Social dance

Social dance

IF this is hopelessly ill-informed or contentious, just ignore me….

I went to some ceilidhs on the east coast of Canada (PEI and Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be exact) where the music is largely Scottish influenced (though I head some Irish tunes as well). Anyway, non-tourists were there mainly to dance in this kind of round-dance style. This was easy social dance, nothing like the Irish step dancing tradition. This made me wonder, is there (or was there) not a strong social dance tradition in ITM? By ‘social dance’ I mean something that any able-bodied person can do after some fashion with 5 mins. instruction, rather than a highly-skilled artistic dance tradition, which I understand step-dancing to be.


Re: Social dance

Absolutely, Paul. Ceili dancing (Walls of Limerick, Siege of Ennis, etc.) is learned fairly quickly once you have a basic step down and doesn’t require you to touch your nose with your knee. Lots of fun!

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Re: Social dance

Yes they exist grego but as a caller I find it hard to find Irish dances that can be taught in 5 mins. So far the dances I have are:

Bridge of Athlone
Seige of Ennis
Walls of Limerick
Waves of Torrey
Rakes of Mallow
Peeler and the Goat
Irish Washerwoman
Everyman’s Chance
Soldier’s Joy

If anyone knows of any more I’d be interested to know


Irish, Scottish, you name it - - - a admittedly biased response - - -

‘Social dance’ traditions are widespread, but modern influences, such as what some would chose to call ‘Disneyfication’, and another one especially craved by city-folk and IT Industry boffins - ‘Challenge’, have had their affect on things, tending toward the ‘exclusive’, though always saying otherwise - resulting in things like the ‘RSCDS’ (Royal Scottish Country Dance Society), ‘CDWC’ (Cymdeithas Ddawns Werin Cymru/The Welsh Folk Dance Society), An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha (The Irish Dance Commission), Federated Square Dancing - - - well, they meet the needs of a certain few, and there’s some really nice folk caught up in these various forms, but they are really in the main about performance, exhibition and competition, and doing it RIGHT! In some instances they even actively advertise that they aren’t for ‘beginners’, whatever that means to them. Sadly, too often these groups promote themselves, and are even believed, as ‘THE’ ‘tradition’, ‘authority’ and ‘ruling body’… No matter how much posturing and rule passing they do, they definitely aren’t ‘THE’ be all and end all… Those passions have in the past done damage to the very thing they mined and exaggerated in order to create their particular faction and dogma.

In Eire you can still find house dancing and platform dancing and even the occassional crossroads dance - traditions shared with Cape Breton and P.E.I. (Prince Edward Island). These are part of the history of all of the Maritimes but also of Eire, Scotland, England and North American and Australia and New Zealand… It makes sense, packed earth at crossroads, dancing on bridges, building platforms out of doors. Asphalt was in short supply. In this particular vein of tradition, it wasn’t and isn’t about the footwork or a fancy figure or move - gettint the technique and mechanics right. The first and primary reason for these gatherings were social, communal, the ‘craic’. Music and dance are just great seasoning to add to the mix, but you weren’t required to be a ‘dancer’ or a ‘musicians’ or even participate in these things. Everyone was welcomed - they were open and welcoming and considerate.

Having done ‘social dance’ in a huge array of situations and forms, from the medieval to the modern and all over this Northern Hemisphere, I’ve never found a true village or community form that wouldn’t allow you to walk it if nothing else, and that didn’t have a basic simple step up from ‘walk’, if you wanted to give it a try. The concern was that you be made welcome and that you were involved, and not about whether you got the step right or carried yourself in a certain way. I remember a bent over very elderly lady limping her way through an andro in Brittany, clinging to me on one side, that hand and arm not working, and her smiling the whole time we carefully navigated around the occassional collapsed drunk or bit of sick…

Eire’s social dance tradition included and includes, ‘country dances’ (all shapes and sizes), couple dances, the squares/quadrilles/sets, ‘ceili’ dances (36 ‘official’ dances mined from the previous, or invented - and also fun in the right places and hands. Don’t believe the ‘official’ hype - there are also variants…), and stepping - from that with a ‘use-by-date’ (your teens usually), to ‘sean nos’ dancing where you get better as you age and it is geared on the whole to be less dangerous to your joints and ligaments, less ‘aggressive’ and impact oriented, though you wouldn’t know that by how some people have come to interpret it. Yes, in this form it was most definitely ‘social’, for the ‘craic’ not the medals.

Click on my name or do a search to find some more on this issue…

‘Tradition’ - - -

The usual thing in most situations is that you aren’t taught at all, so no time needed there. They’d just see a stranger in their midst and haul you into a dance without really asking. You’d have so much fun and acceptance that you end up not caring if it isn’t 100%. And suddenly you’re in the dance doing it, dancing, and no judgement as to how well is at issue, just that you are sharing it with them, and for those gathered that is a kind of respect and trust you’ve given, something appreciated by all concerned. Mind you, that is also usually in a group of folk where the tradition you’ve just walked into is second nature to them. They don’t have to think about it, and consequently asking them to ‘teach’ you, well, they don’t think about it… They just do, and soon you find you accept that and go with the flow, however out of step you might be…

Re: Social dance

Set dancing has been enormously helpful in getting a friend of ours who had lost his wife 4 years ago back into social life again.

Re: Social dance

Sarah, you have more there than I remember doing back in Gaeltacht summer days. We did the Walls, Siege of Ennis, Haymakers, and Cor na Sioga (Fairy Ring - three opposite three.)

We also had to do this really complicated thing called the Four-Cornered Hat that I could never get right. It seemed very like the eight-hand reel my daughter does in figures for her competition dance.

As for learning in five minutes - when my daughter’s dance school does "dance-outs" for parties and suchlike, they’ll generally pull a bunch of people up from the audience and teach them the Walls in no time at all, sufficiently well that everyone has a great time.

- Greg

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