Happy Day After St. Patrick’s Day!
The Irish are all about storytelling, poetry, music and dancing. So, on the heels of such an arts-laden holiday, and while we here at EducationCloset have discussed about ways to re-inspire you, I feel I must put in a plug for the community-building experience of learning a social ethnic dance. I was brought up in the tradition of Irish step dancing, so when I hear a good fiddle-driven reel or jig, it’s difficult to stay still. Perhaps, there is other ethnic music that compels you to dance! Whatever music or cultural tradition that inspires you, with a little research, you could lead your students in the fun-filled bonding experience of a social cultural dance.
The Siege of Ennis
My favorite dance for beginners in Irish dance is called The Siege of Ennis. It’s what is known as a progressive dance. This means there are lines of dancers facing one another. After the series of movements is completed, each line progresses to a new line of dancers, and the whole series begins again with new partners! The inevitable mistakes, the joy of movement, the power of creating something together, and the fact everyone has a chance to dance with everyone else on the floor, makes this such a fun group experience. Progressive dances are my favorites because the dancers have the chance to repeat the same movements. This way, they get lots of practice, but the dance never gets old because the participants are constantly getting to move onto new partners.
If you are interested in trying out The Siege of Ennis for yourself, here are two helpful videos. The first shows a group of 8 dancers, a line of 4 dancers facing a line of 4 dancers. What’s nice about this clip is that the music is a very moderate pace and words appear on the screen to tell you what is happening in that movement. What’s tricky about this video is that because there are only 8 dancers, you don’t get to see how they progress to new partners. However, once you have the basics about who goes where and when (and never worry about the actual footwork, walking works just fine), you are ready to figure out the progressive part of the dance.
At that point, you are ready for Olive Hurley. She has produced a whole series of videos that are really well done in terms of breaking down dances and then having students demonstrate the dances. Although the person who posted this video did not post the instructional part of The Siege of Ennis, it is a nice demonstration of the progressive aspect of the dance.
Practice, Practice, Practice!!!
Once you have found a dance that inspires you and the music to accompany you, I highly recommend you gather some of your favorite people together and have them practice with you. If you have never taught a dance before, it is really helpful to have some practice with people who love you and are forgiving and patient. You will discover potential problems and figure out the best way to break down the dance for your students as well as gain confidence in your ability to lead a dance. (You may even decide you need to modify the dance to fit your needs.)
If your students happen to be those people, that’s fine. Sometimes it’s really beneficial to be honest with your students, explain you are trying something new and enlist their help as you all grapple with this new learning together. Show them the videos and ask them what they noticed. Have them analyze the movements and the progressive nature of the dance. Whatever way you choose to do it, if you come from a place of genuine enthusiasm and make it clear that you are not an expert in the dance form I think you will find that it’s a positive experience for everyone involved!
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.