Irish Set Dancing: A Revival of Traditional Dance and Music

Irish set dancing is a form of social dancing that involves four couples forming a square and performing a series of figures to lively music. It is distinct from Irish step dancing, which is more competitive and solo-oriented. Irish set dancing has a long history that dates back to the 18th century, but it experienced a decline in popularity in the mid-20th century due to various social and cultural factors. However, since the 1980s, there has been a revival of interest in Irish set dancing, thanks to the efforts of enthusiasts, teachers, and musicians who have preserved and promoted this tradition.

The Origins and Evolution of Irish Set Dancing

Irish set dancing originated from the French quadrilles, which were introduced to Ireland by the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in the late 18th century. The quadrilles were adapted to suit the local tastes and music, and became known as sets. Each set consists of several figures, which are sequences of movements that follow a certain pattern. The figures vary in length, complexity, and style, depending on the region and the music. Some of the most common types of music for Irish set dancing are reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, and slides.

Irish set dancing was popular among all classes and regions of Ireland until the early 20th century, when it faced competition from other forms of entertainment, such as cinema, radio, and ballroom dancing. The Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922-1923) also disrupted the social life and culture of the country. Moreover, the Catholic Church discouraged Irish set dancing, as it was seen as immoral and indecent. As a result, Irish set dancing declined in popularity and was confined to rural areas and isolated communities.

Irish Set Dancing: A Revival of Traditional Dance and Music

The Revival of Irish Set Dancing

The revival of Irish set dancing began in the 1980s, when a group of set dancers from Dublin called Brooks Academy published a collection of detailed instructions for ten sets in 1984. They also organized classes, workshops, trips, and ceilis (social dances) to spread their knowledge and passion for Irish set dancing. They invited teachers from different parts of the country to teach them new sets and styles, and they visited places where pre-revival set dancing was still strong. Some of the teachers who contributed to the revival of Irish set dancing were Connie Ryan, Joe O’Donovan, Timmy “the Brit” McCarthy, Mick Mulkerrin, and Muiris O’Brien.

The revival of Irish set dancing was also aided by the popularity of Irish traditional music, which was boosted by groups such as The Chieftains, Planxty, De Dannan, and Altan. The availability of recordings, books, videos, magazines, and websites also helped to disseminate information and enthusiasm about Irish set dancing. Today, Irish set dancing is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds around the world. There are hundreds of sets to choose from, and new ones are being created and discovered all the time. Irish set dancing is not only a form of entertainment, but also a way of preserving and celebrating the rich heritage and culture of Ireland.

How to Learn Irish Set Dancing

If you are interested in learning Irish set dancing, there are many ways to get started. You can join a local class or club, where you can meet other dancers and learn from experienced teachers. You can also attend workshops or festivals, where you can learn new sets and styles from different regions. You can also watch videos or read books that explain the steps and movements of various sets. However, the best way to learn Irish set dancing is by doing it. You can practice at home with your friends or family, or go to a ceili or a pub session where you can join other dancers on the floor. The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the music and the company.

Irish set dancing is a wonderful way to experience the joy and beauty of Irish traditional dance and music. It is also a great way to make new friends and connect with your roots. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, there is always something new to learn and discover in Irish set dancing.

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