This week the Irish World’s John Egan begins a short series looking at Irish Dancing schools and teachers in the UK
Dance has been a significant part of Irish culture from ancient times. Researching its history in the early centuries of the first millennium is difficult because of the destruction by Viking invaders in the eighth century of books containing written evidence of cultural and social history.
There is evidence however, that dance and music remained an unbroken popular entertainment in Ireland over the centuries and many references in the literature throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries of dancing at crossroads during the summer months and in kitchens and barns during winter.
In those earlier centuries the knowledge was passed on by osmosis at least until the appearance of the dancing masters in the mid-18th century who taught jigs and reels for the modest fee of sixpence to the peasants of the villages and small towns that they visited.
More mannerly and flamboyantly dressed dance masters were invited into the large homes of the wealthy to teach their children for more generous remuneration than six pence. Females The early 20th century saw the dancing masters gradually replaced by dance school and the rise of female teachers.
As the 20th century progressed Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League) set up An Coimisiun le Rincí Gaelacha (Irish Dance Commission), which temporarily unified the various interests in Irish dancing under its Dublin based central administration and reached out to the diaspora. To this day it has the biggest membership of Irish dance teachers worldwide.
The Commission originally listed just 32 teachers and 27 adjudicators, all from Ireland, on its first register of qualified teachers.
Standards The introduction of certification in 1943 raised dancing standards and today there are more than 1,800 on the Commission’s register, based not just in Ireland but around the world in England, Wales, Scotland, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Russia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Japan, China and in many other Asian countries.
In the Commission’s early decades there were organisational and political problems about its representation of different interests. This led, in 1969, to ‘the split’ – and the formation of An Comhdháil na Múinteoirí le Rincí Gaelacha (Congress of Irish Dance Teachers) otherwise known as An Comhdháil.
A sizeable number of those registered with An Coimisiún switched their allegiance to the new body, and their dance school pupils only competed under the umbrella of the new body.
There have also always been ‘independent’ minded schools wary of hierarchical governing bodies who prefer a looser ‘open platform’.
I have had the good fortune to be invited to feiseanna and to the main events of most of the recently established open platform organisations, of which there are many.
In Ireland and the UK alone events are held by
• Cumann Rince Dea Mheasa (CRDM)
• Cumann Rince Gaelacha (CRG)
• Cumann Rince Náisiúnta (CRN)
• Celtic Association of Irish Dancing (CAID)
• World Association of Irish Dancing (WIDA)
• Céad Míle Fáilte Association (CMFA) – this association may have coalesced back into the CRDM
Most of the above have become big players by establishing their own All Ireland and World Championships and what dance school can resist going for glory?
There is cachet in having an Irish Dancing world title irrespective of the organising body despite mutual criticisms made by members of different dance organisations about the legitimacy of the ‘rival’ world championships titles but ‘let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools contend’.
• If you are interested in your school being featured in this series email firstname.lastname@example.org.