and dance style from counties Cork, Kerry, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Limerick and Clare. Larry Lynch has very kindly agreed to allow me to re-produce the following chapter (Italics text) on The Lancers.
The Set in Local Tradition: Crusheen, Co.Clare: The Lancers Joe McNamara first saw the Lancers in about 1931. Joe learned the Lancers from John Kinley, who brought the set to the area from South Galway. John Kinley was about twenty years older than Joe.
“Joe Kinley picked it up at a wedding in South Galway. At the time, there were kitchen house dances maybe only three times a year. It was hard to see all the figures. John Kinley was anxious for everyone to dance the Lancers, but no-one knew how to dance it. No-one knew the full set, only himself. There might be only two in the house who knew it, and they weren’t too clear about it either.”
Joe McNamara recalls, “House dances stopped during the war (World War II)because they were illegal. The gardaí would come and close them down. The government wanted the revenue and tax. Priests stopped the house dances but they built parochial halls and got licenses and had their own dances.”
“Céilithe were started during the late forties and early fifties by Irish language teachers. No sets were allowed because sets were not considered Irish. Sets were danced at an odd get-together in the home – a return from England, or a wedding. Comhaltas (Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann) organised the first Fleadh Cheoil in Athlone in 1953 and started reviving set dancing. The Caledonian Set was danced in the competitions. Because of emigration, there were no crowds to dance, so the generation of the fifties missed out. Modern music and show bands became popular, so today, people between the ages of thirty and fifty can’t dance.”
“I often saw John Kinley in pubs and he was anxious for the two of us to get the Lancers going. And we would often go through it in the pubs, having an old chat about the sets. He always hinted on me that we should get it going.”
Joe McNamara revived the Lancers in 1980. “ I had to go back in my memory and remember the set as I saw Kinley dancing it, and work out one figure from another until I go the shape of a set. I might see that dancing in my young days, and I might no see that set danced twice in a year. There was that drawback that I had to remember the set after not dancing it for forty years. I usen’t to sleep, and I often went through a figure (while unable to sleep). I was teaching set dancing at Crusheen at the time. I did it one figure at a time. I had to take figure one, do that and see how it worked out. Then onto the next figure. It took a lot of memorizing.”
Joe says about the Lancers “ When Joe Kinley danced it, it was danced to polkas. I revived it to reels because dancers today prefer reels.” According to Joe McNamara, the dancing speed of the music at two beats per measure used to be: polkas 102 beats per minute. Today, the dancing speed of the music at two beats per measure is: reels 123 beats per minute.
Pauline McNamara, Joe’s niece, told me recently that her father, Paddy McNamara, always insisted that the dance be done at a “slow and easy pace”. And polkas at 51 bars per minute, is certainly much slower than now- often around 60-70 bars per minute for polkas.
She also told me that the (Clare) Lancers, as it became, was an instant hit at competitions and social dances because it was a set with five reels – no jig. They won everything, every competition they entered – Paddy McNamara and Biddy McNamara (photo below), Eoin and Mary Donnell, Muriel and Danny Liddy; Catherine Brigdale, Pete Connors and Kevin O’Brien, with Joe McNamara as the manager of the group.
Now, about twenty-five people dance the Lancers in the Crusheen area. Joe and Biddie McNamara have also taught the Lancers every summer since 1983 at the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, in Miltown Malbay, Co.Clare.
We all know that there are now thousands of dancers happily dancing the Clare Lancers all over the world. In addition, Larry Lynch said to me in an email recently:
“Joe and Biddie McNamara were wonderful people and very gracious to me. Joe and Biddie knew their subject well; they deserve to be recognized and honored for passing on the tradition. Biddie was one of the most beautiful and graceful female set dancers I encountered in twenty-seven years of research and teaching set dancing in Ireland.”
Music, people and place are absolutely key to any Irish set dance, and Larry Lynch has also recorded some of that information for the Lancers.
Musicians: The Lancers Set Some of the popular musicians who played the fiddle were: Katie Costello (later played with Michael Coleman in America), Rathclooney; Delia (also played the concertina), Mary and Winnie Littleton, Drumbaniff, Crusheen.
Others who played the concertina were: Mrs. Cunneen, James and John Costello, Rathclooney; James McInerney, Drumbaniff, Crusheen; James McNamara, Drumbaniff, Crusheen.
Those who played the accordion were: Joe McNamara (played with the Tulla Céilí Band 1953 until 1963), Drumbaniff, Crusheen. Patsie Kinley (John Kinley’s father), O’Brien’s Castle, Crusheen, played the flute. Petie Littleton, Drumbaniff, Crusheen, played the tin whistle and the concert flute. (There is also an extensive list of tunes, for anyone interested).
Homes: The Lancers Set When Joe McNamara was young, set dancing was done at house dances. Some of the homes where sets were danced were: Joe Kinley’s, O’Brien’s Castle, Crusheen; James McNamara’s (Joe’s father), Drumbaniff, Crusheen; Mickie Littleton’s, Drumbaniff, Crusheen; Paddy O’Connor’s, Cappafean, Crusheen.
My great thanks to Larry Lynch for taking the time to record all this amazing information, and agreeing to let me share it here.
Larry sadly passed away in December 2021, and leaves a valuable legacy to all who love Clare sets.
Set Dances of Ireland: Tradition and Evolution (1989) is available for purchase via Amazon.
I thought it was time to have a look at all the votes over the last three years (2,602), just to make sure that there is some consistency and a proper pattern to the results, not just a random set of numbers. You can find annual poll results from 2015,2016 and 2017.
Happy to say there is definitely a pattern: a beautiful set of numbers, if you’ll pardon the pun. In fact, the 80/20 principle is very evident, with almost exactly 80% of the total vote over 3 years for just 20 sets, out of 230+ possible sets.
Which is just as well because I’m not much of a numbers gal myself – dyslexic with them most of the time. But, I can count to 8, which is mostly what you need to be able to do to dance a set.
2015-2017 vote total
% of vote total
Thanks again to everyone who has voted, and to all those who have a passionate interest in our lovely dances. We’ll do it all again next year.
THANKS to everyone who voted this year – we had a smaller vote overall but there is considerable consistency in the results of the top 10 set dances over the last 3 years – find the results here.
The Claddagh, Moycullen and the Antrim Square sets did very well this year compared with previous years… I feel the Down Under vote making its’ presence felt there!
82 sets got at least one vote, so while there is mass popularity of some sets, there is a healthy variety in favourite dances – worth considering for céilí and teaching programs.
However, the Clare Lancers come out on top this year – a wonderfully playful set, as you can see by one of my absolute favourite dance film clips here:
And there’s no better person that likes to play and dance, than my special friend Michael W. He specialises in getting everyone “organised” for the alternative second figure… go figure! (Anyone who had danced at the Willie Clancy will know what and whom I speak about).
Clare Plain (Reel)
Black Valley Square Jig
Clare Orange and Green
Sliabh Luachra (AKA North Cork Polka)
Caragh Lake Jig
Hurry the Jug
Connemara Jig (AKA Freres Nantes)
Jack Canny Half
Portmagee Jig Set (Meserts)
South Galway Reel (AKA South Galway Half )
South Sligo Lancers
Limerick Orange and Green
Valentia Right and Left
Thanks again and happy dancing. Nora Stewart Irish Bliss
Aah, it’s been a while since my last post but I thought it would be nice to engage and see if dancers across the globe are interested in making their favourite sets known, like we did in 2015 and 2016.
I am just doing this for the craic – there are no prizes or accolades for the winning sets- just like there’s no prizes for set dancing:- we do it for the fun of it.
HOW IT WORKS
Pick your top 10 – Tick up to 10 sets you love dancing the most – you can add up to 10 additional sets at the bottom if your favourites are not listed. PLEASE ADD THEM ALL INTO THE ONE BOX – OTHER- with a comma between each set name.
Your favorite NEW set? I suggest you add these into the COMMENTS box below if you especially want to highlight that, and I will include a listing in the final results.
Vote once – You can only vote once, so choose carefully.
Closes – This poll is open for 1 week until around midnight Sunday 7th January2018.
Final results – full results will be published on Monday 8th January 2018. You can also see how it’s going by returning to this post and clicking on VIEW RESULTS at the bottom of the sets list.
Privacy – no private information is collected in this survey- completely anonymous.
Can’t see the poll below? Switch from private browsing in your internet browser may help. (Sorry, can’t do much about that for those worried about privacy.)
If you are anywhere near Ireland this Northern hemisphere summer, there is absolutely no excuse for not learning to play, sing or dance. Festivals and summer schools are burgeoning, with most offering opportunities to learn Irish set dancing, Irish sean nós dancing and/ or to learn to play or master a range of traditional musical instruments, as well as a wide range of concerts, céilís and lectures. And, of course, there are the fourprovincial fleadhanna(flaa-na), festivals incorporating competitions for traditional musicians and dancers, with the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann being hosted by Ennis, Co.Clare in August this year.
Sunday 12th June- Thursday 16th June 2016 Enniscrone Irish and Country Music Festival Enniscrone, Co.Sligo
The 5 day festival brings together some of the best Country and Western stars under one roof in the Diamond Coast Hotel but the festival also gives the opportunity for people to take part in set dance workshops, ballroom and social dance workshops, music tutorials, sessions and with music and dance taking place till late in the night. http://www.diamondcoast.ie/Irish_Trad_and_Country_Music_Festival.html
Sunday 12th-Sunday 19th June 2016 Galway Sessions Galway city, Co.Galway
Dedicated this year to the memory of Éamonn Ceannt, there will be lectures, music, recitals and wide range of other events. www.galwaysessions.com
Thursday 16th -Sunday 19th June 2016 Jim Dowling Uillean Pipe & Traditional Music Festival
Glengarriff, Co.Cork www.jimdowlingfestival.com
Monday20th June – Friday 1st July 2016 BLÁS 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. www.blas.ie
Saturday 25th-Sunday 26th June 2016 & Saturday 2nd – Sunday 3rd July 2016 Fleadh Cheoil Chonnacht 2016 Strokestown, Co.Roscommon
Connacht Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians, dancers & other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE). http://www.connachtfleadh.ie/
Saturday 25th-Sunday 26th June 2016 Carlow Set Dance Weekend 2016
Weekend of set dancing workshops and céilís. Carlow, Co. Carlow
Saturday 2nd July- Saturday 9th July 2016 Willie Clancy Summer School Miltown Malbay, Co.Clare
Affectionately known as Willie Week, this is probably the longest running of these festivals. There’s always a great buzz in Miltown: we call it Set Dancing Mecca! Classes for music and dance are run each morning from 10-1pm from Monday – Saturday, interspersed with a wide range of afternoon and evening set dancing céilís around the area, singing sessions & music sessions in pubs. Highly recommended for those who want full immersion, deep dive into Irish culture & craic. http://www.scoilsamhraidhwillieclancy.com/ http://www.armadahotel.com/events.html/armada-festival-of-music-dancing-2016
Monday 4th July-Sunday 10th July 2016 Leinster Fleadh Cheoil 2016 Kilkenny, Co.Kilkenny
Leinster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE). http://www.leinsterfleadh.ie
Sunday 10th July- Saturday 16th July 2016 South Sligo Summer School Tubbercurry, Co.Sligo
This has become my favorite festival for it’s laid back nature but also the learning to dance program is excellent. Different energy to Willie Clancy, it’s more intimate, gentler and very enjoyable in this beautiful part of Co.Sligo, with very deep music & dance tradition. Set dancing and music classes are in the morning 10am-1pm, a sean nós dance program in the afternoon from 4-6pm, and a range of concerts in the afternoons, and set dancing céilís in the evenings, with sessions in the pubs to follow. http://www.sssschool.org/index.html
Monday 11th July– Friday 15th July 2016 Ceol na Coille Summer School of Irish Traditional Music Letterkenny, Co.Donegal www.ceolnacoille.ie
Monday 11th July– Friday 15th July 2016 Westport Scoil Cheoil 2016 Westport, Co.Mayo
Full summer school with tuition, concerts and recitals. www.westportscoilcheoil.com
Monday 11th July- Friday 15th July 2016 Sean Nós ar an tSionnan Feet and Beat Summer Camp Ballymote, Co Sligo
A week of dance training for children from 7 to 15 years. http://edwinaguckian.com/dance-classes/
Friday 15th July – Sunday 17th July 2016 Danny Webster Weekend Meenaneary, Co Donegal
Kilkenny’s master accordionist visits Donegal for a weekend of three céilís.
Friday 16th July -Sunday 25th July 2016 Ulster Fleadh 2016 Bangor, Co.Down
Ulster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE). www.ulsterfleadh.com
Saturday 16th July – Sunday 17th July Munster Fleadh 2016 Listowel,Co.Kerry
Muster Province Fleadh, which is primarily provincial competitions for traditional musicians and dancers and other artists, organised by the local Comhaltas Cheoltóirí Éireann (CCE). www.munsterfleadh.ie
Sunday 17th July – Saturday 24thJuly 2016 Joe Mooney Summer School 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. www.JoeMooneySummerSchool.com
July 18th – 22nd, 2016 Meitheal Residential Summer School Villiers School, Limerick City, Ireland
Residential Summer School for young traditional musicians. www.tradweek.com
Monday 18th July – Friday 22nd July Get in Step Summer Camp Riverstown, Co Sligo
€60 for five classes sean nós and set dancing summer school for kids from 5 to 17 years from 10am–2pm daily
Eimear Mulvey (086) 258 4465
Saturday 23rd July – Saturday 30th July 2016 Scoil Acla Summer School Achill Island, Co.Mayo
Traditional Music Courses, Art Workshops, Sean Nós Singing, Writers Workshop, Dance Workshop, Sean Nós Dancing, Basket Weaving Workshops www.scoilacla.com
Monday 25th July 2016 O’Carolan Summer School and Harp Festival Keadue, Co Roscommon
The Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan is the inspiration for this summer school and festival in this gorgeous town. http://www.ocarolanharpfestival.ie/
Monday July 25th- Friday 29th 2016 Liffey Trust Studios, 117-126 Upper Sheriff Street, Dublin 1 Rince 2016-Treblehop
Irish step dancing intensive tuition including solo technique, stage performance, céilí, show style and injury prevention. http://www.treblehop.com/rince_2016
Saturday 30th July 2016 James Morrison Traditional Music Festival Riverstown, Co Sligo.
A full trad festival with open air céilís, concerts, sessions and more in the home village of a fiddler who became famous in the USA. http://jamesmorrisonfestival.com/author/admin/
Saturday 31st July – 7th August 2016 The Irish Dance Festival Carlingford, Co.Louth
Spend a week learning from some of the world’s best Irish dance masters of three styles – step, set and sean nós – and connect with fellow lovers of Irish dance by immersing yourself in Irish culture and heritage. www.irishdancefestival.com
Wednesday 3 August-Monday 8th August Feakle International Festival of Traditional Music Feakle, Co Clare
The big festival in the small village of Feakle runs for seven days from Wednesday to Monday with many concerts & sessions in addition to the dancing events shown here. http://www.feaklefestival.ie
Monday 8 August – Friday 12 August Get in Step Summer Camp Kilcummin, Co,Kerry
Sean nós and set dancing summer school for kids from 5 to 17 years.
Adrian Moriarty (087) 933 0768
Monday 8 August- Friday 12 August 2016 Sean Nós ar an tSionann Feet and Beat Summer Camp Drumshanbo Co. Leitrim A week of dance training for children from 7 to 15 years. http://edwinaguckian.com/dance-classes
Sunday 14th August- Monday 22 August 2016 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann Ennis, Co Clare
Nearly two weeks of fabulous music, dance and a wide range of concerts and other events celebrating Irish culture. Don’t miss it! http://fleadhcheoil.ie
Wednesday 17 August – Sunday 21 August 2016 Masters of Tradition Bantry, Cork
Celebrating traditional music in its’purest form through a series of concerts and performances, directed by Martin Hayes. www.WestCorkMusic.ie/MastersOfTradition
Thursday 18th August- Sunday 21st August 2016 Coleman Traditional Festival
The Coleman Traditional Irish Music Centre is a celebration of Irish Music, Culture and Heritage as expressed in the South Sligo Style of music played by Michael Coleman and other musicians of his time.
This community based enterprise in Gurteen, Co.Sligo, Ireland is dedicated to ensuring that the tradition of Irish music remains a living one ‘an traidisiún beo’ and that it continues to be enjoyed by all ages and nationalities. www.colemanirishmusic.com
22 years ago, when the Eurovision song contest was being held in Dublin, there was a filler act for the interval that was initially met with modest, uncertain applause when it started. What happened after that performance is now history, but I wanted to go back and have a look at the performance to see what it was that so transfixed us all.
Quite simply, it was beautiful, effortless and dream-like. It looked elegant and it sounded amazing, from the incredible singing introduction from Anúna, the gorgeous lyrical music and those stunning percussive rhythms, dancers synchronised playing off and responding to drums and each other. It had a story moving from the spiritual spell of water to a slick, modern city backdrop, in a kind of Clannad-meets-An-American-in-Paris moment.
And people responded in their hundreds of thousands, flocking to unprepared, dazed Irish dance schools, wanting a piece of that dream they had glimpsed and experienced. I know, I was one of them. Up until Riverdance, Irish step dancing had been something that young Irish girls and boys and those of the diaspora did as an obligation, taking their weekly classes or more often than not, skivving off and spending their sixpence on sweets (I’ve heard that story from many a dance friend).
The image of Irish step dancing was a little old-fashioned, a bit dowdy but reliable. As a student, you knew the rules, you knew the repertoire of dances, what to do to pass an exam and you got on with it. Costumes were modest, competitions and performances were regular and classes were strict.
Young irish step dancers 1970s. Image: www.crossexaminer.co.uk
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- I have written more about this from an Australian viewpoint. For many dancers, there is an expectation of very intensive training, that dancing on pointeand 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.
Modern champions. Image: www.PhotoMagic.ie
And those dresses, wigs and make-up – what can I say. It is natural that styles will change over time and is part of all development. However, t’would give the haute couture of Louis XIV, Sun King of France a run for his money. And look what happened to him and his court!
Louis XIV The Sun King
Image: Gavin Doherty Design
The saddest part for me is seeing the music applied like wallpaper – a background only for the dancing, and not integral or cherished in any way.
There seems to be very little attempt to fit the steps to the music and to really connect with the complexity and beauty of it. Irish music is so full of character and life and much of the music I see in many Irish step dancing performances is pretty dreary stuff, in my opinion.
Not a patch on those beautiful compositions of Bill Whelan, nor any of the thousands of wonderful recorded uplifting music tracks available online for a few dollars. Music and dance work best in harmony, not submission.
So, while I genuinely applaud the interest in Irish step dancing, I am hopeful we will come full circle, back to a more beautiful and elegant form of dance that appreciates it’s cultural roots, more reflective of the emotion and rhythm in the music and just plain joyful and free.
This half set began it’s life in Canberra over 3 years ago at the King O’Malleys music session with Libby and Richard Conrick, amongst others. Richard and Libby knew Jack well : in fact, one of their sons is named after him, and Jack Conrick is now a fabulous fiddle and concertina player himself.
Martin and I would often go to the session on Tuesday nights, and occasionally, we would get up and “throw a few shapes”, as they say, just the two of us in a very small dance space, enjoying whatever music they were playing.
Some of the signature moves came from experimenting at the session. But mostly, the influences have come from my years dancing in Ireland, and in Clare, reflecting many of the Clare dance moves we know and love, with a few twists.
Martin and Nora dancing with Jack Conrick playing concertina in the background at King O’Malleys, Canberra.