While many folks make a point of staying in on Monday nights to catch the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars, stars of another sort are taking to the dance floor at the Irish Cultural Centre of New England. These are individuals, friends and families who have discovered the fun and exercise that Irish set dancing has been offering people for over 150 years. Thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of ICC member and instructor Cait Diamond, Monday night set dancing takes place at the Centre from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. for a $5 donation to the ICC at the door.
Cait encourages people of all ages to take advantage of this great activity at the Centre and "get up and get going" to this informal set dancing instruction and practice. She describes this style of dance as one that evolved from the quadrille, or, square patterns, of the formal ballroom dance tradition to the romping sets of jig and reel patterns that blossomed across towns and villages of the Irish countryside. It was not unusual for a particular characteristic in a dance step to emerge in a county and take on its own folk style.
Cait grew up in County Offaly and was lucky enough to learn set dancing from an older sister. She recalls this sister going to set dancing for about a year. She would come home and teach her younger siblings. When Cait later came to the United States and lived in Philadelphia and Boston, she remembers that going to set dancing made such a difference in forging friendships and getting to know people in a safe environment. She recalls that in these cities, years ago, it was part of the Irish culture to bring children to the set dancing gatherings. When Cait raised her own family, she made set dancing a part of family gatherings and outings. In fact, Cait smiles, dancing became such a common social time in her family’s life that "my children thought all adults could dance."
Cait believes all adults can enjoy something about set dancing whether it’s the movement, the music, the laughter, or the friendships. Her easy-going nature gives her a knack for helping beginners discover how to move into the parts and figures of set patterns. She likes, too, how the "Monday regulars" at the ICC are quick to welcome new people into a set. She explains that the word "set" is what the dancers call the group of eight people forming a square. Cait notices that "the newcomer never needs to know what to do or mull too much about it; it’s about coming, getting into the square and taking the help of others." Cait likes that "there’s lots of laughter; everybody wears a big smile." Thanks to the patterns of the set dancing, there’s a point when the music changes, and people in the square have a few minutes to chat with each other. In no time at all, she says, "the self-consciousness wears off."
At the Irish Cultural Centre, Cait has seen people ages seven to ninety gather and have a great time. Some have experience with set dancing; most do not. She likes the word to get out that, in her class, people can come by themselves and not be worried about needing a dance partner. Her goal is to create an informal setting at the Irish Cultural Centre where set dancing is "a great physical activity; not as exhausting as some exercise can be, and a lot more social."
Join Cait Diamond for set dancing fun on Monday nights (except Holidays) from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Irish Cultural Centre, 200 New Boston Drive, Canton, MA 02021. A $5 donation at the door goes toward the ICC. For additional information please call 781-821-8291or e-mail info@irishculture.org .