Friday, May 4, 2012

Blog Challenge: Dance Imagery

Preface: Life got in the way of updating my blog for a little while. My apologies, but I'm glad to be back in the blogospehere! I've missed you all terribly :)

The Dance Buzz's April blog challenge (yes, I know it's May) centered around "dance imagery." What exactly does that mean, you ask? Dance imagery refers to metaphors dancers and teachers use to better describe movements and techniques.  

What exactly does that mean to Irish dancers? Pretty much nothing. For many years, I've been acutely aware that the language of Irish dance isn't particularly pretty. We don't have the romantic, elegant sound of ballet. French is the language of love, after all, and also the language of ballet. Even though our terminology is in Irish (Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne, Feis, An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, Ár Rincí Fóirne, etc.), the only Irish word I've frequently heard used in class is "Ceili."

After teaching class for 3 hours tonight, I don't think I uttered any words of "dance imagery." I don't really use metaphors. I, like most Irish dance teachers I've learned from, am very straight forward. Even with the little ones, my wording is quite plain and unimaginative. Here's the short list of my most used phrases whilst teaching...

"Point your toes!"
"Turn your feet OUT!"
"Turn out the back foot!"
"Crossed position"
"Don't sickle your foot"
"Keep your arms down"
"Count in your head"
"UP on your toes"
... and my #1 (the dancers will attest to my overuse of this phrase): "KICK YOUR BUTT!"

None of those create the least bit of imagery.

On occasion, I've told dancers to pretend they had a yardstick taped to their back (as a reminder to keep their backs straight). When explaining how to do a proper bow, Mrs. Sarah (our fearless leader at the dance school), told the kiddos to imagine they were a drawbridge, coming up and down perfectly straight. That's actually the best example of "imagery" I've heard in an Irish dance class in a long time :)

If I had to choose one piece of universal "dance imagery" for Irish dancers, "Over-the-bridge" is the best I can do.   As I got older, "UP-2-3" became my mental phrase of choice for leaps, but I still say over-the-bridge constantly. It's so unique to Irish dance. However, that phrase never made much sense to me. Looking back to my first experience with overs, I know I was thinking, "Over the bridge? Over what bridge? Why am I hopping over a bridge? I'm not a giant! What does this mean?!" Even our Irish dance imagery is baffling. I've heard teachers say, "Over-the-fence," which makes slightly more sense. A white picket fence is a much more reasonable height to leap over than a bridge. Seriously...

An honorable mention goes to any Irish dance phrase that equates a heavy landing to becoming a large, African land mammal. "You sound like a heard of elephants!" "Are you an rhino?!" "Don't land like an hippo!" You get the idea.  

Hippopotamus two-hand, anyone?
What are your favorite Irish dance metaphors? 

Keep dancing... and not landing your over-the-bridges like elephants,


  1. Great post! Now that I think of it, I don't use many metaphors for my tap classes either... mostly just in pre-ballet and modern. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Interesting post! I think in the old days of dancing people had a much more natural understanding of how steps should fit with the music. Traditional sets for example, parts of ceilis like the Roly Poly. They all just fit perfectly. I don't think people use the music in the same way very often anymore. Tangent - the point is, I think the names of the old steps exude a bit more imagery. To name just a couple, a bird and a crosskey. They kind of tell you what you need to know. These days I've heard of people refer to a jump as a stag leap. Clever, it does look like antlers. The bicycle? Perhaps not so much as to pedal doesn't require pointed toes. Anyway glad you're back!

  3. Best one I heard was from my teacher who was a math major in college- she knew I had taken calculus so she told me to do one traveling/jump sequence in the shape of a differential curve. It made perfect sense to me, her and I'd say one other dancer in the class, but it worked for me!

  4. Thanks for all the comments! Great thoughts about dance wordings. I still say birdies, rocks, crosskeys, and roly poly in class pretty regularly come to think of it :)

  5. Hey Moira,couldn't find another way to contact you,Clare and I would love to be a part of your project!Feel free to email me with the details(it's on my profile)

  6. I emailed you! Let me know if you got it :)

  7. It was interesting to me actually to read your article as a singer who sings both classical (opera and art song) and Irish folk music. It's true that I use a lot more imagery when I sing classical music (perhaps the parallel would be ballet or modern dance), and the Irish singing is more down to earth, almost more "rote". The expression in a performance of folk singing is more simple and straightforward. Still, can't help but think you're missing out if you haven't explored the imaginative inner world of dance :) I'm not a dancer but I find imagery exercises put me more in touch with the music!


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