since 25 March 1996, last updated 31 March 2011
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Set Dancing News

the web site for Irish set dancers

Copyright © 2011 Bill Lynch


What's in Set Dancing News?

In Set Dancing News you'll find a huge amount of information about set dancing: Set Dancing News was the first web site about Irish set dancing. It first went on-line in December 1995 and was announced in January 1996. At the time it was based in London and called the London Set Dancing News. It was originally intended to provide information of interest to dancers in London, with listings of local, British and Irish events. Nearly from the start it was apparent that there was international interest in the site and set dancing. After a few months London was dropped from the name and the site concentrated on providing as much information as possible about events in Britain and Ireland. This eventually broadened to Europe, North America and anywhere set dancing is found.

In December 1997 the first issue of Set Dancing News, the magazine, was delivered to 150 subscribers. It was intended to be a bi-monthly newsletter version of the web site for those dancers not on the Internet. Since then it has turned into a sixty page colour magazine delivered to close to two thousand subscribers.

Since May 1999, Set Dancing News has been based in Kilfenora, Co Clare, where Bill Lynch maintains the web site and edits and prints the magazine between dances. Both the web site and magazine are dedicated to the interests of set dancers and set dancing. The web site is completely non-commercial—access is open to everyone, no money is given or received for anything presented here and there is no paid advertising. The magazine is supported by subscription and advertising fees, but is otherwise run on the same basis as the web site. If you'd like to help support Set Dancing News, please take out a subscription or an advertisement. If you experience any difficulties with the site, please contact Bill Lynch with a description of the problem.

Irish Set Dancing

Set dancing is a form of social dancing which has been popular in Ireland for over 150 years. Sets are danced by four couples in a square, and usually consist of three to six figures with a short pause between each. They are descended from the French quadrilles, which were brought to Ireland by the British army in the nineteenth century. Irish dancers adapted the figures to their own music and steps to form dances with great drive and enjoyment. After a period of decline in the fifties and sixties, sets are very popular today in Ireland and in Irish communities throughout the world.

An excellent book describing the history of set dancing, the steps, the terminology and 64 of the most commonly danced sets is Toss the Feathers by Pat Murphy, published by Mercier Press. Refer to the Set Dancing Library for more information.

Note that set dancing is not the same as step dancing. Step dancing is the competitive solo form of Irish dancing now very popular because of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. If you want to dance like Michael Flatley, this web page is not going to help. On the other hand, if you're looking for good music, fun and friends resulting in the kind of joy you probably haven't experienced since childhood, read on.

Another form of Irish social dance is ceili dancing. This is a different, separate repertoire of dances which are commonly danced in Northern Ireland, England, America and Australia, but uncommon in the south of Ireland. The dances are in many forms, for couples or threesomes, in lines, squares and circles, including several in four-couple sets. They are danced to steps which are similar to those used in modern step dancing and unlike those for set dancing. While sets traditionally were passed on informally at home, ceili dances were taught formally by dancing teachers. The dances were introduced around the turn of the twentieth century. They suffered some neglect with the revival of set dancing but there is increasing interest in them. Some of the dances are good for beginners; others are as vigorous and enjoyable as a good set.

The word cιilν or ceili also refers to an Irish social dance event with set dancing or ceili dancing or both, and possibly other types of dance such as the waltz, quickstep and jive. A fνor cιilν, or true ceili, is one in which only ceili dances are danced—no set dancing at all—and are often conducted in Irish. Ceili and old time is a mixture of sets, ceili dances and waltzes. Nearly all the dancing referred to on this site is set dancing.

Bill Lynch's article, The Joy of Sets, explains set dancing to non-set dancers.

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Bill Lynch   Set Dancing News, Kilfenora, Co Clare, Ireland
076 602 4282 Republic of Ireland
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