Dance Masters Diary
I was delighted to be asked to give the Set-dancing workshops in Vernou. Firstly any opportunity to visit France is to be welcomed, but visiting France and giving dancing lessons is even better.
I was aware of the French origins of many of the Sets (set-dancing) we dance in Ireland, and I was wondering how the local people of Vernou would look upon what the Irish had done to their dances. Any worries I had disappeared within minutes of starting the first workshop on Friday night. Four sets of 32 dancers quickly got to grips with the North Kerry set and after two hours all had the five figures under control. The spirit and enjoyment that group dancing generates was much in evident. Later that evening in La Taverne some of the pupils were even confident enough to dance a couple of figures of the set.
After the late night of music on Friday night the 9:00am start was a shock to the system but again a large group of eager dancers were ready to start. In the morning, we learned the Connemara reel set and in the afternoon we had more fun learning the Clare Lancers set.
That evening at the concert 8 of the students danced two figures of the Connemara set to the wonderful music of JAR. My daughter Ciara (7) gave a demonstration of the Rinnce Scuab (Brush Dance) to an appreciative audience. The music was obviously good for dancing as a number of local dancers started dancing tradition French dances and I was delighted to be asked up to join them and take some lessons from the masters.
Sunday afternoon we had our final workshop and we took the opportunity to view video of some expert Irish Set-dancers and to refresh the 3 sets we had learned. All too soon it was time to go, it was very sad to be saying goodbye to people we had got to know so well over the weekend, people who had been so friendly and that had made us feel totally at home. We really enjoyed our stay in Vernou and were very impressed by the wonderful spirit of the people and the wonderful facilities available for the festival...
Thank you Vernou for a wonderful, enthusiastic and friendly welcome.
Some notes on Irish Set-Dancing.
Around the early 1800ís Set-dancing came to Ireland from mainland Europe. Most of the Sets that we dance now in Ireland can be traced back to the Quadrilles danced in France at that time.
In Ireland traditional music was very popular amongst the peasant population but there was a shortage of group dances so the newly arrived Quadrilles were an instant success. When danced to the local music the steps changed somewhat but the basic figures have remained (with some small local variations) the same.
Dance masters toured the countryside giving lessons to the locals. The sets were very popular until the 1930ís when the government brought in a law to say that dances must be held in licensed dance halls. House dances which had been very popular up to then were outlawed. These house dances were the places most favored until then by the set-dancers. Large dance halls did not have the same atmosphere and the sets went into decline to be replaced by more modern music.
In the 1980ís there was a great revival in interest in Set-dancing and Classes and Dances can be found throughout Ireland in many places around the world. For news see. www.setdancingnews.net