"...stories birling through my mind..."
A literary journey
Nostalgic Irish prose
Irish culture & folklore
Ulster-Scots short stories
"...stories birling through my mind..."
The decommissioning of arms
Mr Sean O’Togda complained in 1924 of the ignorance of youth as a result of the decline of the old dance masters. Mr O’Togda had a teacher of the traditional style who taught dancing to women in the following way:
“To add grace and variety to the dance, he showed them how to dance with arms akimbo and to place the hands gracefully on the hips…He also showed the girls how to hold their skirts lightly at the side with thumb and index finger of both hands, and slightly and gracefully keep them out from the sides” (Weekly Freeman’s Journal.)
In a 1904 photograph of an Irish dancer, “Cassie” in Victorian attire at the Feis na Gleann, the dancer has both hands on her hips.
Miss Patricia Mulholland, a Belfast dance mistress, who began teaching in the 1930s, was also an exponent of the use of arms. “As far as I was concerned, arms poker-rigid beneath an expressionless face had little attraction. I wanted to inject more feeling, and, in the process, let Irish dancing come into contact with the widest possible audience.” (MacCafferty)
Arms were, however, discouraged by some dance teachers in the nineteenth century. Mr Trench, a dance master operating in the south of Ireland in the early 1800s instructed that arms should hang gracefully to the side. He actively discouraged the flinging of these limbs about, or flourishing them on the level with the head; an indication that the dancers either had a tendency to naturally liberate their limbs in ethereal motion, or that in some previous time, the arms had moved freely. Another reflection on pre-dance master times is this: “During the rapid exercise, Nancy occasionally clapped one hand on her well-developed hip.” (Irish dancing sixty years ago.)
The white collar scholars of the Gaelic League and the country dancers went head to head in a great national and nationalistic debate about what exactly Irish dancing was, and the Gaelic League turned to the south-west for inspiration, applying the Munster style found in areas of counties Kerry, Cork and Limerick to step dancing in the rest of the country. Foley observes that the dances were to be “controlled, disciplined, skilled and asexual;” hip slapping and flings thereby excluded.
This week marks the end of a chapter of my life as a full-time author, during which time, I can’t help but think that someone inadvertently plugged me into the wall.
Those who have undertaken novel writing as a profession will understand what I mean when I say that real life can be an inconvenience. Words rise up in the dead of the night; charged atoms that twist and turn until the school run is complete, at which point they explode mercilessly onto the screen. Any glimpse of reality is a gross impediment. A phone call, a parcel at the door, the school bell and the bothersome iMac message, “Your mouse battery is low,” all become implicated in the creative fall-out.
A few weeks ago, I surrendered to reality. I had been applying for jobs for a while, each application appearing on my screen like a waning mouse battery warning, but this job felt different. Perhaps it was down to timing, the job affixing itself, neatly to the end of a chapter. Or, perhaps it was a fateful moment during which the atoms of my life were aligned. Regardless, I understood that the career as a full-time novelist was over, and I began to re-enter the strangely familiar world that had hitherto been known as normality.
The Piper of Black Cave
82 Waterloo Road
The Teacher Voice
The Last Day of Summer Scheme
Uniquely Girls' Brigade
The Children of Latharna
The Band Stick
The Bully up the Brae
A dander around Larne
God Created Butlins
History & folklore
Martha Taylor's diary
Jean McCullagh at 104
Ballymena & the McConnells
Arms in Irish Dancing
Catholics & Protestants in Irish dancing
Irish Dancing: The Festival Story
The Protestant in Irish Fiction.
The Protestant in Irish fiction II
Ulster-Scots in Irish Fiction
An author in Wonderland
Dancing in Victorian Ulster
Learning the Irish Language.
John Hewitt Summer School