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Sunday 22 December 2013

Traditional Irish Music - Dancing

Last time we talked about music for singing. There are individual dances, such as Sean nós dancing,  which is a casual type of dance compared to the more formal, competition-oriented form of Irish solo (or stepdance). Sean nós is characterized by a “low to the ground” footwork, improvised steps, free movement of the arms, and an emphasis upon a "battering step" (which sounds out more loudly the accented beat of the music). Like in Sean nós  singing, spontaneous expression on the dance are very much valued. On occasion dancers will dance in turns, playing against each other. 

2013 Oireachtas Canada, Tamworth, Ontario.

Also, like in singing, there are regional differences in Sean nós dancing, and apparently it originated from the Connemara region.  Solo dancing now has been taken over by the solo step dancing style. According to Kieran Jordan, "They used to say, 'A good dancer could dance on a silver tray, and a really excellent dancer could dance on a sixpence.' Now, any modern Irish dancer would fill the whole stage. But, why compare the two? After all, says Patrick O'Dea, they are two entirely different dances – one, a traditional "old style" of step dancing, and the second, a newer and less traditional outgrowth or variation."

The other type of dance music is for social dances, like set dancing. It is said that the spreading of social traditional dances was linked to military regiments. Regiments brought dances from other countries, and shared their own with other countries. The significance of these can still be seen in the names of some of the sets still danced in traditionally strong dancing areas, such as The Caledonian (after a Scottish regiment) and The Lancer (after the French De Lancier regiment).

Social dances mainly utilize three groups of tunes: hornpipes (4/4 with swung eighth notes), jigs (double and single jigs are in 6/8 time; jigs come in various other forms for dancing – the slip jig and hop jig or single jig are commonly written in 9/8 time, the slide in 12/8), and reels (4/4).

It seems that the reel arrived in Ireland, from Scotland in the 1700-1800s, though it was know in Ireland before, but like the polka, waltzes and mazurkas, it became popular in the 1700s.  The jig was more popular than the reel in Ireland before the 1800s. The hornpipes are considered as a more recent arrival with some indications of England as a source.

Here you can see some of the basic Sean-nós steps. Also, here is John Joyce at the Oireachtas na Samhna 2012.

We hope you enjoy it! 

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