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Céilí celebrates Irish dance, culture

| Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Caroline Collins | The Observer
The Irish Dance Team performs a traditional dance called “A Trip to the Cottage.”

Dahnke Ballroom was filled with the click-clack of hard shoes, cheers from the audience and the clapping of students Tuesday evening as they swung their partners around the dance floor at the Irish céilí. 

Students participated in the céilí as part of the Center for the Study of Languages and Culture’s Language Week. The event was organized by Shannon Dunne, adjunct teaching professor for Irish language and literature.

A “céilí” is an Irish word that refers to a big social gathering, Dunne said. 

At the event, Dunne taught and called the Irish social dances. The dances were accompanied by live music from the céilí band featuring traditional Irish instruments like fiddles and tin whistles. 

Céilí dances are similar, in a way, to square dances, Dunne said. They are performed as a group and participants switch between different sets of partners. 

Dunne said she choreographed the dances to be easy to learn and that people don’t need previous experience to participate in them.

“I specifically call dances that are easy to learn, and they’re meant to be very easy to grab on to because it’s meant to be a social occasion,” Dunne said. 

During her time studying in Ireland, Dunne learned to call Irish social dances from traditional musicians and dancers who are dance callers in their communities.

At Notre Dame, Dunne teaches an old-style Irish dancing course, an Irish social dancing course and a tin whistle course. Dunne started these classes last year with the help of associate professor Sarah McKibben, who also teaches in the department. 

Caroline Collins | The Observer
Students practice Irish social dancing with their classmates.

Dunne and McKibben started the céilí as a way for students in the classes to experience Irish culture and see all the components come together. Students in the social dancing class demonstrated the dance steps to other students at the ceilí, the tin whistle class joined the band and there was a performance by students in the old-style Irish dance course. 

The event allowed students in different classes and groups to come together and share what they have been learning and working on.

“It’s great to see everybody suddenly together in a way that makes sense, and there are all these people who totally get what they are doing,” Dunne said.

During intermission, there was a performance by the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s Irish Dance Team. The first two dances they performed, a reel and slip jig, were more modern styles of Irish dance. Their last dance was also called a céilí, a traditional Irish dance similar to the social dances Dunne’s students participated in. 

Seniors Maura Doyle and Molly Brown, co-presidents of the Irish Dance Team, said there are dancers of all different levels and varying experience on the team. 

“The club is all-inclusive and it’s a fun way to continue dancing in college,” Doyle said.

Following the performance by the Irish Dance Team, the social dancing class demonstrated a few final dances and the céilí band played the Notre Dame Alma Mater to end the night.

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About Caroline Collins

Caroline is a sophomore environmental science major and journalism, ethics & democracy minor. She loves running, listening to Taylor Swift and not using the Oxford comma.

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