How will we ever get back to dancing?

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

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

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

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

The Virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

A NEW APPROACH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Irish sean nós : Rich and deep

Sean nós  (say shan-nose) means old style in Irish, and I have often wondered just how old old really is. The very first time I remember seeing Irish sean nós dancing was in  early 1989 at my very first Irish set dancing weekend in Donegal Town, Co.Donegal. The snow was all aflutter outside the big windows of the hotel ballroom and three auld fellas shuffled along, “doing a bit of shtep” during the céilí -that’s how I recall it. It was relaxed, simple, very rhythmic and obviously, memorable.

Picking up the thread from my last post  Irish dance history: A contrary tale: Part 2 , I have been exploring more about the potential roots of Irish sean nós heritage, which it seems, may possibly originate from North Africa.  Bob Quinn, in his 1981 documentary series The Atlanteans, illustrates his theory that  dwellers on the West Coast of Ireland, particularly in Connemara,  are not Celts but what he terms “Atlanteans”. They are ancient descendants of sea-faring people from Algeria and Morocco- the Berbers – who travelled all along the Atlantic coastline – West along Spain, Portugal, Basque country, Brittany in France and then North -West to Ireland – settled in parts and continued using the sea as a big super highway, that was much safer than travelling across land.

I found the evidence presented in the documentary compelling and curious,  with potential multiple connections between ancient Irish and Berber civilisations starting with traditional singing, dancing & music, musical instruments including the Irish drum bodhrán which has a double in the Berber bandir, sailing boats – Galway Hookers with púcán sails & Felucca with lateen sails,  stone circles, standing stones and carvings in similar contexts in both countries, art and fine jewellery pieces thought to be Celtic have an eery resonance in the Berber style, and on it goes.

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St. Valentine – from Ireland to Australia

Moved by the music – Annie Hayward Art

It is said, that Valentinus, as he was known before he became St.Valentine, was canonised for giving help to Christians, including marrying them, when this was a crime.

“He was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Claudius in Rome… Claudius took a liking to this prisoner – until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor – whereupon this priest was condemned to death. He was beaten with clubs and stones; when that failed to kill him, he was beheaded  on February 14th outside the Flaminian Gate, North of Rome.” Wikipedia

What not many people know that St.Valentine’s remains are in Dublin, in Whitefriar Church in Aungier Street, not far from St.Stephen’s Green. The remains of St. Valentine and “a small vessel tinged with his blood.” were a gift from Pope Gregory XVI to a famous Irish priest and preacher, Fr. John Spratt in 1836.

And, so it was that I also met my Valentine in Dublin in 1999, a long time removed from the third century and killing of christians.  Martin and I were fortunate to be living in a time and a country more concerned with attaining peace and love. We spent a lot of our energy together achieving that through Irish music and dance in Ireland – doing classes, going to festivals “down the country, connecting with people and the craic.

And we’ve continued striving for that here in Australia. And that’s what I’m hoping for everyone today and every day- peace and love to all.

Happy St.Valentine’s Day.

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss