Why Set Dances?

April 25, 2018

Let’s talk about why there’s even a third round at all, shall we?
Why have a third round that’s just another treble jig or hornpipe? Yes, you dance by yourself third round, but it’s really just dancing hardshoe like round two, right?

There are 40 Set dances to choose from, with a prescribed minimum soles they can be danced to. (Thankfully) They were gathered and codified by the commission to preserve and promote Irish Music as well as dancing. Set dances are a separate round from either Hard or Soft Championship rounds, and are always danced in hardshoe. 

Sets are not like the hard shoe round in the following ways:
1. Speed. 

 Depending on which set you’re dancing, increasing or decreasing the speed is a mark of prowess. But that doesn’t apply to all sets. Sprig of shillelagh at speed 66 is not nearly as respected as Planxty Hugh O’Donnell at speed 66.

2. Length. 

 As alluded to above, The length of set says a lot about you as a dancer. Many people take this to mean, the longer the set, the better, to show endurance and stamina. While this is true, there are many more opportunities to showcase abilities with shorter sets, especially if you’re packing them with athletically challenging movement and intense rhythmic sequences. Having the opportunity to experience both is important. 
3. Musicality. 

 The sets each have a distinct character, and this is the best part. When you dance the hard shoe round in any given competition, you don’t get to choose what music you dance to. The musician does. They play whatever tune suits them, or play the same. one. over. and. over. The music could perfectly complement your teachers steps, or not.

 In sets: There are special rhythms, melodic themes and don’t forget the evocative names in set dances. Who hasn’t seen a jockey to the fair or Kilkenny races that has iconic Horse leg movements? Aren’t there special sequences at the beginning of a blackthorn stick that you don’t see at the beginning of any other set? Have you ever seen an expertly choreographed set where the music and the choreography belong together? If they tried that choreography to a different set, it would look and feel awkward. It takes a beautiful blending of the understanding of music and the dancers abilities to create a set. 
4. Variety

All of these elements combine to make each set a distinctly different experience, for if the student, the teacher, the adjudicator, and the audience. To simply keep the choreography and change the music shows a level of immaturity in the teacher, that they don’t understand the real value of the Set Dances as a showpiece of both their choreography and dancer’s ability. This is what bothers me about the trend of everyone doing the same set. Can I tell you how sick I am of the Vanishing Lake and Planxty Hugh O’Donnell after watching worlds this year? I understand if a teacher or student was captivated by one of these pieces of music, but I highly doubt everyone was. Most jumped on the bandwagon of what was fashionable. 
 I hope this insight helped you, And if you’re a teacher, I don’t mean to insult. I just invite you to explore the Challenge of creating something special, not something everyone else has. Thanks. 

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