But wait, there's more to Irish dancing than the bright lights of Riverdance or the fiercely competitive world you may have seen in Jig and TLC's Strictly Irish Dancing. When the stage lights go off and the cameras are put away, Irish dancing goes back to its roots as an inclusive community practice — something you're most likely to see practiced as set dancing or ceili dancing nowadays.
Ceilis (Irish folk dances) and set dances are social occasions punctuated by live Irish music and folk dancing, with a dance caller on hand to guide you through the steps. If you can walk, you can do this type of dancing; think contra or square dancing with a little extra prance. And if you're reading this in March — St. Patrick's Day, everybody! — your odds of finding a set or ceili dance near you are better than ever.
You don't have to dance at ceilis and set dances; you're also welcome to sit and watch, visit with your neighbors a bit, then get up and dance if you're so inclined. But if you've gotten that far, you might as well try! Here's just a glimpse at what you get from taking the leap.
That's the first thing almost every new dancer says. And with good reason! A long set or ceili dance can easily last for five minutes of near-constant movement — and that's just one dance. You'll be having so much fun that you won't even notice calories melting away, your lower-body bone density increasing (from all the prancing and skipping about) and — let's not forget — that famous Riverdance bum taking shape right behind you.
That's usually the second thing out of a new dancer's mouth. It's something about the intersection of simple steps, dancing in community and live, lively music that does it, harking back to the days when dancing to live music was the norm, not the exception. If ever find yourself feeling shy or isolated, going to a ceili or set dance is a great opportunity to make healthy connections with others.
Mind you, some people do take their set and ceili dancing very seriously — but in a social setting, the response to mistakes is almost always "You messed up? Who cares — keep dancing!"
If Irish music has ever set your toes a-tapping, Irish dance is for you. As Amber H., one of the attendees at a recent ceili in Anchorage, Alaska, explained when I asked her why she did Irish dancing, "It's music you can't not dance to... so it's nice to know how to move to it."
Interested in learning to Irish dance but can't attend a ceili? Check out Eirerobics for an Irish dance-based workout. If you want to take up more traditional steps, Olive Hurley, Jean Butler and Colin Dunne all offer instructional DVDs to get you on your way. You can also stream online workshops straight from Diddlyi.com to get you started and then refine your Irish dancing technique.
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