In the US, we include phrases like, “Dancing Through Life,” as fanciful metaphors within our bestselling Broadway plays featuring green women with conformity issues. In Ireland, dancing through life refers quite literally to the activities one participates in from venues as varied as a coffee shop on Shop Street to the College Bar or to the clubs next to my favorite coffee shop, Java’s, and from events ranging from birthday parties to Ceili (Kay-Lee) Irish dance sessions to traditional music nights. This livelier form of physical expression is present in almost every modicum of everyday existence. It affects the way you meet people, the exchange in which you interact, and the mentality of each encounter. For some reason, smiling across a crowded room becomes a lot easier when the person is currently breaking out a Lord of the Dance move or doing “The Shopping Cart” (If you’ve never done this dance move please stop reading right now and try it out.)
In the last week, I’ve had the pleasure of getting to experience each one of these venues, surrounded by a comforting buffer zone of my group of friends, which makes the experience of flailing about in public much more manageable to the point where sometimes, it actually seems like a good idea. My first dance experience in Ireland was an informal session. After scouting high and low, my friends and I have finally located a cafe down the street from the local biker bar that we have decided to claim as “our place.” It’s reassuring to have a coffee shop that recognizes your face when you walk in. It’s a lot like the bar from Cheers. One day we even aspire to becoming so regular that when we walk in they ask, “the usual?” The upstairs of this quirky cafe is resplendent in reds of differing shades, lopsided couches positioned on the scuffed wooden floor and a baby grand piano nestled in the corner. It was there, at three in the morning, that I had my first dance in Ireland, whirling myself about like a solitary waltzer while my friend played a song by the Frames (the Irish band that did the music for Once.)
The next dancing experience was a little more typical. After a solid month of avoiding the dance clubs, last Saturday we set aside our pride and our flats, and, armed with with three inch heels and packets of travel tissues (all of us were amidst the most fun part of a cold), set out for Cuba. In the streets, hired guys and girls mark passersby with UV stamps which allow you free access on weekdays and half price on weekends. The club itself was a study in demographics. It was composed of two floors, the first of which was where the traditional clubbing kids got down to business. Here you could find the popped collars, the fancy dresses, the 90′s American Pop music. The second floor was where we mostly spent the night and it was full of mohawks and piercings (I made sure to get a special glow in the dark eyebrow ring for the occasion). This type of dancing, as opposed to clubs in the US was less about grinding and more about wildly flailing about. There was a lot of jumping up and down, and for one of my friends even some being carried through the air. I still maintain that that should be implemented as the new mode of transportation.
The final night of dancing was a step into the traditional. In Ceili/Social dances, people dance in groups of 2-8 people. In some cases, Ceili dances can take place with an unlimited number of participants who either stand in lines or in a giant circle. This was the case for the College Bar. The bar borders one side of the room. A giant TV screen takes up the far wall and the left hand wall is covered with a veneer of a forest. Black leather couches and high seated wooden tables occupy the floor. That night they had all be pushed to the side to make room for a giant dance floor in front of the stage. Traditional Irish music was played live that night by violinists, flutists, and accordian players. So you’ve got an idea of the room? Now imagine it packed with up to two hundred people, at least fifty of them crowded onto the dance floor, all spinning and jumping and switching partners. There’s something compelling about a national identity that prevails here in Ireland that baseball and hamburgers just don’t quite make up for back in the States. It’s like stepping into a giant family reunion, only with less drama and more drinking.
Ceili Dance<– Click to see a video of the students dancing!
No matter what your personal taste, there’s a type of dance for every type of person here in Galway. More than the dancing itself, it provides foreigners with a chance to learn the steps in a new culture, a new culture that with practice and repetition, is starting to feel more and more like home.