Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thing 196 Set Dancing

Set Dancing. An ancient Irish tradition. Practiced in groups of four couples. It makes sense to think that I might go to a set dancing class as part of a couple. The Thief is a set dancer - she's got two all Ireland gold medals. I've got two left feet, so there's no way I'm going with her. The Frenchman's in Germany. Token Northy was at work. And there's no way on earth I'm going set dancing with Pony Boy. He's nice and all, just not my type. Ahem. Moving on.

So instead, I decided to go on my own. Well if that's not the greatest statement that I'm a giant loser. I went to set dancing class on my own. One is the loneliest number. It gets worse.

On arriving I discovered all manner of age groups from early twenties to early seventies. I was expecting a room full of elderly women, if I'm being honest. Instead it was all manner of ages, and a fifty-fifty split in the genders. Which meant equal parts men and women to laugh at the loser sitting on the sideline watching thirty or so people set dancing. Because that's what I did. Like some kind of creepy bearded weirdo with a fetish for old folk dances, I watched from the side of the room as fifteen or so couples danced the night away.

I could feel their judgement.

There was one other man there, a spritely seventy one year old Limerick man by the name of Billie. If I can move like that chap at his age I know I'll have been doing something right. He took a breather and sat down for a chat. He's only been set dancing for six weeks. He loves it. He's made friends of all ages. His wife loves it too. They get great exercise out of it. The man made me feel terrible for judging the whole thing to be lame- make no mistake by the way, I thought the whole thing was ridiculously lame.

This is where it gets worse: The guy organising the whole event, with a mic in hand, walked by and asked me if I was going to dance. Embarrassed now with all eyes on me, I told him I didn't want to break up a couple and I was too much of an amateur to jump in with this crowd. He wasn't having it - get up and try a few moves yourself he said... all the judging eyes still on me, and not wanting to look like I was there to get my jollies from watching people set dance, I got out of my seat...

While everyone else danced their moves in the middle of the dance floor, I stayed on the outside of the floor, just off my seat, and set danced on my own, for twenty minutes. With an invisible partner who also had two left feet, I practiced my set dancing moves, all the while watching the highly amused regulars who observed me tripping over myself.

I used to think that I'd no shame. Now I know otherwise.

After twenty minutes I left. Hanging my head, but before I reached the door I remembered that not too long ago, some blog readers were accusing me of being lazy. Some unnamed individual's scorn forced me to turn around, walk back in, hit the edge of the dancefloor, and set dance with myself for another ten minutes, getting redder and redder by the second.

God bless Billy... he gave me a little round of applause after.

It's not something I'll ever take up with any regularity. I'll probably never set dance again (emotional scars, you know), but I've to tip the hat to those that can. It takes skill and concentration. As activities on a rainy Tuesday evening go, you could be doing an awful lot worse.

And at least the rest of them seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely.


  1. No Jokes. Dan i'm super proud. Your comfort zone was a DOT to you. Well Done! You could jump out of a plane...wearing an elephant...while on's this stuff i'll always prefer.

  2. Well done Dan. Fair play to you for doing something that scary...I once went to a Ceilidh in England, reckoning I'd kick everyone's asses at it being Irish 'n' all, but it was mortifying. People actually were shaking their heads at me

  3. Well now if you you did set dance on the edge of the floor on your own well then you've made a start at the Sean Nos and I reckon you'll enjoy that a whole lot more - set dancing can be taken way too seriously - Good on ya for giving it a go - Best of luck with the rest of your project!!

  4. Dan, I apologize for your negative Set dancing experience. The problem was that you went to an advanced lesson instead of a beginner class. In the beginner classes, as well as at the dances, at least half of the people arrive without partners. The protocol is very simple - you get into the Set, and someone will get up and fill the open slot next to you.
    Trying to participate in a Set of advanced dancers is like trying to participate in any other advanced group (think basketball or poker, etc.) without having first learned the basics!
    So Dan, if you ever happen to be on Long Island, I invite you to come to a beginner-beginner lesson. I specialize in the two left feet crowd. We slow down the music, we have a lot of laughs, and we enjoy the people as well as the activity.