Category Archives: Dance

Step-shuffle-hop into the New Year!

What better way to chase the winter doldrums away than Cape Breton step dancing? It’s fun, it’s aerobic, it’s done by exceptionally interesting people, and classes are starting up again in February!

The new session at the Carrboro ArtsCenter will be geared towards beginners and those who would like to spend more time getting comfortable with the basics. We will meet on Thursday nights, 6:15-7:15, for six weeks starting February 5th. For more information on the class or how to register, please visit the ArtsCenter website.

For those who are ready to move on to the next level, I will be offering a six-week Advanced Beginner session starting in April. Stay posted for more details!

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Filed under Cape Breton Square Set, Dance, Percussive Dance, Uncategorized

Why I still love the Nutcracker

My two year-old daughter and I were recently invited to Nutcracker dress-up-and-dance playdate. Brilliant! Róisín LOVES to dance, and we weren’t quite ready to retire the fairy queen costume I’d made her for Halloween. And I was enthusiastic for other reasons.2014-11-03 06.17.48

When I was a little girl, I listened to the Nutcracker and other Russian ballet suits obsessively, making up stories and choreographing dances in my head. The music is so dramatic and evocative that I still find it hard not to get excited and want to leap/slink/prance around when it’s playing on the stereo. Imagine how thrilled I was in fifth grade when I finally got the see the Nutcracker onstage! I devoured books about dancing, I dressed up in old crinolines from the 1950s and pretended they were tutus, I daydreamed endlessly about performing onstage. But then I took an actual ballet class.

Ballerinas (or so I thought at the time) are petite and flexible, with silky blond hair, dainty feet, and no curves whatsoever. I was big for my age, chubby, and could barely touch my toes. I felt like an elephant towering over the other girls at the barre, and every time we had to glide or leap across the room one at a time I wanted to curl up in a little ball of shame. I don’t know how many weeks I lasted before I dropped out, but I knew I would never be ballerina material.

I continued to daydream about dancing, and to see choreography in my head when I listened to music, but I became more and more firmly convinced that there was a huge chasm between dancers and non-dancers, and that I was doomed to live forever on the non-dancer side. Even though I got involved in theater productions that often involved bits of dancing, even though I learned how to do various kinds of social and folk dancing fairly well, I still thought of myself as a klutz who would always be on the outside looking in.

As I got older, I realized there was other kinds of dancing that I might like better than ballet. I started playing Celtic music in high school, and had fantasies of learning to step dance. But at that time I had no idea there was any option besides Irish competition-style dancing, which also only seemed to be done successfully by the skinny and highly flexible.

Then I saw Wendy MacIsaac perform. For those of you not familiar with Wendy, she’s a great fiddler, but also a wonderful Cape Breton step dancer. “Wow,” I thought, “that looks like something I could actually learn how to do!” No leaps, no high kicks, no fancy shoes, just rhythm and musicality. I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to learn, since I didn’t have the means to go to Cape Breton, and North Carolina wasn’t exactly a hotbed of Cape Breton culture, but when the student is ready… Within a year, I was playing full-time in a band (Cucanandy) with Malke Rosenfeld, percussive dancer extraordinaire, who is not only a wonderful performer, but a gifted and generous teacher. She fed me bits and pieces of technique between rehearsals and gigs, and motivated me to practice with the prospect of dancing with her onstage.

After Cucanandy disbanded in 2002, I began teaching dance classes in Asheville, NC, and after just a few years had started a semi-professional performance group with some of my incredible students. We called ourselves Twisty Cuffs, and danced at all kinds of events around the region. As much as I love to teach and dance with other folks, I think the most rewarding part of that experience was getting to finally choreograph for a group, finding a way to take my excitement about a piece of music and put it into motion.

As I watch my daughter stomp, bop, turn, and shake around the house, I pray that I will be able to support her in finding a way to keep that joy and love of movement alive. I pray that poor self-esteem, insecurity about her body, and narrow-mindedness will never trip her up the way it did me. And I thank the universe that I finally found an outlet for my own passion about dance.

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Filed under Dance, parenting, Percussive Dance, Uncategorized

Wow, What a Turnout at Gaelic Day!

Having moved to the Triangle fairly recently from Nova Scotia, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to connect with other Celtoids in the area, especially singers. It’s usually pretty easy to find Irish musicians and dancers in this part of the US, but not so easy to find folks who know or care about the traditions of Scotland and Cape Breton (other than Highland dance and piping). So when I spearheaded a Gaelic music, song, and dance event at Johnny’s in Carrboro last Saturday, I had no idea if there would be much interest.141101_Gaelic Day 2

Boy, was there ever! We had a huge crowd show up and I couldn’t be happier with the enthusiasm and participation from the community!

We started off the evening with standing-room-only attendance at the Gaelic sing-along. The whole group joined in on the choruses of traditional songs led by Tom Terry, Michael Newton, and me, including “An Fhideag Airgid “(“The Silver Whistle”), which was recently featured on the hit TV series Outlander.

Next, my husband, Michael (AKA, Dr. Newton, PhD in Celtic Studies from Edinburgh University), taught the group a collection of Gaelic phrases, from the oh-so-polite “Ciamar a tha thu?” (“How are you?”) to the decidedly naughty “Gun gabh am Fear Mór thu!”  (“May the Big Man – the Devil – take you!”).

141101_Gaelic DayThen Tyler Johnson, Alison Arnold, Trish Hornick, and many friends pulled out their instruments for the session and the place really got lively! As much as I love a good Irish session, it was really fun to hear a big group playing mostly Scottish and Cape Breton sets featuring waltzes, strathspeys, reels, jigs, hornpipes, and probably other tunes that I would have kept track of if I hadn’t been stuffing my face with delicious scones and clotted cream from Johnny’s. In spite of the crowded quarters, a number of folks got up to do some steps, including an Apple Chill clogger and a few of my students. It’s always great to have the opportunity to dance to live music!

Many thanks to all the people who made this wonderful night possible!

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Filed under Dance, Music, Percussive Dance, Uncategorized

Cape Breton Square Dancing

A couple of my dance students have been asking me about Cape Breton square dancing, so I’ve put a little information together for this post.

Most of the dances I’ve been to have taken place in the southern part of Inverness County, on the western side of the island, usually late at night in a community hall located on a dirt road in what feels (to my big city sensibilities) like the middle of nowhere.

Although I understand that each community used to have its own particular square set, at almost every dance I’ve been to everyone does the West Mabou version, which I understand has kind of taken over as the most popular set, at least in Inverness County (someone correct me if I’m wrong).

The dance consists of three figures: two jigs and a reel. Here’s a description of the figures provided by a regional tourism company, and a video of dancers doing the second figure at Glencoe Mills. As you can see, the jig step (or what the description calls the “Mabou Shuffle” is very simple, just step-shuf-fle step-shuf-fle, or sometimes step-shuf-fle hop-shuf-fle).

The reel figure is a little more complicated, although if you’ve done any Appalachian square dancing or contra dancing it will probably seem pretty straight-forward to you. This kitchen party is the best-lit example I could find of the Mabou reel set (I also find it particularly nice to see a bunch of young people dancing together). At a regular dance hall you would see several of these sets happening at once.

At some point during the evening, the musicians will play a set of tunes, starting with strathspeys and moving into reels. Often solo dancers will hop up and perform a few steps like this example in West Mabou.

I also wanted to mention the Cape Breton Scotch Four, which is figure taken directly from Scottish dancing. This example (also from West Mabou) starts out as strathspey and moves into reels. Note that everyone is doing his/her own steps until the very end, where they all go into the backstep I showed you briefly in our last class.

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Filed under Cape Breton Square Set, Dance, Percussive Dance

Summer Classes at the Carrboro ArtsCenter

A new beginner session of Cape Breton step dancing will be held at the Carrboro ArtsCenter from July 9th to August 6th. Visit the ArtsCenter website for more information.

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Filed under Dance, Percussive Dance