Tips about Set Dancing Etiquette
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Tips about set dancing "etiquette":

This page is intended for people attending my classes, everyone else can ignore it. It contains suggestions for behaviour when dancing with others, whether in class, or at a ceili - these are just suggestions, how you actually behave is, of course, totally up to you.

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 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 orders 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 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 start shouting orders and even step in to push people around!
The first golden rule of set dancing is: have fun. If things go astray, there is absolutely no need for anyone else to get involved. The dancers will get back on track by themselves and, even if they don't, it shouldn't matter to anyone else. In fact, it can sometimes be better fun when things go astray! Shouting orders at someone who has had a momentary lapse in concentration causes unnecessary stress and generally only serves to send the dancers further astray.

The second golden rule of set dancing is: don't turn someone faster than they want to be turned. Some people get dizzy when they turn, whether in a swing of two/four/eight, or a "double" in a house, and the faster they turn, the dizzier they get, which can be dangerous. Always start out at "normal" speed and only increase speed if you feel (or better still, know) that everyone involved wants to turn faster - whoever wants to turn the slowest should always win.
  • 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 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, simple hand gestures will generally be enough to give the requested hint, without the need to for anyone to say anything at all.

    Start a swing slowly and only increase the speed if you feel that everyone involved wants to swing faster.

  • Respect the dance:
    Dance the sets as they were handed down from past generations, or, in the case of new sets, 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 passing it on, while leaving the existing sets as they are, like many dancers have already done.

  • 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:
    Do not 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 seeking, their permission. The legality of this practice is questionable, especially, as is often the case, 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: Sunday, 20th August 2017

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Tips about Set Dancing Etiquette