The Monthly interviews Ann Godfrey about Set Dancing on the Antrim Coast – Part 3 – A movement of community-based dancing?

What would be something which would give a feel for the importance of Set Dancing?

A small story that epitomises Set Dancing. After the 2008 crash, the following year, at the Willie Clancy (Summer School) which is a big event for people who are connected to Set Dancing and traditional music. People would come from overseas to be part of this event and you might have as many as 600 people at a Céilí.

We were all sitting at a table waiting for the Céilí to start. My friend Anne and I were talking to a woman from Dublin and we were discussing the economic crash. We were talking about how difficult it was to survive because of the difficult economic situation. This woman was talking about how she had three jobs and she was still struggling to make ends meet. And as we were discussing the issue of the crash, the woman said, “whatever else is happening, we have this!”. We all knew exactly what she meant. We had Set Dancing and the community which has developed around it.

Why do you think people feel that way?

It really is a community-based form of coming together to dance. People are from all backgrounds. It brings everyone together who just love this type of dancing. It isn’t an expensive thing to do. It is a very social affair but drinking isn’t really a big part of what we do. You can’t dance well if you are drinking. You are dancing to really beautiful music, you are part of a tradition, and above all, it really is a lot of fun.

And who makes the Set Dancing happen?

It is based around teachers and local community groups. With regards our community organisation the grants we have been give tend to be offered from a community-based point of view. Through our activities we are looking to reduce social isolation, to encourage people to connect with other people, to encourage people to meet up, to build community.

And people can learn the techniques?

You do have to be taught the steps and you do have to learn what the time signatures are and how you connect the dance steps with the music. But again it really is just a lot of fun.

It feels like this is a movement?

I think it is a little bit different from going to other forms of dance classes, salsa for example. I think there is a sense of groups being active, keeping the tradition alive, and that people are aiming to encourage others to be part of the culture of Set Dancing.

Where to now?

The aim is to make Set Dancing bigger and better in Cushendun and this is happening elsewhere too. It had been the case that only older people were Set Dancing and Covid didn’t help, but we are seeing younger people coming along to the classes and Céilís. It does feel me to that it is more than dance, that it a community activity and I do think that makes it slightly different from other dance-based activities and that is what we are trying to maintain and to also to encourage the growth of Set Dancing.

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