Darbus Oldham: Irish Dance

For my CIP, I am doing Irish dance. To provide a bit of background to that, I started Irish step dancing when I was in elementary school, have performed with a group that does a variety of styles of Irish and Scottish dancing for the past four years, and also do Irish ceili dancing for fun. Here in Kyoto, I’m doing two styles: set dancing, which is generally done with a group of eight, and modern step dancing, which is individual. In the set dancing class, which meets twice a month, we learn and do two or three dances each class. The monthly modern style class is divided into two halves: soft shoe and hard shoe. Irish (and Scottish) soft shoes are flexible, lightweight leather-soled shoes, whereas hard shoes are more like tap shoes. In each class, we work on a couple dances of each type, doing a mixture of learning new steps and reviewing old ones.

In the step dancing class, I’ve also had the opportunity to teach a couple of dance steps I know. This was an interesting challenge in and of itself, as I do not have a great deal of experience teaching step dancing in English, let alone Japanese, and so figuring out the best way to explain the footwork and timing and answer questions was definitely difficult. I ended up simply demonstrating the step or particularly challenging portions of it a number of times, which combined with some explanation generally ended up working.

On top of the regular set dancing class, one weekend there was a big event called a ceili. There was live music, and there were about a hundred people in attendance, a number of them from Tokyo, Osaka, and other places. The dances were a mixture of ones we had been practicing in class, ones we hadn’t, and one that I have done in the States.

In addition to the dancing, my CIP has also proved an opportunity for a wide variety of interesting conversations during breaks in the class and after class at dinner. For example, there have been discussions of differences between dialects and word order in English and Japanese, and I’ve learned a number of Japanese onomatopoeia and tried to explain a number of odd words and terms in English.

While Irish dance may seem like a strange choice for a CIP, it has worked out really well, I think in large part because I was hoping to dance here regardless of whether it was my CIP. I have previously found social dance to be a good way to meet people where I’m from and at school, and I was pleasantly unsurprised to find that to be the case here as well.

All that being said, I do have a cautionary note for future KCJS students looking at these blogs for inspiration for their own CIP: If you don’t have previous Irish dance experience (or maybe English country dance or contra for the set dancing), this is not the CIP for you. I would have been utterly lost had I not had some previous knowledge of set dancing and particularly of step dancing.

4 thoughts on “Darbus Oldham: Irish Dance

  1. I know you talked about your CIP in class a bit, but I had no idea you were also doing a class focused on individual based dancing. My only experience with Irish step dancing is watching my friends perform in Rince Na Mawr back at BMC, so decided to look up the difference between the two styles of dance you mentioned in this blog post to help me visualize what you were mentioning, (and wow, a few of the youtube videos I stumbled upon had such complex footwork I could barely follow!) and I was surprised to find that not all of the videos featured traditional Irish music. Did you ever dance to Japanese music (or even music from other countries than Ireland)?

    I have trouble explaining things in Japanese all the time, but as someone who never made it past ‘flat-ball-change’ in tap dancing class, I can’t even begin to imagine how challenging it is to explain special footwork moves. (Although I imagine being able to demonstrate said moves to people who already understand was a great advantage.) What was the age range of people who attended your class? When you were looking up Irish step dancing groups in Kyoto, was it hard to find? Or were there a fairly large number? The only people I knew from back home (before I went to college) that knew Irish step-dancing were some kids who were the children of my parent’s best friends, and their dad was a first-generation immigrant so they participated in various cultural traditions, as well as being able to speak Irish Gaelic.

    • Most of the music was pretty traditional, although I think some of the music played during warm-ups during the step dancing classes had other influences. Outside of this I’ve danced to Celtic rock music and a few modern pop songs as well.

      There was a pretty wide range of ages– from a couple people who I think finished college pretty recently (one of whom actually went to Doshisha) to someone with a daughter my age.

      This is the only Irish dancing group in Kyoto that I know of, though there are others in Osaka. I found their website from an article on various Irish cultural things in the Kansai area.

  2. How fortunate that you were able to continue Irish dance in Japan. I’m totally shocked to hear that ~100 dancers showed up for the event. Where did they all (or the ones you’ve talked to) originally learn Irish dance?

    It seems like you were a full-on member of this dance class. Does that mean people didn’t slow down to explain things to you? For instance, the vocabulary unique to Irish dance is something that you probably didn’t know before, but I have a hard time imagining that they would stop at every new term and give a definition.

    • I know there’s a couple of places that teach Irish dancing in Osaka, and I believe the same is true of Tokyo. Beyond that I’m honestly not sure.

      Many of the terms were in English, actually, which was very helpful. Instructions that were in Japanese were often common words or phrases that I already knew, like 右手で or 回る, and most of the words that I didn’t know I was able to figure out by watching what other people were doing.