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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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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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!


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.


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.


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.

Continue reading

2018 Traditional Irish Music and Dance Summer Schools and Festivals

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 county fleadhanna that begin towards the end of the month. This leads into the four provincial 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.


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

Festivals in May 2018

Festivals in June 2018

Festivals in July 2018

Festivals in August  2018

MAY 2018

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
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).

JUNE 2018

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.

Thursday 21st – Sunday 24th June 2018
Jim Dowling Uillean Pipe & Traditional Music Festival
Glengarriff, Co.Cork
Fabulous line-up this year including Sharon Shannon, Steve Cooney and many more.

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.

Monday 25th June – Friday 6th July 2018         
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.

JULY 2018

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.

Sunday 1st July – Friday 6th July 2018
Cairde na Cruite, An Chúirt Chruitireachta
Termonfeckin, Co. Meath
Friends of the Harp – an international festival for Irish harp.

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
Spiddal, Co.Galway
A taste of local traditional music, arts and culture in Spiddal.

Saturday 7th- Sunday 15th July 2018       
Willie Clancy Summer Schoo
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).  

Monday 9th– Friday 13th July  2018
Ceol na Coille Summer School of Irish Traditional Music
Letterkenny, Co.Donegal
Full summer school with traditional music and singing for all,  and special Gaeltacht experience for young people.

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 
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 – Friday 27th July 2018
Meitheal Residential Summer School
Villiers School, Limerick City, Ireland
Residential summer school for young traditional musicians.

Monday 23rd -Sunday 29th July 2018         
Ulster Fleadh 2018   
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 – Friday 3rd August 2018
Belfast Summer School of Traditional Music
Belfast, Co.Antrim
Full programme of classes, sessions, talks, concerts, workshops, launches and more.

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
Drogheda, Co.Louth

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

Links reviewed 13 Sept 2021

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The Clare Lancers Set: Tradition and Evolution

FOR MOST OF US set 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.

Photo of Biddie and Joe McNamara

Biddie and Joe McNamara © Larry Lynch

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.

Enjoy your dancing.
Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

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Your Top 10 Irish Set Dances 2015 – 2017

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.

RANK SET 2015-2017 vote total
% of vote total
1 Ballyvourney Jig 241 10%
2 Clare Plain 201 8%
3 Clare Lancers 174 7%
4 Connemara 170 7%
5 Cashel 130 5%
6 Merchant 126 5%
7 Claddagh 102 4%
8 Moycullen 101 4%
9 Antrim Square 95 4%
10 Corofin Plain 93 4%
11 Caledonian 83 3%
12 West Kerry 82 3%
13 Sliabh Luachra 72 3%
14 Kilfenora Plain 66 3%
15 Borlin 63 2%
16 Labasheeda 56 2%
17 Newport 52 2%
18 Paris 46 2%
18 Aran 35 1%
20 Mazurka 33 1%
    2021 78%

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.

Best wishes,
Nora Stewart
 Irish Bliss

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Your Top 10 Irish Set Dances 2017

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).

RANK 2017
1 Clare Lancers 28
2 Ballyvourney Jig 25
3 Claddagh 21
4 Moycullen 20
5= Antrim Square 19
5= Clare Plain (Reel) 19
5= Merchant 19
6= Cashel 18
6= Connemara Reel 18
7 Corofin Plain 16
8 Caledonian 12
9 Newport 11
10= Paris 10
10= West Kerry 10
11= Kilfenora Plain 9
11= Labasheeda 9
12= Borlin 8
12= Boyne 8
12= Mazurka 8
12= Rinkinstown 8
13= Black Valley Square Jig 7
13= Clare Orange and Green 7
13= North Kerry 7
13= Sliabh Luachra (AKA North Cork Polka) 7
14= Aran 6
14= Metal Bridge 6
14= Skibbereen 6
15= Caragh Lake Jig 5
15= Derrada 5
15= Williamstown 5
16= Hurry the Jug 4
16= South Kerry 4
17= Auban 3
17= Ballyvourney Reel 3
18= Ballycommon 2
18= Birr 2
18= Carrobeg Set 2
18= Connemara Jig (AKA Freres Nantes) 2
18= Corballa 2
18= Donegal 2
18= Durrow Threshing 2
18= Fermanagh 2
18= Fermanagh Quadrilles 2
18= Jack Canny Half 2
18= Kildownet Half 2
18= Laois Lancers 2
18= Melleray Lancers 2
18= Portmagee Jig Set (Meserts) 2
18= Sliabh Fraoch 2
18= South Galway Reel (AKA South Galway Half ) 2
18= South Sligo Lancers 2
19= Ardgroom Polka 1
19= Australian Half 1
19= Ballinvreenagh 1
19= Ballyfin 1
19= Ballykeale 1
19= Borlin Jenny 1
19= Caherciveen 1
19= Croisloch 1
19= Cuchulainn 1
19= Cuil Aodha 1
19= Dublin 1
19= Dunmanway 1
19= Inis Oirr 1
19= Jenny Lind 1
19= Kavaneg 1
19= Kilkenny Lancers 1
19= Knockanore 1
19= Limerick Orange and Green 1
19= Lusmagh 1
19= Meelick Polka 1
19= Moate 1
19= Monaghan 1
19= Newmarket Meserts 1
19= Newmarket Plain 1
19= Seit Chamus 1
19= Sidmouth 1
19= Sliabh gCua 1
19= Sligo 1
19= Templebeg 1
19= Valentia Right and Left 1
19= Waterford Jig 1

Thanks again and happy dancing.
Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

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Vote For Your Top 10 Irish Set Dances 2017

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.


  • 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 January 2018.
  • 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.)
  • PLEASE SHARE this poll. Thank-you!

Happy dancing!

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

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