Friday, October 9

Traditional Celtic Social Dancing

Before Irish Step dancing and Scottish highland dancing became dances for competition and displays they were a part of the traditional social dances of Ireland and Scotland. In Brittany, the traditional Fest Noz is still very popular, with gatherings taking place almost every night in the summer. These social dances are easy to learn and require no special equipment beyond instruction, a good band or DJ and a steady supply of pints to keep the spirits high.

Irish Set Dancing

Step dancing, set dancing and dancing at céilís remains popular not only in Ireland but in all corners of the world. During the 16th and 17th centuries “crossroads dancing” became very popular. The Irish would meet on country roads, often where the roads crossed, bring food, drink, and music, while watching out for British soldiers. They danced their country dances, the ceili dances and set dances that are still danced today. The clergy condemned “crossroads dancing” so the Gaelic League introduced the first Ceili in 1697. This let dancer’s dance indoors under supervision.
Set dances, sometimes called "country sets", are a popular form of folk dancing in Ireland. Set dances are based on quadrilles. The latter were court dances which were transformed by the Irish into a unique folk dance of the Irish rural communities. Set dancing is good exercise, but it's a social activity as well. The focus in on fun, more so than fancy footwork. Classes are formed in communities in social halls or sometimes in pubs. It's challenging to learn all the steps, but sometimes a "caller" will call out the steps so even the beginners can complete a complicated set without much trouble.

Competition level Set dancing in Killarney,County Kerry:

Céilí dancing (pronounced kay-lee) is different from set dancing in that a céilí is a dance, as in the event. It is a social, friendly gathering of folks, both young and old, where everyone dances. Céilí dances very widely throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. A céilí dance may be performed with as few as two people and as many as sixteen. Céilí dances may also be danced with an unlimited number of couples in a long line or proceeding around in a circle (such as in "The Walls of Limerick", "The Waves of Tory", or "Bonfire Dance"). Céilí dances are often fast and complex. In a social setting, a céilí dance may be "called" -- that is, the upcoming steps are announced during the dance for the benefit of newcomers. The ceili dances are typically danced to Irish instruments such as the Irish hand drum or harp.Set dancers practice for months learning various dances and celebrate with a céilí or a "hooley" (a traditional Irish evening of music, song and dance).

Ceili Dancing in Portland, Maine:

Sean-Nós Dancing
Sean-Nós, litterally meaning old style, dancing has its roots in the Connemara region in the west of Ireland. It looks a little like tap dancing but is danced to the traditional reels (mostly), jigs, and hornpipes. Whereas the more popular, with the youth at any rate, Irish step dancing we've become accustomed to seeing in America, is danced with a rigid, high-stepping style, sean-nos is a freestyle, rhythmic dance that is low to the ground and highly improvisational. There are some "battering" steps that are typical and a bit of arm swinging and a few other basic bits of footwork to learn and then just take it from there. Sean-Nos steps can be found today in tap dancing in Appalachian flat-footing and in clogging.

Nic Gareiss from Michigan: Sean Nos, Flat Footing, plain amazing: and

Brittany’s Fest Noz
A Fest Noz (Breton for festival of the night) is a Breton traditional festival, similar to a céilí.
There is traditional music and dancing, accompanied by drinking. Although the traditional dances of the Fest Noz are old, some dating back to the Middle Ages, the Fest Noz tradition is more recent, dating back no further than the 1950s. Many festoù-noz are held outside Brittany, bringing the Breton culture to life outside Breton territory.

In the past, many of these dances were held officially in order to trample the ground so as to have a firm earth floor in a house or a solid surface for farm work (the "aire neuve" dances), which explains the presence of stamping movements in the dances. At one time the church banned "kof-a-kof" (stomach-to-stomach) dances, meaning dancing in pairs. These festivals were a chance for young people to meet and size each other up, on a social level, by their clothes, and also to see how quickly they got tired since dances would sometimes go on for a long time and involve complex and swift steps needing a certain amount of effort and skill.

These days, dancers are mainly looking to have a good time dancing in a group and spend some quality time together. A lot of people talk of sometimes reaching a state of trance thanks to the music (powerful and repetitive, which could also be compared to that of raves) and the physical exertion. In many ways, taking part in a large fest-noz (like those which are often held near larger Breton towns and cities) is like an evening in a night club.
There are hundreds of traditional dances, of which the most well-known are gavottes, the an dro, the 'hanter dro, the plinn and the Scottish. During the fest-noz, most dances are practised in a chain or in a circle (everyone holds hands), but there are also dances in pairs and "choreographed" dances

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