Set Dances

Set Dances

What classifies a tune a “set dance”? Is there a particular time signature? I’ve seen Rakes of Mallow listed as a set dance, a reel and a polka. I’m so confuuuuused. Also, how does a “set dance” differ from a “barndance”? Can anyone help explain this, please? Thank you in advance.

Re: Set Dances

As tunes, the set dances I know are either in 4/4 hornpipe time, or in 6/8 jig time. They differ from ordinary hornpipes and jigs in having an extended second part - i.e., it’s several bars longer than usual. (At least one, The Ace And Deuce Of Piping, has an extended first part too.)

I don’t know if these tunes are for solo dancing, group dancing, or both.

I don’t think there are all that many tunes of this kind. Examples are:

Hornpipe rhythm: The Ace And Deuce Of Piping
The Hunt
The Blackbird
Rodney’s Glory

Jig rhythm: St. Patrick’s Day
The Three Sea Captains
?The Humours Of Brandon (-something to do with
Brandon, anyway)

They are all very good tunes. But in the database here, there’s no category for Set Dance Tunes - they’ll be hidden away under Jigs and Hornpipes.

Re: Set Dances

Solo step dancing…

Re: Set Dances

Some end up falling under this category falsely, tunes specific to certain group or ceili dances ~ like ‘The Humours of Bandon’, ‘The Three Tunes’ (literally three tunes), ‘Sweet of May’, etc…

Re: Set Dances

‘The Sweets of May’… I wasn’t paying attention to my typing, doing several things at once is not a good practice…at least not for me… 🙂

Re: Set Dances

I’ve always been confused by this term. I know a few tunes known as “set dances”, like the Blackbird, noted above, and the Job of Journeywork, Boney’s Retreat, Boney Crossing the Alps and others. But the term set dance seems to refer to something else entirely, the old country dances which came from French quadrilles, and these, I think, can be danced to any tunes that happen to fit the particular set. (In this context, a set dance is a country dance with set steps performed in a set of four couples in a square.) So, a set dance might use some single reels followed by some polkas followed by some reels, maybe some jigs, some hornpipes and then closing with some reels. But, as far as I know, these could be any tunes that fit …

I’m confused … and I’ve probably confused everybody else now. I would be great if someone could clear this up …

Re: Set Dances

I’ll tell you what a set dance is.

It is a formal “Country Dance” of an extended type.
I once spent an entire day at the Edinburgh Folk Festivel learning the Corofin Plain Set. We were a little on the slow side, so we never did get to dance the whole thing in one go, as we ran out of time.
To give you a feeling for it:
Most people these days would know a strip-the-willow.
Longways sets of four(or five) couples. Forward and back, forward and back. (or some chorus figure.) Top couple arm left and then the woman strips the willow down the men. Top couple make an arch over the women and then the man strips the willow down the women. Top couple make an arch over the men up to the top again, arm left and then both man and woman strip the willow down their respective sides, turning each other in the centre. They stay at the bottom of the set (progession) and the entire set does the chorus figure. Then the next top couple do the same thing. Everyone does the figure twice or three times, and the entire dance takes about ten or fifteen minutes.

A proper Set Dance would be a degree more complicated. It would likely take an hour to perform completely.

The Corofin Plain Set takes (according to “Toss the Feathers” by Pat Murphy)
112 bars of Reel for the first figure
104 bars of Jig for the second figure
176 bars of Reel for the third figure
204 bars of Jig for the fourth figure
208 bars of Reel and finally
208 bars of Polka.

The figures for Plain Sets are a little different from those danced at “informal” Ceilis and Ceilidhs today. Had we had the basics, we would probably have managed to dance the whole thing twice. But as it was, we spent most of the morning getting to grips with the “House”. C’est la Vie.

Re: Set Dances

“Set Dance” as applied to the old quadrilles is a relatively recent contraction for “Set of Quadrilles”, or a set of figures, called quadrilles, danced in a ‘square’ of four couples ~ and as ‘Innocent Bystander’ has given some introduction above…

However, you’d be sore pressed for a p*ss if the damned things took an hour to dance. There are a few, even with five figures, that you can finish in around 5 minutes, and that’s with the breaks ~ but if you need specifics ~ ‘The Ballycommon Set’. Hell, even the longer sets, like the ‘The Newport Set’ or ‘The Caledonian’ ~ sure as hell doesn’t take an hour to dance, unless you were having to do it in wheelchairs or zimmer frames, and even then not… I’ve danced the ‘square sets’ with wheelchairs, so I speak from experience…

The other ‘sets’ mentioned above are the ‘country dances’ where you might find ‘set’ used in descriptions for the likes of a ‘set for as many as will’, or ‘a longways set duple minor’, etc. BUT ~ that’s nothing to do with these differently measured tunes called ‘SET DANCES’…

The ‘Set Dance Tunes’ were in the main solid and leisurely played tunes for step dancers to decorate with their percussion, their feet, visually and rhythmically… For some there is a long history and even set steps that are attached to the melody and even ‘expected’ ~ for example with tunes like “The Job of Journeywork”… They can also be a feature of the competitions of the various Irish dance commissions in Eire and around the world ~ Cogal & An Coimisiun. There are also videos an recordings available for that purpose.

These tunes are, as said previously, taken at a relaxed pace and maintaining a defined and strong rhythm as a basis for the dancer to do their thing, and to allow them space to have some fun… There are a slew of these tunes and some recent compositions. As mentioned earlier in this thread, they do tend to be out of the norm, meaning that they parts are not the usual 8 measure repeats adding up to 32 measures. As a clear example, take “The Three Sea Captains”:

“The Three Sea Captains” / “The Three Captains” ~ 6/8 in this setting (4/4 in O’Neil)
Key signature: Gmajor
Submitted on June 17th 2001 by Jdharv.

The A-part is 8 measures in length, a standard, and repeats with a second ending = 16 measures, not unusual…

The B-part is 20 measures in lenght, and repeats = 40 measures, though in an early transcriptions (1799) the B-part does not repeat…

There is even some mythology attached to the tune and the steps and figure of the dance, not unusual. While this is a ‘Set Dance’ as described, in Eire / Ireland, it was also known all over these isles ~ Scotland, England, Wales, Cornwall ~ and was also attached to that other sort of ‘set dance’, the one for couples in formation (at different times as duple or triple minor) ~ and also as a Morris Dance…

But it is the Irish bit we’re on about here, and these tunes have nothing at all to do with the ’Sets of Quadrilles“…and just suspecting that in the main the original confusion was over the music or tunes called ‘set dances’, rather than the quadrilles or dances…

Re: Set Dances

However, other set dance tunes, in the dance sense, meaning a formation for couples, where tune and dance can be synonymous, include:

The Sweets of May
Hurry the Jug
The Three Tunes
Haste to the Wedding
The Humours of Bandon
The Rakes of Mallow
The Siege of Ennis
The Stack of Barley
The Trip to the Cottage

Most of these are incorporated into the ‘official’ list of ‘ceili dances’… Others have broken away from their tune association and are now danced to any 32 bar tune in the form…

Re: Set Dances

Thank you Ceolachan! That was extremely helpful. I *thought* there were two different things going on, but I’d muddled them in my head, because I’ve seen both types danced, and played a fair few ‘set dance tunes’, and I couldn’t work it out because whenever I asked (asking the wrong people probably) I’d get an answer which clearly related to the quadrille type of set dances and not to the set dance tunes I was playing.

I think I’ve got it now. Thanks again.

Now I’ve got that off my chest, there’s a jig I learnt off my old mate Peter Kennedy (RIP) called the Huillichan (I think that’s how he spelt it) and he had all the steps for that as a set dance. It even had its own special ‘hold’ (how the dancers held each other). Anyone know if it’s still danced? And where?

“The Hullichan Jig” / “The Huligan Jig”

Key signature: G Major
Submitted on October 27th 2002 by lazyhound.

It is a basic 32 bar jig, but there is a dance associated with it, a couple dance? It has been ages since I’ve danced it but I think it is still danced… I’ll do a search and see if I can find notes for it to add to the ‘Comments’ to the tune. I wouldn’t doubt that the contributor, ol’ hound dog hisself, would know it… 😏

Re: Set Dances

If you want know the music for set dancing as it is actually played for the dancers you can hardly do better than to listen to any of Matt Cunningham’s Dance Music of Ireland CDs (14 at the last count). This set of recordings is considered by many as the definitive benchmark. They are used world-wide by set dancers for learning the figures, and would also be ideal for players who want to learn tunes as they are played in real life, straight down the line and at the correct speed. The Corofin Plain Set, for example, as played by Matt, takes just under 17 minutes for the six figures - of course without the usual rests for the dancers between the figures.
The only difficulty I can see is that only the set dances are named, and not the tunes. Not that it matters all that much; some of the experienced session players I know haven’t the faintest idea of the names of half the tunes they play regularly 🙂 However, an email to Matt Cunningham might elicit the information if the learner can’t find out otherwise.

Re: Set Dances

Yes, but the original question wasn’t, as I understand it, about the ‘Sets of Quadrilles’…which may need another thread. Matt doesn’t, as far as I know, and I have a load of his output, play any ‘Set Dance’ tunes on any of his many recordings, he plays sets of tunes for specific ‘Sets of Quadrilles’ and ‘Ceili Dances’ ~ both of which are very different things from ‘Set Dances’ as suggested in the first few contributions here… But still good sources for learning tunes…

Re: Set Dances

Here’s where my memory is failing me. There were a few musicians who particularly loved and were known for playing ‘set dances’, and even composing them, a few who sadly never recorded commercially, one who was about to release a record when a certain well known Irish recording company went under, but ~ among these is John Doonan. ‘Set dances’ are usually obvious, when there is only one tune to a track it quite often either that or an air…:

“John Doonan: At The Feis”
Submitted on July 6th 2006 by hatao.

“John Doonan: Flute For The Feis”
Submitted on December 2nd 2004 by Kenny.

Re: Set Dances

There are the pipers who were fond of them of course, Johnny Doran, Willy Clancy, Seamus Ennis, Paddy Keenan for starters…

Oh yes, and fiddlers like John Kelly ~ and ~

“Eugene O’Donnell: Slow Airs And Set Dances”
Submitted on January 8th 2004 by gleann.

Good, he did get this recording out after all…

Re: Set Dances

Examples of some tunes from the previous recordings that are called ‘set dances’ ~

4/4 & Swung:

The Little Heathy Hill
AABB ~ A=8 / B=12 ~ Total = 40

The Hunt
AABB ~ A=8 / B=12 ~ Total = 40

Rodney’s Glory
AABB ~ A=8 / B=12 ~ Total = 40

The Ace and Deuce of Pipering
AABB ~ A=12 / B=12 ~ Total = 48

The King of the Fairies
AABB ~ A=8 bars / B=16 ~ Total = 48 bars

The Downfall of Paris
AABBCCDD ~ A=16 / B=16 / C = 8 / D = 8 ~ Total = 96

Jig Time:

Jockey to the Fair ~ 6/8
AABB ~ A=8 / B=14 ~ Total = 40

The Three Sea Captains ~ 6/8
AABB ~ A=16 / B=20 ~ Total = 72

The Sport of the Chase ~ 9/8
AABC ~ A=4 / B=4 / C=4 ~ Total = 16

Re: Set Dances

Yes! I’m glad it was clarified that the word “set” refers to two completely different types of Irish dancing.

“Set dance” tunes are classified as such because they go with a traditional set of solo dance steps. Some of the dances – like Rodney’s Glory and St. Patrick’s Day – are more than 200 years old. They’re descended from the itinerant dancing masters of the 1700s. Patrick O’Dea and Joe O’Donovan dance in this style.

Some of the “set dance tunes” also accompany particular céilí dances like the Sweets of May.

The other kind of set dancing is much more common (see for more info.) This is the social dancing for four couples descended from French quadrilles. Those dances (which usually take more like 15-30 minutes to dance) are accompanied by jigs, reels, polkas, and hornpipes generally – sometimes you get slides and flings and other exciting things.

If you played “The Three Sea Captains” for that kind of set dancing, you’d just get some confused glares!

Re: Set Dances

maithcailin =
(NOTE: If you add the rest of the address it will make the link live in your ‘details’)

Joe & Siobhan O’Donovan, two lovely people ~ along with Joe being a ‘set dancer’ in the older ‘sean nos’ sense, the tunes and steps previously mentioned, a true dancing master, and promoting that through performance, demonstrations and workshops ~ Siobhan & Joe were one of the first couples to go around teaching ‘set dances’ in that other sense mentioned in this thread ~ for couples, the ‘quadrilles’ or ‘square sets’, usually for four couples ~ 2 couples for a ‘half-set’ / 6 and 8 for “double-on-the-sides” & “double all round”. Joe & Siobhan taught classes at home, Cork, and away, including being regulars at ‘Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy’ / ‘The Willie Clancy Summer School’, and were often on call and on tour with Comhaltas…

Film / Video:
“Traditional Irish Step Dancing” by Joe O’Donovan
~ recorded in conjunction with Belfast College
“Old Style Traditional Irish Step Dancing”
~ for Comhaltas - Coiste Co. Chorcaí / Country Cork

“Sean Nos Step Dancing - It’s A Living Tradition”

The ‘Sets’ of Quadrilles, or ‘Set Dancing’

Joe at the podium ~ third picture up from the bottom…

‘Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy’ / ‘The Willie Clancy Summer School’
This is one of the most popular events for learning ‘set dancing’ in the couple / quadrille sense of things, and ‘sean nos’ stepping…

Re: Set Dances

A set dance is a dance that has remained the same since the beginning of Irish dance history. The same music and steps are always used for it. No Irish dancing school will ever change the steps or music for a set dance. Some examples of set dances are: The blackbird, the st. patrick’s day, King of the Fairies, etc.

The rakes of mallow is a reel. Trust me ;) I’ve been Irish dancing for almost three years now and we use the tune for reels.