středa 20. listopadu 2013

Sean Óg Festival - My First Time In Ireland

„Yes. I am from the Czech republic. Yes, I arrived alone.  Nobody is with me. Yes, I´m here just for this single weekend. No, I´ve never been to Ireland before. Yes, I´m enjoying it. Very much. Thanks.“  

Well, I said these sentences about a million times. First day I was a bit worried how would people react and how would they accept the fact I´m still just a beginner. Sure, many people had told me NOT to worry before I flew, that everything would be fine and I would LOVE Longford, but how it actually looked there behind the sea was a milion times better I could ever imagine.

Technically speaking, I went all the way from “Friday afternoon – crying – I don´t know anybody here – I´m so far away from home/mum/dad“ to Sunday afternoon – crying – why on earth do I have to come back?“.
Talking about the Friday afternoon, it was like sitting in a roller coaster. At about 2PM, I was on the top of the world. I managed not to get lost at the Prague airport, at the Dublin airport, to catch the right bus to Longford and to find my hotel room with a cute bed and a princess-like toilet-table. But as the afternoon went on, I felt more and more lonely, especially when other set dancers started arriving after the sunset. The hotel corridors were full of cheerful laugh, hugs, kisses and welcomes. I realized I was really alone there and I should do my best to change it.

So I went downstairs at a quarter to ten and then to a ballroom. And I immediatelly felt like Alice in Wonderland. The dance floor was about three times more spacious than I had ever seen so far. The lights were soft and glittering (or at least they are now in my memory) and you could feel the atmosphere. That was the right place where I wanted to be at that moment!
Once one very friendly lady realized what I mentioned in the first sentences, she found her friends to tell them about this brave lady who came all the way from the Czech republic, they found their friends…and this information spread unbelievably quickly. Suddenly I wasn´t alone.

During the ceili, where the Striolán Ceili Band followed by Micheál Sexton were playing, we danced about 7 sets. For me it was the first ceili without a caller (I know, who on earth would like to have a caller in Ireland), but I was proud of myself, because I had kept my word which I had given to myself after Violau in June and had memorized another two sets step by step, figure by figure, before I flew. I added the knowledge of Connemara and Clare Lancers to my private collection. Well, it´s still nothing, but as these three sets were danced at every single ceili there, it really helped me not to be nervous.
Talking about sets, I´d like to say a huge thank you to all my dancers (and even the ladies from other couples in the sets I danced in) who patiently kept pushing me to the right direction everytime I wasn´t sure.

To sum up, when I went to bed after the first ceili (it was about half past two), I finally felt that feeling which I was looking for since June (and which is almost well-known to me now) – that mixture of terrible exhaustion, your feet aching, but at the same moment, you would like to jump out of the bed and swing and house again till you die, with an absent-minded smile…

Saturday: the day of a morning workshop. I suppose I talked enough about how I like Gerard´s way of teaching in my previous articles, so I will skip that part today, even though I have to mention – it is still great! Apart from this, three young girls from Longford showed up and it was really nice to chat and dance with them. We spent about an hour and half with a set I forgot the name of (but was quite nice) and then we did a few basic sean nós steps. I felt like back in Prague at our summer school, it was nicely familiar.
In the afternoon, another ceili and country dancing took place in a ballroom. Johnny Reidy and Eddie Lee were playing. I was really pleased he remembered me from Violau when we met outside the ballroom after the ceili.

The evening ceili was probably my greatest set dance experience ever – the dance floor was completely full, there was no space even for simply standing still. We were just in the middle of Clare Lancers, already after midnight, when I realized that this was SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE. I was dancing in the middle of the dance floor, surrounded by hundreds of people I had never met before, and I almost couldn´t hear the music for the battering of the others. The rhythm was so catchy, I loved listening to it! What´s more – I was in Ireland, surrounded by Irish dancers, me, just a little girl from Prague. And I couldn´t be more happy.
In fact, it was a bit weird. You know, for young people in Prague it´s normal to go to a pub or a music club on Saturday night, to get drunk and then fall asleep somewhere on a couch. But the more different my Saturday was, the more I loved it.

By the way, during the Saturday night ceili, when Swallow´s Tail Ceili Band followed by Micheál Sexton were playing, I was also asked by Gabrielle Cassidy to help her with a surprise for one of the girls dancing in her club. I was supposed to give her a birthday cake in front of everyone, to a girl I had never seen before, when everyone was waiting for a next set. Hundreds of people! I was so shy, and afraid I would either drop or simply destroy the cake, how left-handed I am. But in the end, everything went well and I am still moved by how Gabrielle and the others behaved to me.

Sunday: the day of the table dancing competition. I was really looking forward to watching it. But in the end, it turned out a bit differently – it was 11:45AM, Sunday, November 17th, and I was standing on the table, waiting for Stephen and Tommy Doherty to start playing. Me, a girl who had started with sean nós dancing a few months ago, and started“ means I took 6 workshops with Gerard at our Prague summer school. But he just insisted on me going, so I tried it. And I must admit it was a great experience. Thanks everyone who clapped. It was amazing.

As the day went on, the thought “it´s almost over“ was bigger and bigger in my head. But I really didn´t mean to give up my great mood unless it would be really neccessary. I have to say my new friends helped that a lot (hi Stephen  - see, you got a mention). The afternoon ceili with the Johnny Reidy Ceili Band and the last one with Salamanca Ceili Band were again – amazing. Ok, I know you´re probably starting being sick of this word, but I just can´t help it!

We danced all the sets we had done before during the festival, such as Clare Lancers, Caledonian, Corofin Plain, Connemara, Plain set, Ballyvourney Jig or Cashel, and even though the dance floor was smaller at night because there were less people, it was by no means less great. I danced with brilliant dancers, which was again a great experience, and suddenly the last set was called – and danced – and time for last goodbyes came.

I am really glad I went back to Prague on Monday, because it gave me some extra time to deal with the feeling that the weekend I had been looking forward to for months was already over. However, I was still almost crying when boarding on the Airbus and then watching Dublin getting smaller and smaller from the air.


I was thinking about two things: thanks to everyone who helped me to enjoy the Sean Óg Festival and welcomed me so nicely. And: I´m definitely coming back next year!

pondělí 9. září 2013

An Irish Set Dance Experiment in North Bohemia

Hi there!

Well, we made it! Yes, that´s the right formulation. WE made it, because I wouldn´t be able to do it without them. What am I talking about? Today my article won´t be about any set dance weekend or festival. First of all, a bit of background.

You probably know I started set dancing a year ago (actually I celebrated a year last week) and that I´ve become really addicted to it. I do set dancing in our capital city Prague, as it is probably (and unfortunately) the only place in our republic where you have a chance to do it. But originally, I am not from Prague. My hometown is an industrial city in North Bohemia called Ústí nad Labem. And because I really love sets and I am interested in both teaching (not now, in some period of time) set dancing and convincing the others how brilliant it is, I came up with an idea.

The idea that I would invite 7 people to our house for a two-hour long  set dance workshop. I wanted to see if I am actually able to teach somebody sets. So I welcomed 7 people who haven´t heard about set dancing before. Well, to be honest, three of them have – my mum, dad and my brother, as I keep talking about it everytime I come back home from Prague – but the others haven´t.

I had two hours only to tell them basically what sets are, something about the set dancing world, to play them a youtube video of the 2nd figure of Clare Lancers, to explain them what „tops“ and „sides“ are, show them the basic reel step, explain them what „house inside“, „swing“, „lead around“ and everything else is…and to teach them how to actually dance it.

All of them did a great job and I´m really, really, really glad they came and they all stayed till the very end, when I filmed what they´ve learnt. Once more – I am really proud of them. Here is the short video as an evidence. Please note the speed of the music is slower (something about 70%) and don´t forget all of them experienced only 2 hours (!) of set dancing. If you´d asked them yesterday „what is set dancing?“, they wouldn´t have had ANY idea at all. 


I really enjoyed the evening and I hope it wasn´t my last opportunity to teach sets. :)

úterý 25. června 2013

6th Midsummer Irish Set Dance Weekend (Violau, Germany)

Here we go again!

I know that "blogs" are supposed to be "diaries", which means you can read new articles daily, but this one is a bit different. However, I have to say I feel exactly the same like 4 months ago after the Erlangen weekend. It doesn´t really matter if it is Erlangen or Violau, I guess it always makes you feel a bit sad and a bit consufed and really happy, when back home. I parked my car in Prague on Sunday at 10PM, and despite being awfully tired, I couldn´t fall asleep, because my entire body was still swinging and battering. On Monday, I tried to focus on my everyday life, failed, and decided to create another "set dance weekend article", as a way how to finally move my mind from Germany back to the Czech republic...But not to get lost in my thoughts, let´s start!

Our group was a bit different that time. Tereza and Markéta stayed at home and instead of them Gabriela joined us. Now it was her first time, so I could describe her my own feelings. But actually, I have to admit I really didn´t feel more confident just because I knew what was going on. I skipped many dance classes because of my university entrance exams and CAE exam this spring, so I was really nervous, because the only set I was sure about was still - yes, Ballyvourney Jig. 

Apart from people on our team, we changed a driver as well. Er, the only reason I´m mentioning it is that I was the driver, and maybe I feel a need for boasting a bit, because it was my first journey longer than 2 hours. Talking about driving, we arrived to Violau with great timing, right for dinner. I was really glad to see that everything is at one place. Our room, ballroom for workshops and ceilis, dining room...Knowing that you could eat your breakfast (almost) in pyjamas is just great! But maybe I should stop talking about food and describe our dance lessons.

To be honest - I don´t remember our Friday ceili much. And I swear I didn´t even touch any glass of wine. Maybe I was just tired after the driving plus I was trying to remember the new faces, recall all the figures...But I can proudly say that the very first set of the weekend was Clare Lancers and I didn´t make any mistake! That information will probably make more sense after mentioning how lost I was in Erlangen during the Carnival night. To sum up, we ended up in bed after midnight and after a really long time I felt the mixture of doziness, tiredness and euphoria, which helped me to fall asleep immediately. I was looking forward to a nice long sleep, with my alarm clock set on 8:45.

Unfortunatelly, my plans were ruined at 7:46, when an old jazz CD started playing. And it kept on playing for an hour. I was told afterwards that it was because of the boy choir. We saw that group of about twenty little eight year old boys, who were staying at the same venue, the evening before. I thought they were cute. But I wasn´t that sure on Saturday morning.

After breakfast, the first workshop with Gerard Butler took place. I really enjoyed his way of teaching, and I´m already missing his "lovely stuff, well done". Frankly, I can´t tell you the names of all sets we went through during the two Saturday workshops, but what amused me was a hornpipe figure in Kilkenny Lancers with "throwing the ladies". During the evening ceili I paid attention to be a gent in that set. 

But I´m skipping my storyline again. We (I mean me, Jana and Gabriela) found a while between dinner and ceili for a short walk in the village. Well, we wanted it to be a long walk, but we somehow accidentally fell asleep after the afternoon workshop...anyhow, it was lovely! And I mean it! The atmosphere of tiny German village during the early evening, with all of those stables, nice houses, is really unforgetabble. And  I am glad girls forced me to get up. 

Maybe you´re wondering how is it possible that I haven´t mentioned any delay yet, because the Erlangen article was full of our late arrivals...well, here we go. We were 15 minutes late for the evening ceili, but fortunatelly, we missed only one set. Well, I missed, girls joined one group in the middle of it. The whole evening was brilliant, magnificent, splendid, that enough? :) I was taught to be abble to use many different synonyms for one situaton...No, seriously. Johnny Reidy Ceili Band did an amazing job. Maybe it´s because I´m still new in this world, but I really appreciated how they were in touch with the dancers. I had a feeling it was not just a music, it was like they were giving a pieces of their hearts or at least their mood in it. It might sound like a cliché, but it´s true. Actually, I enjoyed everything. The music, the Spanish Jive, the second half of Ballyvourney Jig with Andrea (thanks for the little bag once more!), the waltz (thanks for the dance...) and in the end, two slices of melon before we went to bed after midnight. I have no idea who placed it there, but there is a big THANK YOU! 

Though I was dozing off on our short way back to our room, I couldn´t sleep well that night. You must know it - you´re swinging, and housing, and advancing, and retiring, and ladies-chaining...etc etc. But after all these dreams full of dancing, I woke up fresh and ready for the Sunday programme (with a little shadow of sadness - the last day). We spent our workshop with Rinkinstown, which I had done twice before, once in Prague and once in Erlangen, so I enjoyed watching the others and the feeling that I don´t have to panic when a music starts playing.

It was interrupted by a little surprise - remember the boy choir? They all came to sing for us and it was just...indescribable. I had goose bumps for like 5 minutes. I made a huge silent apology for complaining about the CD playing last morning. They were just sweet. After a big applause, we all danced the Spanish Jive with them, which was really really nice. Even though they apparently didn´t share our opinion. Mostly. 

And here comes the time for a last (maybe) paragraph, dealing with the last ceili. Well, I already have swung really fast before, but the swing in Ballyvourney that afternoon, I thought I would fly. Like literally! Then I managed to dance most of the sets without really thinking about them, which is a big plus I think. Unfortunatelly, Plain Set, which was the very last one, is not my cup of tea. And I´m afraid it was obvious. I just hope that those of you who were watching us had fun. After that little fiasco (even though Jana tried very hard to organize us), the time for long and endless applauding came. For Sabine and Diana, who organized the weekend, for Johnny Reidy Ceili Band, for Gerard, for Sabine and Diana, for Johnny Reidy Ceili Band...but what can you do when you know they totally deserve it? You just clap and clap and clap and think "wow, they really did a great job".

I was thinking about some nice closing paragraph. The paragraph that would end my whole article nicely, in a natural way. Slowly. But then I realized that the weekend DIDN´T end slowly, naturaly and nicely. It just happened, immediately, although I didn´t want it to end. So it´s impossible to create an ending like this. All I can say is thank you for reading, and I hope to see you all soon! Actually, I hope to see you all in August, when Bernard´s Summer School takes place! Are you planning to come? Leave a comment! Well, you don´t have to, but I found out that it´s really "in" to end your blog article with "leave a comment"...

keep swinging!

čtvrtek 14. února 2013

Irish Set Dance meets Carnival - Erlangen 2013

Hi everyone!

This is my first blog in English, but I quess except language everything is the same. Before I briefly introduce myself – I have to ask all native speakers and well-educated non-native speakers to overlook my mistakes. Especially my friendship with articles, prepositions and word order doesn´t work very well sometimes.

To begin with – my name is Barbora (call me Bara), I´m 19, I´m Czech and I accidentaly fell in love with set dancing. For those of you who haven´t heard that term before: it´s a traditional kind of irish dancing which is mostly danced in pubs with your friends to the lovely irish music. But I suppose you are reading this because you found my link on the Facebook page of Erlangen 2013, and that probably means you know much more about set dancing than I do.

As I said, I became a keen fan of this activity. And it happened recently. To be concrete – last weekend in Erlangen, where „Irish Set Dance meets Carnival“ took place. I have been doing set dancing since September 2012. We have a group of aproximately 16 set dancers in Prague and we practise every Monday evening. I always liked it. But I found the real deeper meaning of this hobby in Bayern among all of the international dancers and it charmed me that much that I decided to create a blog and write a review of the whole weekend, which is going to be a little „thank you“ to Andrea Forstner and her family for organizing such a great event. So – here we go!

We set off from Prague on Friday at 2 o´clock in the afternoon (a bit later than planned). When I say we, I mean me and my three friends Markéta, Jana and Tereza. Well, I should probably say me, my friend Markéta and my two dance teachers Jana and Tereza, but I guess it won´t cause me any troubles to use the shorter form. :D We arrived at Fürth after three hours of driving – the place where was our lovely, small, tiny and familiar hotel.

Frankly, I really started to be nervous at that time. Girls were talking about the different sets they like or don´t like, they were discussing the difficult ones (such as Clare Lancers and one particular figure that caused me many problems during the ceili carnival) and they were looking forward to their international friends.

My only memorized set was Ballyvourney Jig and the only people I knew were sitting in the same car… But the amtosphere and dancers were so much friendly and familiar when we arrived at Erlangen that all my stress just fade away during the first workshop with Tony Ryan. I don´t have any experience with any other foreign teacher so I can´t compare him to anyone, but I can definitely say I enjoyed the way he lead all the workshops. It seemed to me like he was a magical grandfather from some children fairytale, because of his kind voice and the way how he got our attention back after each set.

First evening, we practised basic steps for each rhythm, such as reel, jig and hornpipe, and learned the South Galway set. Then there was an hour and half for dinner and the first ceili in my life was about to begin. I must thank my girls who didn´t leave me alone in this and spent the first ceili with me, so I could see that no one really cares whether you know each figure in each set or not, and relax a bit. We did 8 sets (Corofin Plain, South Galway Reel, Cashel, Claddagh, Ballyvourney Jig – yippie!, Moycullen, Sliabh Luchra and Connemara). The night was going on and on, guys from the Abbey Ceili Band were playing amazing, lively and energetic music and I didn´t know how, but the midnight and the end of the ceili came suddenly. We ended our first day with a big aplause. 

When we got to our car after midnight, we realized our GPS had broken down somehow. But guess what? We found our way to the centre of Fürth without any map, without any help and without any straying. In the blizzard and after a really tiring night. If anyone ever says girls have bad sense of locality, I´ll definitely kill him.

During the morning workshop on Saturday we learned Fermanagh and Rinkinstown set, which we had done in Prague before, but in Erlangen I realized it is completely confusing to change your position from tops to sides in this set. In the middle of the workshop came the great surprise – lunch! Thomas and Michael had prepared a smart system of ordering meals so all of us were able to make our lunch in an hour and half long break. To be honest, I really wanted to go to bed after a delicious minestrone soup and césar salad, but there was no extra place for sleeping during the whole weekend. At two o´clock the next ceili started and I tried for the first time how it is to dance in a set full of people you´ve never seen before. And guess what? It´s fun! As everything connected to set dancing. After Skibbereen, Clare Orange and Green, Fermanagh, Boyne, Rascahill and Mazurka came the 4-hour long break before Carnival Ceili.

What do you think? Are four hours enough to prepare for a carnival? I mean are they enough for 4 girls about twenty? Apparently not, according to our delayed arrival. But this time it was easier for us to mingle with the guest because a lot of people were wearing masks as well. By the way, there were some of them I really couldn´t recognize! And Tony as a cook was absolutely briliant. 

It was about half past nine when Andrea proudly announced their „Bayrish performance“. I had known before that there had been some surprise prepared for us, but I didn´t expect such a funny one. I can remember the melody of the song up to now and I think it will be in my head for really long time! Hats off for that performance which really made the atmosphere even better (if it is possible). The ceili went on with Plain Reel, Borlin, Antrim Square, Labasheeda, BVJ, Kilfenora Plain, West Kerry, Connemara and the final one: Clare Lancers. To be honest – I have never been so much dissappointed as during the fifth figure of that set. Never. I mean – everyone was shouting at me „go right, with the other ladies!“, but how could I know where is right and where is left at that moment? But despite being so much lost, it was fun as never before as well. Yes, one gin and tonic might have helped it a little bit, but only a little. We ended our carnival ceili late after the midnight with taking a picture with 4 monks and then drove home for another short and insufficient sleep.

Getting up on Sunday morning took us slightly longer time than the day before. We also had to pack everything and leave the hotel, so we arrived just a few minutes before the tea break. But Christian greeted us with a smile and a sentence „Hello girls! Great to see you, you are here right at the time, lunch will be ordered in a few minutes!“ and that comforted us. In the second half of the last workshop we tried how it feels to be a demostration set and we enjoyed that very much, even though I was a bit nervous. This was followed by another delicious lunch and the last ceili came. We danced just two sets which hadn´t been danced before: Calledonian and Balingeary. At half past 4 Tony called the last set of our weekend – the Connemara set. When the euphoria from dancing and from final (huuuge) ovation melted away I started to feel really sad. 

There were just 3 more hours in Erlangen left for us. We spent the first one in the beautiful, lovely and freezing city centre and then we moved to the brewery, where we talked with the rest of Andrea´s family for a while, danced our final Ballyvourney Jig in front of everyone…and after that great experience? Time to the last goodbye came. I felt really doleful because I met many new great people and the programme was so appealing, that I enjoyed every single second.

I would like to end my article (which is probably longer than it should be) with my final big “THANK YOU, ANDREA FORSTNER & FAMILY“. Your „Irish Set Dance meets Carnival“ changed one ordinary girl into a dedicated and enthusiastic set dancer.

PS: Those of you who were in Erlangen, are you planning to attend any other set dance weekend this year? Augsburg? Copenhagen? I´d like to know where I can meet you again, so please leave comments!