Dance the Irish way

Setdancing a fun way to pass long winter nights

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This article was published 06/03/2017 (2104 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Clad in tartans and stepping lively to the sounds of fiddle and accordion, members of the Comhaltas Winnipeg Irish Setdancing Group insist that the dizziness passes the more you spin.

Every Monday evening a group of eight or more people gather at École Riverview School to practise traditional Irish folk dancing and socialize. The free weekly dance session is led by Wildwood resident Jeremy Hull who takes the group through routines from counties across Ireland.

“These dances have been around for 100 years or more. In Ireland, each little community or county developed their own particular dances that originated from French court dancing, ultimately,” Hull explained. “Each community has their own particular dances and styles and they have their shared movements, but different patterns.”

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester The Comhaltas Winnipeg Irish Setdancing Group meets each Monday at École Riverview School to practise traditional Irish folk dances and socialize.

Traditionally, set dancing is an Irish pastime used to pass away the evening on a long winter’s night, Hull said. Set dances are performed in four pairs that dance a series of figures that can take up to 15 minutes to complete.

The Comhaltas Winnipeg Irish Setdancing Group was founded about 10 years ago in the living room of the Coish family and quickly outgrew its home. John Prentice reckons he has been dancing with the group since its inception and jokes that not having to move furniture out of the way was just one perk of the group’s growth.

Prentice, whose maternal grandfather was Irish, said he was motivated to join the group as a way to bring traditional Irish dance to the community in Winnipeg. The recreational and social nature of the group was also attractive to Prentice.

“It’s another form of sharing dance as adults right into old age and it should be accessible to everyone, not just something you’re athletic to be able to do,” Prentice said. “Adult dancing is a lot of high stepping and jigging and performance-oriented dance, but this is just for social dancing. Set dancing is something Irish people do, just like we would go to old time dances in Manitoba.”

Rochelle Rubinstein has been dancing with the group for seven years and agrees that the atmosphere in Riverview’s multi-purpose room keeps her coming back week after week.

“Any place I go and I hear music, it just puts me in a different frame of mind. I’m just in the moment of music and dance, and it makes me feel really good,” Rubinstein said. “It’s a very fun, rewarding outlet to do what you love.”

While the Comhaltas Winnipeg Irish Setdancing Group does perform on occasion, particularly in the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, performance is voluntary.

Hull explains that most performances are in an effort to showcase Irish heritage and to show the public what they’re missing out on.

Danielle Da Silva - Sou'wester Setdancing is a meaningful way to maintain connections to Irish heritage and an artistic outlet for members of the Comhaltas Winnipeg Irish Setdancing Group.

“We want to share it,” Hull said. “For performances there’s two sides of it: it gets everyone up, and excited and they want to do a good job and it gets them interested in the dancing.

“On the other side of it we’re hoping people will see it and want to join us sometime.”  

Dennis Lyons joined the group about three years ago and said in addition to the social and artistic benefits of setdancing, it’s also a meaningful way to maintain connections to his heritage. The sweat dancers workup doesn’t hurt either.

“You’re constantly in motion, and the fun part is as you’re learning a new dance there are different moves and everyone starts laughing. Everybody makes mistakes and everybody learns,” he said. “Everybody should involved in some kind of arts and culture, and this is one that I particularly enjoy doing.”

The Comhaltas Winnipeg Irish Setdancing Group meets Mondays at 7:15 p.m. at École Riverview School (253 Maplewood Ave.).

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