By Tui Wise
Music and dance are an integral part of Irish culture. I love live music of all kinds. When you see the musicians play, you get why the word “play” means to engage in activity for enjoyment. It is a great feeling to be in a room, both with musicians playing, and those reveling in it. It’s an emotive sensation that is hard to explain, but if you’ve heard live music, then I bet you have felt it. It touches nearly all your senses and reaches into your soul. Music, live or not, can help us through hard times, bad moods, motivate us, and just generally make life more fun! As much as I love music though, I’ve never really had a proclivity toward playing an instrument. On the other hand, I do love to dance. I’ve done a little bit of swing dancing, a couple years of belly dancing, recently started taking Ceili classes and through Comhaltas San Diego I got to start taking classes to learn Sean Nós dancing.
What I learned from Michael Prine Jr., the instructor, is that when dancing Sean Nós you become part of the band. Your body, or more accurately your feet, are an instrument and you can learn to join any Irish session band as they play. You can dance with others or solo, you can have a routine or, as Sean Nós is more typically done, you can improvise, following along with the beat of the music. There are a fair amount of foundational steps to learn, then you can play with it and make it your own.
Sean Nós means “old style” and is casual. You won’t see any (or at least hardly any) high kicks, rigid body posture or fancy outfits. Not only can you wear the clothes you are comfortable in, but you can find your own personal style. I learned this last St. Patrick’s Day weekend that if you’re only familiar with Sean Nós, it can make it a little hard to jump in with dancers who are used to the newer, competition style of Irish Step dancing. On the other hand, you can easily dance with any band on the smallest of stages, even on top of a whiskey barrel; although I haven’t gotten good enough to try that just yet! I hope to find the top of a cut off barrel soon to practice with. It’s easy enough for a beginner to come in and learn. Truth be told, it might have been slightly easier for me, since I hadn’t been trained in Irish Step dancing, to learn to dance Sean Nós, because I didn’t have to unlearn anything. Then again, there are a lot of similarities that could be of great advantage to already having experience in dance, be it Irish Step or any other kind.
Unfortunately, I am currently having to take some time off from dance, due to a completely unrelated ankle injury (sprained it at a rock concert), but I look forward to getting back into Sean Nós and other forms of dancing very soon. I hope that you are tempted to join us for a future dance class or any one of our great music classes very soon.
Written by Tui Wise