Monday, December 13, 2010

Aspects of the History of Irish Dancing by John Cullinane

After wishing to get my hands on these valuable books on Irish dancing, I was thrilled to receive a copy of John Cullinane's books on the History of Irish Dancing.  So little has been written about Irish dance history.  If you do an internet search, most of what you come across contradicts itself. What a treasure this collection is!

Food to eat while reading: Irish Tea Cake
Dr. John Cullinane’s book Aspects of the History of Irish Dancing is the first in a library of eight books that provide invaluable information about Irish dance history. Because the Gaelic people passed down their history orally, very little is recorded concerning the roots of Irish dance. Through research, interviews and valuable experience, Dr. Cullinane delivers a rich background of Irish dancing as we know it today.

The book is written as a reference guide and covers important aspects of history. Dr. Cullinane describes the first Irish dance Ceili held in 1897, records the many remembrances of the infamous dance master, and explains the evolution of feisanna, dance costumes, hand position, as well as ceili and traditional set dances. He then touches briefly on the expansion of Irish dance to England, Australia, New Zealand, North West England and the United States.

Did you know that much of the ceili dances were preserved during the troubled times of 1916-1921 because they were taught in prisons? In Aspects of the History of Irish Dancing, read about the first ever Ceili held in 1897 where participants dined on tea and cakes during intermission. Find out how the infamous dancing master sometimes taught in a kitchen or farm outhouse. Learn about a man who was such a gifted dancer that it was said that “He could write with his feet”(p40).

Dr. Cullinane's book is mostly informative in nature, making it a bit of a dry read for those who are not interested in the history of Irish dance. I have to admit that I am a geek. :) I love Irish dancing and plan on writing several novels based on Irish dance and its history. I soaked up the information in the pages, finding treasures in every chapter.

Here are a few more things I learned about the history of Irish dance from reading the book:

• Job of Journeywork refers to the transient nature of dance masters—they taught dancing wherever their work took them.

• The figure dances we have today were likely created by the dance masters and were printed serially in the Sunday Independent newspaper.

• Sweets of May and Three Tunes are the only ceili dances that have arm actions.

• The dancing master in early nineteenth century prided himself in his dress, wearing a Caroline hat, swallow-tail coat and carried a silver cane. He sometimes taught in a kitchen or farm outhouse.

• In the early 1900’s irish dancers were mostly men and boys, with very few women ever competing, except in figure dancing.

If you find yourself wondering how Irish dance came to be, Dr. Cullinane’s books are a valuable tool that you can use to make sure that traditional Irish dance continues to thrive.

Purchase: or

Genre: history

Publisher: Paperback, 185 pages, Self-published in 1987

Where I got the book: Dr. John Cullinane*

*I received only a copy of the book as compensation for my review.


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