FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Irish Set Dancing Classes
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FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Irish Set Dancing and Sean Nós Classes

This page provides answers to some frequently asked questions.

  • What should I wear?
    Whatever you are comfortable in. Bear in mind that set dancing can be energetic at times and you are likely to warm up during the class. If you sweat a lot, then it's a good idea to bring a change of clothes, to change into at break time, or at the end of the night's dancing. This is especially so, if you go to a ceili and intend to dance every set.

  • Do I need to bring a change of clothes?
    No, there's no need to bring a change of clothes to class.

    However, most men bring a change of clothes to a ceili. For example, I arrive in Miltown Malbay every year, with 36 changes of clothes! I attend 18 ceilis in The Armada every year, at which I dance every set, and I always change at break time, so I get through 36 shirts. It's the only time of the year when I take up more wardrobe space in the camper than Maureen!

  • Can I try out set dancing first, before making a commitment?
    Yes, absolutely. There is in fact no commitment needed at all, if you decide it's not for you, there's absolutely no obligation whatsoever to stay or return.

  • Will there be people of my age there?
    Yes, people of all ages attend.

  • Are there health benefits to dancing?
    First of all, dancing is really great fun and that's why we do it! But, as an added bonus, there is lots of evidence that dancing is good for your physcial and mental health. For example, I recently saw a TV documentary about a study that was done in Germany, where one group of people did weekly exercise in the gym for six months, while another group went dancing every week for six months. Both groups were medically checked before and after participating in the study and it was found that the dancing group had greater health benefits than the gym group. Also, the majority of the dancing group kept on dancing after the study finished, while most of the gym group gave up. So, come along and give it a try, it's great fun and good for your health too!

  • I've been dancing for years and I know all the steps and sets, is the class suitable for me?
    The best way to decide whether the class suits you would be to come along for one night and try out the class, after that you'll know whether our class suits you or not.

  • Do I need to register or book in advance?
    You don't need to register, or book in advance, but it's a good idea to
    join our mailing list, so that you get informed by email of any schedule changes. In any case, just turn up at any of the classes and you will very quickly feel at home.

  • Can I just come and along and just watch: I don't want to dance, but I'd like to come along to just to sit watch - can I come along and watch?
    No. Sorry, but our rule is that anyone who attends the class will dance. This is a class environment, where people are learning to dance, and some people can be self-conscious about being watched by othera, who are not dancing. However, there are plenty of public ceili events, where people who aren't dancing can sit and watch. If you do an online search "ceili Dublin", or whatever town or city you are in, you should find ceilis listed, where you can sit and watch.

  • Can I get more information before making a decision?
    Well, there isn't really any more information! The aim of this website is to give you all the information you would need in order to make a decision about coming along. But, if you have read everything on this website, including:

    and you still do not have enough information to make a decision on whether or not to come along, then it seems that we have forgotten something. In this case, please click here to contact us and we will get back to you by email as soon as possible. Please do not telephone the venue, as venue staff have no details about the set dancing classes. If you don't have access to email, then come along to any of my classes, and I will do my best to answer your questions face-to-face.

    As of now, we've added everything we can think of and the website is up to date as of today, 21st February 2020.

  • What is set dancing? - the longer version
    Quick summary: set dancing is primarily a means to meet socially and have a bit of fun, while at the same time getting a good workout!

    Set dancing is part of our Irish folk dance tradition, which has been danced in Ireland for generations, going back to the days of the house dances, where the neighbours gathered in small groups to dance half-sets in the kitchen, or in bigger groups for barn dances, "joins" and American wakes. With the advent of the bungalow and the television, house dances and joins became a thing of the past and set dancing faded into the background for a generation or so. Luckily, the revival of set dancing came along, just in time to save the dances and set dancing is now more popular than ever throughout Ireland. Many young people, who never heard of house dances, joins, or American wakes, have now taken up set dancing and the tradition and dances are now safe and sound in the hands of a new generation.

    A set typically consists of 4 couples, facing each other in a square. In the past, it was common for just two couples to dance in a half-set, which required less space, for example in a small country kitchen. Typically, a set consists of between three and six figures, with a short break between each figure. The majority of today's popular sets originated in counties along the West Coast of Ireland, including Clare, Cork, Kerry and Galway. This is probably because the sets were still being danced in these counties long after they had died out elsewhere and so, when the revival came along, the sets which were still being danced were then "exported" to the other parts of the country, where the knowledge of the local sets had been lost. We all owe a great debt of gratitude to the people along the West Coast and those other parts of Ireland where set dancing was kept alive. Without them, these dances could well have been lost, but, because they kept them going for us, our dance tradition is now alive and well and probably stronger than ever. In addition, since the revival started, sets from other parts of the country have been re-discovered and new sets have been created. The tradition lives on and is going from strength to strength!

  • Tips/comments about set dancing "etiquette":

    The following comments are intended for people attending my classes, but feel free to ignore them. These are suggestions for behaviour when dancing with others, whether in class, or at a ceili - these are just suggestions, how each dancer actually behaves is, of course, totally up to himself/herself.

    In past times, before the invention of television, smart phones and the internet, sets were danced in country kitchens at the end of a day's work, as a social activity. There was no need for a word like "etiquette" in those days. It would be roughly the same group of neighbours and friends who got together each time to dance and they would all know, and be accepting of, the individual styles of each dancer. It would be rare to dance in a set with people you never met before and unheard of for anyone to take it upon themselves to shout instructions at anyone else while the dance was in progress.

    Nowadays, things are different. We meet up to dance in large halls and stand in to form sets with people we never met before, which is a great way of meeting new people, but has the downside that you have no idea how they are going to behave, until after the dance has already started.
    • Some people behave like in the old days. They dance when it's their turn and leave others to dance their own way.
    • Others behave as if they're at a football match. They stand on the sidelines and, if they spot even the slightest bit of hesitation in the dancers, they shout instructions at the dancers and have even been known to step in to "help out"!
    Tips and Rules:
    There aren't really any "rules" in set dancing, but the following tips are intended to make set dancing as enjoyable as possible for everyone:
    • Have fun: the most important "rule" of set dancing is to have fun!

    • Swing carefully: this one is actually important. Some people get dizzy when they swing, so, if you are swinging with someone new, start out slowly and only increase the speed if you feel that the other person wants to swing faster. The same applies to swings of four and eight.

    • Respect your partner: Don't push or shove your partner and don't throw in unexpected movements, such as twirls and turns which are not part of the set. Start a swing slowly and only increase the speed if you feel that your partner wants to swing faster. Always ask before you "double", for example in "The Clare Lancers", and only double if your partner agrees. After you've been dancing for a while, you may notice that different people have different styles of dancing. If can sometimes be interesting and polite to try to figure out your partner's style of dance and to have a go at fitting in with that style.

    • Respect the other dancers in the set: Leave enough space for others to dance and don't invade the space while they are dancing. Stand and watch while others are dancing and don't shout at them. Even if they do go astray, leave them alone and let them dance it their way. Remember our motto "if you're having fun, you're doing it right" and this applies to the other dancers too. If they've gone astray, let them have "better fun", as they get back on track. Shouting at them while they dance just creates confusion, disrupts their fun and creates the impression that there's a "right way". Remember that there is no such thing as being "wrong" in set dancing, just variations! If the dancers who have gone astray make eye contact and indicate they would like some guidance on what to do next, a nod of the head will usually suffice to give the requested hint, without the need to for anyone to say anything at all.

    • Respect the dance: Dance the sets as they were handed down from past generations, or, in the case of a new set, as it was described by the author. Don't mess with the sets by adding twirls, turns, arches, swings, or other movements that were not in the original set. If you have an urge to do something different, then consider creating your own new set from scratch and making it popular, like others have done, for example The Merchant Set is new, but has become very popular.

    • Respect the music and the musicians: Don't talk while the music is playing. Apart from being basic good manners, this has the added advantage that you are much more likely to be able to "hear the beat" of the music and dance in time to it, if you listen attentively.

    • Respect the neighbouring sets: Take just enough space on the floor for your set and avoid drifting into neighbouring sets. A set should be just wide enough for two opposite couples to dance a "house inside" around each other. Any more space is being greedy and any less is difficult to dance in.

    • Respect the privacy of the people in the hall: Don't photograph or film anyone without their permission. It has recently become common practice to photograph and film dancers on the floor, without obtaining, or even asking, their permission. The legality of this practice is questionable, especially when children are involved. To make matters worse, some people then proceed to post these photographs and/or videos online, once again without obtaining, or even seeking, the permission of the people in the photographs / videos. At best, this amounts to very bad manners and at worst, it may even be illegal. The fact that some well-known people behave in this way does not, in my opinion, make it acceptable behaviour!

    Up-to-date, as of: Friday, 21st February 2020

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    FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Irish Set Dancing Classes