I proposed contemporizing and recontextualizing céilí dancing as the theme for the Training Ensemble in late December 2014, though I’ve toyed with the idea for years. I’ve decided to focus on the essence of my personal experiences with the form, rather than trying to distill some sort of universally agreed upon definition. This approach requires an air of authority and the audacity to pick and choose which pieces move and which stay the same. What makes a céilí a céilí? Important to me are the stories these dances tell- commemorating places/ architectural features (The Bridge of Athlone, The Walls of Limerick), historic events (The Siege of Ennis) and the mundane (The Haymaker’s Jig, The Bonfire Dance, Haste to the Wedding).
I began by teaching the group a sampling of the céilís I grew up performing. We’ve learned a heys (hedges) dance utilizing two long lines lines, a round dance and a quadrille (four couples in a rectangle). The ensemble embraced these dances wholly, even taking a field trip on St. Padraig’s Day to share the dances with the Times Sq. subway station (photos and video available here). As the group began to acclimate to the form, we simultaneously used physical theatre tactics and improvisation to develop a céilí-inspired conversation about our commonalities as a group, focusing primarily on New York City as an entity. Searching for the physical expression of our shared experiences has provided a broad base of what ceili dancing might look like if it had evolved out of our current society, rather than a few hundred years ago. Using the physical instincts of a beautifully diverse group of performers has expanded my understanding of how bodies can be used for expression and symbolism and group-reflection of weather and mass transit and intimacy in an infinite sea of humans. I re-evaluate if what we’re doing is still ‘céilí’ with every shift we make away from tradition, but the unifying essence of the dance strongly prevails, assuring me we’re on the right track.
On Friday, April 10th at 8p we’ll open the doors of The Church of Grace & St. Paul (123 W. 71st St.) for a free/by donation potluck and sharing of both traditional Irish céilí dances and newly conceived New York céilís. As exciting as it is to develop and tinker with these concepts in our workshops, the very spirit of this dance depends on the enthusiasm and participation of the masses. Please join us for our celebration of oldness, newness, difference and sameness. Research has proven it’s scientifically impossible to have a bad time at a céilí and the price is just right.
About the Author