As Irish dance is an artistic sport that always striving toward the ultimate goal of flawless technique, we’re back with another aspect to concentrate on and work on at home. The term “arching” is a pretty descriptive one even for non-dancers—and from day one in dance class (across disciplines) every dancer in history has heard the same refrain, on endless repeat: “Point your toes!” But arching is so much more than simply pointing your toes!
First off, a more apt description than “pointing your toes” would be “pointing your feet.” True arching is an extension of the line of your leg, meaning curling the toes is only the beginning. Your ankle must also become a part of this extension, with your ankle continuing the line in a movement not unlike when you’re pressing down on a car pedal. This clean line extends through the rounded top of the foot and through to the toes to make one seamless arch. Mastering extending both the ankle and the arch of the foot simultaneously can be a struggle for some dancers, usually choosing one over the other—watch out for that!
An even more critical issues to watch out for in a dancer’s arch is sickled feet. Sickling your feet is the rolling of the ankle either in (pronating) or out (supinating.) This can be a part of a dancer’s natural anatomy. The easiest way to see if your natural tendency is to sickle your feet is to have someone look at your feet from the back while you stand straight—if the sickling is severe it’s best to consult a doctor as injury can result, whether or not you’re dancing!
But, most sickled feet happen when a dancer “overpoints.” While a strong point is, of course, a need for any dancer, overpointing is the over-extension of the foot and toes, the force of which comes from the ankle and thus causes a dancer to pronate or supinate. Not only does this break the clean line of the arch you’re looking for, it can lead to weakness in the ankles and imbalanced muscular development.
Another anatomy-based issue that can affect someone’s instep (another term for arch!) while dancing is being born flat-footed (though one can also develop flat feet!) This essentially means your feet, when you’re standing straight, are literally flat to the ground from every angle. Once again, flat feet don’t only cause a problem for dancers—they can lead to increased stress on your knees, back, and spine whether or not you know how to jig!
But how to improve? One thing to keep in mind is what you’re trying to strengthen. Make sure any additional research you do is tailored to the specific issue you’re combatting—pronation versus supination, etc.—or you can end up exacerbating the problem.
But if it’s general arch and ankle strength you’re looking for, theraband exercises are still the go to. Don’t worry if you don’t have one! There’s plenty of exercises you can do with household objects—like Miss Courtney’s suggestions: laying a towel on the floor and using your toes to scrunch it together or putting Legos, marbles, etc. on the floor and using your toes to collect them! (Which also sounds pretty entertaining.) Or check out this list of easy household exercises that Feis America Magazine contributor Caitlin Buck has put together!
This post is part of a series. Check out our last technique post, all about height on toes, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Samhain Costumes, Tricks, and Treats
While the commercial “Halloween” we know—trick-or-treating, costumes, candy, orange and black and pumpkins galore—didn’t used to be celebrated in Ireland, in recent years the American influence has made itself known. It’s now the standard (minus recent years for obvious reasons,) for kids 3-12 or so to ring their neighbors’ door bells and beg for (as they would say) sweets, while dressed as all manner of ghoul or goblin, princess or Power Ranger. (Though, it’s important to note, Irish adults aren’t quite as keen to celebrate the holiday in the American fashion.) But this all makes sense when you consider not only the celebration we now know as Halloween has its roots in Ireland, but also the concept of Halloween costumes and even early versions of trick-or-treating--traditions which may be as much as 2,000 years old!
The origins of the Halloween costume come from the ancient, pagan fire festival, Samhain (pronounced sow-inn,) where druidic priests built great bonfires as the dark half of the year began. As it was believed that the veil between our world and the “otherworld” (Tír na nÓg, where the Aos Sí—aka the faeries—live) was thin after dark on October 31st, the tradition of Halloween costumes began! Their original incarnation was meant to hide the wearer from any bad spirits or fey that might do them harm—or impersonate these terrifying creatures so they would pass over them with their tricks. Some believe the first version of the Halloween “mask” was simply ash from the bonfire smeared on the celebrants faces, which eventually morphed into more complex costumes, like the wearing of animal heads and skins.
These practices lived onward even as Christianity took ahold of Ireland in the 11th century, with the holiday being co-opted into Christian tradition. Renamed “All Hallows Eve,” the celebrations continued to be held the night before “All Saints’ Day” (a day literally commemorating all the Christian saints) on November 1st. Now costumes generally skewed toward outfits specifically symbolizing the souls of the dead and the first version of trick-or-treating appeared. Children (and often those stricken by poverty) went door to door, begging money, apples, and soul cakes (similar to shortbread with dried fruit)—leading this activity to be named “souling.”
The scarier costumes (though we think animal heads of pagan times do sound pretty terrifying) made their appearance around the 15th century, with most dressing up as winter spirits and demons (Irish folklore has plenty to choose from!) “Mumming” became popular—where costumed revelers would sing songs, recite poetry, and act out plays in exchange for small gifts of food (a precursor to our call of “trick or treat!”) One famed costume of sorts during this era that became the stuff of legend was that of the Láir Bhán, or the white mare. Horses were sacred to the Irish, with Druids believing them worthy of their own ritual burial if they fell in battle and consumption of their meat seen as particularly taboo during Samhain. Mummers with a ghostly white (or skeleton) horse head and draped in a sheet (usually leading a parade of others) roamed the countryside, reciting verses and asking for gifts as tribute for Celtic god figures. Imagine seeing that show up at your door!
In the 20th century, the concept of “trick-or-treat” really took form, with packs of boys roaming the Irish countryside in homemade masks. These masks were referred to as “fiddle faces” (also called “vizers” and “rhymers”) and were often made out of spare cloth or old bed sheets, with facial features drawn on. They could even be stuffed with straw or had the addition of real hair to create a more ghoulish appearance! (Though that sounds pretty itchy to us.) Just like centuries past, the children would beg for treats or money, but with a twist—if they weren’t well-received, they would play (generally) harmless pranks on the household who denied them!
With the Famine leading to mass immigration by Irish citizens to America in the second half of the 19th century, Samhain traditions began to make their way across the Atlantic and heavily influence American customs. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that American capitalism took ahold of the holiday and spooky costumes began to take a back seat to popular characters from popular culture—a trend that survives to this day. As you may have noticed, Halloween has become immensely popular in the U.S.--Halloween parties even rank the third most common party in America, only falling behind the Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve!
While American Halloween isn’t that popular in Ireland, Samhain definitely still is—just celebrated the Irish way! Dublin’s parade is supposedly one of the best in Ireland (and the world!), and begins in Carnell Square on 7 pm every All Hallow’s Eve, meandering through the city until it culminates in a firework show reminiscent of the bonfires of yore. And with all the historic buildings in Ireland, there’s many a ghost tour on Halloween night! You can also always take a visit to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in Co. Clare—a step back in time to the old Irish way of life—their Samhain celebration is for the whole family and harkens back to the true origins of the holiday! (P.S. We heard a rumor that Miss Courtney filled in as a dancer at Bunratty Castle when she lived in Ireland!)
This post is part of a series. Read our last history post, all delicious Samhain snacks, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Right now, we’re growing into a very specific generation of parents: those who understand and use social media, but didn’t necessarily grow up with the same breadth and pressure of social media that their children are currently facing. Whether you’re a fan of using these platforms or not, facts are facts and social media has become an unavoidable part of our lives--the Pew Research Center reported in 2018 that 95% of teenagers in America have access to smartphones, and 45% of those report being online “on a near-constant basis.” While you can’t completely control what your kid sees online, you can encourage them to develop a habit of positive social media usage where they make better choices about what they decide to consume.
You, as a parent, know the dangers of social media—data breaches, cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and predators among the top issues—and while making your child aware of these possible risks and monitoring their usage is necessary, it’s not the only way to positively influence how they spend their online time. First off, the “social” aspect of social media is something to focus on! While it’s easy to view constant scrolling as isolating (and it can be,) the biggest reported positive takeaway teens get from social media is connection. With friends (81% of polled teens agreed!), with people who like the same TV shows and books and music, with other cultures and viewpoints and ways of life. Teaching your child from their first interactions with social media that it can be a positive way for people to stay connected (especially in this Covid world) is the first step to changing the way they see and then use social media.
Then, we can also help kids be introspective about what they’re looking at and why. If they understand the purpose of social media as positive, they’re simply less likely to be sucked into any negative behavior. However, any lesson works better when you’re given concrete examples. Try scrolling with them through their feed (or yours, if they’re not allowed their own yet,) on Instagram or TikTok (just in case you haven’t heard, Facebook is apparently only for older people now,) and discuss different posts. There are many questions to pose, but there’s two big ones to start: Why did someone post this? and How does it make you feel when you see it? These questions will start your child thinking about the concept of other people having motivation around their posting, and how social media is intrinsically tied to our self-perception. Give an example where you unfollow a creator because their content is no longer serving you—maybe it makes you feel bad, or maybe you’re just no longer interested. Showing your kid how they control their own experience on social media is one of the keys to being able to use social media in a way that gives something, rather than takes away.
Then, as they get older, you can find concrete examples of how social media can be used positively. There are many, but some favorites include: social media for social change and community outreach, social media for learning, and, of course, social media for creativity—including dance! Redirecting versus restricting your kid’s social media use allows them access to the world, but instead helps guide their content consumption in the right direction.
Our recommendations? Do some research! Show your kid things like Greta Thunberg’s Twitter account where she uses her voice to advocate for better responses to climate change, or this report on how social media is letting emergency responders save more lives. And maybe they know more about this than they realize. Ask your child if they know any examples of people banding together on social media--K-Pop fans have been making the headlines recently, for instance—and let them teach you! And while a straight forward educational program might not be able to captivate your kid’s interest, what about a TikTok account that shows tons of cool experiments and the science behind them in easy-to-digest, short videos? The learning doesn’t have to be limited to the classroom—this study shows that our increase in social media use has had positive effects in promoting cross-cultural understanding. Every time your kid gets on their phone or computer, their able to experience far-flung places they’ve never even heard of through the eyes of someone else—talk about a way to build empathy!
And remember: they are called content creators, after all. Opening ourselves up to the wider world helps open up our brains, increasing creativity as we see and consider new perspectives. And since you’re on the SRL blog, we bet your kid is a dancer, or at least an aspiring one. Irish dance social media is booming, and a real place of creation, community, and support. Check out the Irish dance tags across platforms and help your dancer find role models and examples in their favorite artistic sport. You can even encourage them to continue the trend of positive social media if they seem interested in making their own content with the same conversations--Why are you posting this? How does it make you feel? How might it make others feel? Remember: social media learns our habits (through a process too complicated for us to explain here,) and while that can sound a bit creepy, it also means the more your kids focus on positive social media, the more positive social media they’ll see!
While banning social media totally may seem like the best idea, we all know the stories about what happens when you tell a kid they can’t have something everyone else has—they find a way to rebel. Shaping the conversation around social media in your household will help your kid feel a sense of independence and personhood where they’re better able to make good decisions for themselves. And, adults, this advice is for you too! It’s all too easy to get swept away in people’s beautiful vacations and perfect photos on social media—we need a reminder that we control the content we consume sometimes, too!
This post is part of a series. Read our last 411 post, all about the benefits of mixed-age range classes, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
A Samhain Feast!
Last year, we covered the Irish holiday of Samhain is great detail (check out these posts if you want to know more!) But, to sum it up—the origins of modern-day Halloween can be traced back to the Irish Pagan tradition of Samhain (pronounced sow-inn,) an ancient fire festival marking the beginning of the “dark half of the year.” Druidic priests would build a large communal bonfire, and, as it was believed that the veil between our world and the “otherworld” was thin on this night, costumes and treats became part of the celebration (to trick bad spirits and feed good ones!)
But, after the fire and turnip jack-o’-lanterns, what was the most important Samhain tradition? A feast, of course! Pretty much all festivals in ancient Ireland included a feast, but the Samhain feast was special and almost like our modern, American Thanksgiving—it was a time to come together as a family and a community before the harder, leaner months of winter. With the last of harvest upon the table, it was a time to take stock and celebrate before minds turned toward survival. In honor of this ancient tradition, we thought we’d clue you in to some of Ireland’s delicacies (both old and new, and with recipes!) so you can have your own Samhain feast at home this year if you wish!
First off, the carbs! As you might assume for such a spooky holiday, there’s quite a few ghostly and fortune-telling traditions revolving around foods eaten on Samhain, and the traditions of eating soul cakes, bannocks, and barmbrack are no exception. Soul cakes are a bit like a shortbread cookie made with sweet spices (and often dried fruit,) but they have a very important job to do: you leave soul cakes out for any hungry spirits (or hungry guests) that may pay your home a visit on Halloween night. Bannocks—a term which covers a dearth of large, round quick breads—were once eaten year-round in Ireland (though aren’t quite as popular now,) but some Samhain-exclusive recipes have the addition of extra salt. Legend has it that if an unmarried lad or lass was to take three bites of a salty bannock on Samhain Eve and then go to bed without speaking (or drinking!) they’d have a dream of their future spouse. Lastly, barmbrack, a sweet bread filled with tea-soaked fruits, was often baked with trinkets inside. Each trinket had a meaning for those whose slice included it, meant to tell of your future—a button means you’ll remain a bachelor, a silver coin for those destined for riches, etc.
Lastly, what about a main course? While traditionally there wasn’t much meat served for Samhain (it being the end of the harvest and all,) the closest to tradition one could get would be some kind of meat pie, stew, or sausage (delightfully nicknamed bangers—as they were prone to explode during the lean war years when they had to use water as filler!) Here’s a recipe for a Guinness and steak pie, or a lamb stew—it’s all about something warm and hearty on a cold Halloween night! But it wouldn’t be an Irish meal without potatoes (it may sound like a stereotype, but these root vegetables are known to last through the long, cold winter—stereotypes do come from somewhere.) You can try out the beloved (to this day) Irish side of colcannon, essentially mashed potatoes with cabbage, kale, or anything green snuck in! Or how about boxty—more or less a potato pancake? Purists can go for champ, which is essentially mashed potatoes with scallions, or fadge, a kind of potato bread…there’s truly no end to potato recipes in Ireland!
No matter what you eat to celebrate Samhain this year—candy and toffee apples or barmbrack and boxty—you’re taking part in an ancient tradition of warding off the darkest part of the year just a little bit longer through celebration. So gather your family together at your table, light a roaring fire, and dig in! The spirits from the other side of the veil have some soul cakes to finish off.
This post is part of a series. Read our last Irish history post, all about the many invaders of Ireland, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Then, you have to have something to drink (though this particular tradition is for the adults, not our dancers!) Mulled wine is traditional all winter throughout the UK, Europe, and Ireland, and nothing smells more delicious than a pot of mulled wine bubbling away on your stove! While spices were precious in ancient Ireland, as it was and is an island (probably where that bland food reputation stems from,) mulled wine’s origins can be traced back to 20 A.D.! While we tend to associate Guinness with Ireland (though it’s technically more popular in Nigeria!), there’s a winter spirit with an even longer tradition--poteen. Also called poitín, it’s essentially Irish moonshine, and was similarly made illicitly, hidden away in a pot from whence it gets its name (it also may be the original whiskey, as it was once generally made with a malt barley as its base.)
Don’t worry, the dancers can have something sweet while the adults are imbibing. How about a traditional apple cake or tea cake? It turns out apples and dried fruits are traditional for an Irish Autumn, just like here! In fact, traditional Halloween activities (that don’t get much play anymore) like bobbing for apples originated in Ireland—though the original version had an apple dangling from a string with contestants trying to take a bite out of it!
So far in technique review we’ve covered turnout, crossing, and posture—but we’re not done yet! We’re moving away from the arms and shoulders this week and returning to the feet as we discuss one of most important aesthetic and technical components of Irish dance: height on toes. As almost all movements are performed on the balls of the feet, maintaining height on your toes is necessary to properly execute all dances!
While the term “height on toes” may conjure up the image of a ballet dancer in pointe shoes, what we’re referring to here is the ability of an Irish dancer raising themselves fully on the balls of their feet, not the tips of their toes. Though there is an exception to this rule (the “heel” or “stamp”) where the foot makes full contact with the floor, outside of this an Irish dancer must never let their arch or heel touch the floor! And yes, that even includes landing jumps!
This can be particularly challenging for dancers while performing in hard shoe. Though the fiberglass heels of today’s hard shoes are much lighter than their predecessors, they can still often feel very heavy, especially to beginners, leading to dropped heels while dancing. This is an even more glaring issue when in hard shoe (as opposed to soft ghillies) as it’s not just improper technique, but leads to unnecessary additional sounds that can disturb your rhythm!
As dancers move up through the levels, they’re not only expected to stay on their toes, but that their height on toes is so extended that they’re dancing well up on the balls of their feet, close to the base of their toe. Thus, performing strengthening exercises for your calves and feet outside of class is one of the keys to improving as an Irish dancer across the board. While there’s numerous theraband exercises that can help with conditioning your calves and feet, and single leg calf raises are a good workout as well, Miss Courtney recommends “doming” as the best possible way to help increase your arch strength and shaping.
Doming is an exercise (see it in action here!) that not only works the larger muscles of your foot, but aims to involve the smaller, intrinsic muscles that are buried deep within the bottom of your foot. Strengthening these smaller muscles helps stabilize the joints of the foot as a whole, providing a more stable base for dancers to jump, jig, and move. You know how core strength is what keeps us upright? Think of this as core strength for your foot! (Check out some more tips from Irish Dancing & Culture magazine here and from Target Training Dance—a great resource--here.)
It’s incredibly important for Irish dancers to make sure their feet and calves are at full strength, and not just because a lowered heel could knock you down a place during judging. A study in The Journal of Athletic Training in 2017 reports that fatigue in Irish dancers leads to heel drops and thus an increased risk of lower limb injury. Increasing the stamina of your height on your toes is imperative to help avoid the arch and heel release that can lead to injuries such as stress fractures, ankle sprains, and plantar fasciitis, among others. But, like anything else in life, preparation is the best way to avoid any problems, so get your dancer working on calf and foot strength sooner rather than later!
This post is part of a series. Check out our last technique post, all about posture, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Foreign Invaders in Ireland
We’re taking a break from our spooky posts on this Columbus Day (or, if you prefer, Indigenous Peoples’ Day) to reflect on a topic that remains a sore spot for the Irish in modern times: the colonization by outside forces of their island. For as far back as we know, people have been trying to take over the lush, rolling green hills and sprawling farmland Ireland has to offer. And, for as far back as we know, the Irish have been resisting their invaders and would-be colonizers at every turn! Here’s a few of the most notable attempts:
First off, we have to face facts and say: the people who we know as the “Irish” colonized the land first. Most of what we know about the first few centuries of Ireland’s history comes from the 8th century tome The Book of Invasions. As the Irish were the only Celtic-language country that the Romans didn’t colonize (one for the win!), written history took a little longer to catch up in Ireland. The Book of Invasions is thus a mixture of mythology and history, making no distinctions between the two, but it does confirm one major thing: the last of the six invasions of Ireland was by the Gaels/the Celts. Around 500-300 B.C.E., a group of nomadic tribes broadly referred to as the Celts (the Gaels are one such tribe,) discovered how to use iron and made Ireland their permanent home. Who was there originally? According to myth, it was the descendants of Noah (yes, Christianity’s Noah,) then five more races of humans/mythological beings: another group of Noah’s descendants, the Fomorians, the Nemedians, the Fir Bolg, and the Tuatha de Dannan. We can’t know for sure beyond what the book tells us!
Moving forward to recorded history: who else but the Vikings would start out our confirmed accounts of invasions in Ireland? Between 795 A.D. and 1014 A.D., Vikings carried out innumerable raids all along the coast of Ireland, though this eventually turned into settlements. Dublin, Cork, Wexford, Waterford, and Limerick were all originally Viking settlements and remain some of Ireland’s most thriving cities till this day. But have you ever wondered why the Vikings always seemed to be trying to take over, well, everywhere? The answer’s less complex than you’d think (and has nothing to do with their thirst for a fight)—it’s just that Scandinavia isn’t that big! Young Vikings were looking for a place to settle as livable land was scare where they were from.
Then comes a period of invasions that wouldn’t have happened if not for the English…but we’ll cover them last. What may be more surprising than the Vikings is who came calling in 1315: the Scottish! Scottish King Robert Bruce sent his brother along to the Irish to help them with their English problem and form an alliance…or take over. Unfortunately, a Europe-wide famine caused the Scottish troops to dwindle and retreat. The English remained, and 300 years later the Spanish tried their hand at aiding the Irish. Though King Philip III of Spain landed over 4,000 foreign troops on Irish soil in 1601, too many men were lost on the journey and the Spanish-Irish alliance was quickly defeated.
Two other countries we never relate to the Irish but definitely did their best to get in on the action? The Netherlands and France! The Dutch, led by William of Orange, landed in Carrickfergus, Ulster in 1690 and defeated the last Catholic King of England (and Ireland): King James I. This defeat ensured Protestant rule for many years, and made a definite break with the old Gaelic way of life. This wouldn’t be the last time someone came against the English on Irish soil—the French landed on nearly the same spot as the Dutch in 1760 and attacked the English forces there. While the French force proved to be small and retreated quickly, this attack would prove to be the last wholly foreign invader to breach Irish borders in history!
And then, the sorest subject of all, the English. Britain’s long history of (successful but to the chagrin of the Irish) colonization in Ireland began in 1169 when an ousted Irish king invited the Normans to Ireland to help him win back him throne—and the Normans just took over instead. This began a period of 700 years of English/British involvement in Ireland. King Henry II of England still controlled this land in 1171, but still decided to invade it himself (as the first English King to set foot on Irish soil) with a retinue of 500 knights and 4,000 soldiers—just to make sure he was getting his fair share of the plunder. And we can’t forget the Tudor Age (1530s-1630s)! During one of the most destructive periods in Irish history, the Gaelic way of life was nearly decimated as Henry VIII forced the Irish Catholics to bow to his newly Protestant rule (and we all know that didn’t go well for anyone.) And then, there was Cromwell…for all his enlightened politics, Cromwell was particularly harsh to the Irish, with his campaign in the 1650s that wiped out up to 50% of Ireland’s population. Theirs is a long and aggressive history!
So, while the Irish may not be the original inhabitants of the Emerald Isle, they’ve been there long enough (and fought off enough invaders) to call it their own. This spirit of resistance is now part of the Irish identity and character. How else would they still be speaking Irish Gaelic to this day, even after 2,000 years of hostile takeovers? (P.S. Check out this interesting report about Celtic DNA proving how long the current race of people have been there.)
This post is part of a series. Read our last history post, all about the modern reboot of the Tailteann Games, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Something we love about Irish dance? How it sets obtainable and clear goals to work hard toward! This is an element that exists in every level of SRL’s classes—certain skills are a pre-requisite for moving onward and upward from Tiny Jig to Pre-Beginner, from Novice to Prizewinner, and beyond. It’s one of the reasons we think Irish dance is more than exercise and artistry—it’s a place to gain life skills that will serve your dancer across the board as they learn and grow. It’s never too early to learn patience, process, and the importance of persistence and hard work.
Check in on any level of class—from our Championship dancers to our Beginners just starting out—and you’ll notice something you might not see at another kind of dance studio: a mixture of ages across all levels. While most other dance disciplines organize students both by age and skill level, Irish dance tends to organize only by skill level, something we hold to here at SRL. For students starting out in the early levels, this can be a surprise: if you’re starting Irish dance at 11 and are in class with 6-year-olds, you might feel like you’re late to the party or in the wrong class. That couldn’t be further from the truth! We’re here to talk through the benefits of mixed-age classes, and why SRL thinks they’re a benefit to our dancers.
First off, Irish dance isn’t just about dancing—it’s a hard-won skill that builds upon itself. You have to learn your jump-2-3s before you can learn your reel! Much like other forms of exercise that require openness and mindfulness to the process (such as other forms of dance or yoga,) Irish dance encourages dancers to understand their movements (and the paired music) on a fundamental level before they move on to more difficult moves and more complex choreography. When you watch an Irish dancer perform, what you’re really watching is many more basic, singular movements learned over many years that the dancer is in full control of. It’s why they look so light and graceful—practice, practice, practice! This way of determining skill level also functions as a safety measure. With Irish dance’s high-flying moves, proper technique is required to avoid injury. You can’t skip any steps!
Secondly, Irish dance holds all dancers to the same standard no matter their age, race, gender, or experience. The strict regulation of Irish dance by the CLRG has led to the establishments of clear benchmarks that any dancer needs to clear before moving on. That means we can have 17-year-old students in class with 10-year-old students, because while these students may differ greatly in many ways, they all have the same foundational skills that makes them equals in the eyes of Irish dance. While the world isn’t always so fair, it does teach an important lesson to our dancers about the benefits of working hard to improve—you only get as much out of Irish dance as you put in and no one is rewarded by moving up a level simply for the fact they had a birthday!
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, here at SRL we love our mixed-age classes because of the peer-to-peer learning environment in encourages! Much like a Montessori school, we find that our mixed-age classes better stimulate all age groups’ development, improve social skills across the board, boost self-esteem, increase the taking on of leadership roles, and better simulate actual community environments. Beyond bonding with your classmates, we also encourage friendships and mentorships amongst age groups through buddy pairings for competitions and our student assistant program. This gives our younger students strong role models within the studio that they’ll then strive to emulate as they grow, but also gives our older students a chance to become those role models and try out teaching at a young age. We find this way of teaching mutually beneficial and motivating for dancers of any and all ages (with our instructors’ guidance, of course!)
So, parents, don’t worry if your Beginner (or not-so-Beginner) dancer is initially unnerved by the older or younger students in their class—it’s all part of the process! While initial misgivings are understandable, especially as most dancers will have only interacted with peers of their same age, there’s benefits they might not be able to see at first glance. At SRL, we look at everything that happens inside our walls as a learning opportunity for our students…whether it be a new step or adjusting to a class they didn’t expect. As long as a dancer is putting their all in, there’s nowhere to go but up!
This post is part of a series. Read our last 411 post, all about communicating with your teen, here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
Read our last ten fun facts here.
1. Dunluce Castle, surrounded by water on all sides and only connected to main land Northern Ireland by only a wooden bridge, reports a ghostly woman in white who gazes out upon the sunset each night. While no one knows her origins for sure, the castle did once slide into the ocean in the 1600s, so we have a guess! (For our Game of Thrones fans, you’ll recognize the now ruined exterior as the Greyjoy’s seat!)
2. Wicklow Gaol is not only considered one of the most haunted places in Ireland, but one of the top ten most haunted places in world! Often compared to Alcatraz, it remains Wicklow’s biggest tourist attractions. You can even take a paranormal tour where you can learn about all the spooky occurrences—from the mysterious smell of roses in Cell 5 to the ghostly apparition that’s known to greet visitors in the dayroom.
3. While Egypt might be the country best known for mummies, Ireland has its fair share! Time and dry conditions transformed the bodies in the crypt under St. Michan’s church in Dublin into perfectly preserved mummies—even as their wooden coffins have decayed. And we can’t forget all the bog mummies on display at Dublin’s National Archaeology Museum!
4. Speaking of Egypt, another one of Ireland’s scariest hauntings is the now ruined building that was once Seafield (or Lisheen) House. Located on the Coolera Peninsula in Sligo, this mansion was built by a rich landowner named Phibbs during the height of the famine. Karma came back for one of Phibb’s decedents who filled the house with stolen Egyptian artifacts (including a mummy—there’s way more mummies in Ireland than we ever would have believed,) and apparently conjured a violent poltergeist! The family left suddenly in 1938, leaving the huge property to fall into disrepair.
5. On Saint Patrick’s Day in 1888, the front page of The Weekly Irish Times proclaimed to offer “Fireside Tales of Many Counties”—which it turns out meant ghost stories and creepy legends! While we don’t usually associate scary stories with Saint Patrick’s Day, this newspaper decided it was on the table that year and reported on everything from the haunted house of Bride Street to the Queen’s County ghost. Click here to read the stories in full!
6. Belvelly Castle (Ireland has even more castles than mummies) in Co. Cork is a 14th-15th century structure overlooking the bridge connecting Fota Island and Great Island, and is said to be haunted by a 17th century inhabitant (among others!) Lady Margaret Hodnett was known for her vanity and was said to keep innumerable mirrors around her. After a spurned suitor laid siege to the castle, Lady Margaret’s beauty faded as her health did and she smashed all her precious mirrors! Her spirit is said to wander the halls, rubbing at spots on the walls until they gleam so she might see her reflection again.
7. Marsh’s Library in Dublin is best known for being the oldest public library in Ireland (it’s been around since 1707!), but is also said to play host to the ghost of its founder, Archbishop Narcissus Marsh. It’s said that Marsh’s niece, whom he raised as a daughter before she ran off to elope, left a note for Marsh in one of the library’s many volumes—and his spirit is still searching for the letter!
8. You’ve heard of haunted houses, but how about a haunted river? Nore River in Kilkenny was the site of a great tragedy when John’s Bridge collapsed during an overwhelming flood in 1763. Today, residents of the area report eerie figures in the river, on the banks, and leaning up against the structure built to replace the collapsed bridge!
9. While St. Patrick’s cathedral in Dublin is said to contain multiple ghosts, perhaps the best boy of them all is Captain John Boyd’s faithful dog, whose spirit is said to still wait for his master after over 150 years. Captain Boyd was considered a hero after he passed on trying to save the lives of those on board 135 ships caught in a storm between Howth and Wicklow. A life-size statute was erected and his faithful black Newfoundland pup is still seen as his feet today. The good boy never left his side, no matter the time passed!
10. While vampires (though called the Abhartach) have long been lore in Ireland (that’s where Irishman Bram Stoker got it from!), Slaughtaverty in Co. Derry has it’s own, particular vampire lore. It’s said that under a grassy mound called O’Cathain’s Dolmen (marked only by a single thorn tree,) a brave man named Cathain was able to contain the Abhartach back in the 5th century. The locals still avoid the area at night!
This post is part of a series. Read our last batch of fun facts here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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