The 4th annual competition was a huge success!

  • 68 dancers (age 4-73)
  • 54 competitions
  •  22 exhibitions (including 3 singers and 1 spoons player)
  • 2 out of town judges
  • 5 musicians

There were 3 notable additions: 

  • Olive and Cora competed and placed in duets with a 2 hand, done to a slide
  • During the social dancing, hardly any of the 2 hands needed to be called (Johnny Will you Marry Me, Peeler and the Goat, Heel/Toe Polka)
  • Willa (age 10) called the Connemara Set


It was a wonderful day, and much fun was had by all!

When I reflect on the dancing, I feel like there is so much to be proud of in this community.   Our dancers are respectful of the music, and work so hard on their timing and style.  But they don't necessarily communicate that confidence when they are dancing in the competition.    

Perhaps it's my mistake: I stress the importance of dancing with the tune so much.  If they don't know the tune, they work very hard to make sure that they stay with the music.   But what that seems to be creating is an internalized beat-keeping style that doesn't necessarily reflect the fun and joy these dancers have when they are being themselves. 

In years past we have had a tune list, and although it was infuriating to listen to the Silver Spear 150 times, it did allow for children to feel secure in the tune they would hear.  Perhaps it's time to return to that list, and give dancers a bit of comfort so that they can feel comfortable expressing themselves.  


This 2 person exercise is to help dancers explore outside their established repertoire. 


Brain (instigator): The job of the Brain is to think of new movements for the Body to use in their dancing.   This person is encouraged to be playful with their calls in order to help the Body get outside their box.  

Body (responder): The job of the Body is to dance continuously and keep time with the music while responding to the Brain's directions.  


  • Create new movement ideas without the pressure of dancing it immediately.   The Brain gets to see what it looks like on someone else. 
  • Practice brainstorming in the moment.  


  • Practice focusing on staying in time with the music while new information is coming in.  
  • Practice incorporating outside inspiration to create dance in the moment
  • Step outside of the box without needing to think about how to do that. 


  1. Body starts dancing, and establishes a flow.  
  2. Brain calls out an element (drums), body part (heels), movement command (hop), or step (basic).   
  3. Body incorporates that element into the dancing they are already doing, and establishes a flow with that element. 
  4.  Repeat. 



To date, I felt like my best truly sean-nos dance moment had been with Billy at the Atlanta Irish Fest in 2014.  He played a lovely reel, specifically written as a dance tune, and I was on a great little dance-board (bouncy and responsive) and had a monitor perfectly capturing the accordion sound.  I had spent the concert up until my solo standing in the back, focusing on the sound of the accordion and nothing else.  By the time I went onstage I had complete tunnel vision of the ears.  I knew eyes were on me, but they were outside whatever bubble of focus I had created for myself.  They were mere witnesses.  I was speaking TO the accordion music and ABOUT the accordion music.   I was in a complete flow state. 

Flow states are elusive, and hard to reproduce.  While some people find comfort in performance, I like to find the thing that takes my mind away from self-consciousness, namely the floor, the tune itself, the vibrations coming from the instrument, or the musician's "voice" in his/her phrasing or ornamentation.   

On a really good floor I can always start playing around with the sound I am getting from my feet, or using the bounce and response of the wood to create movement.  When the music is close, or audible, it makes my blood start to move and I simply can't stand still, because the music literally moves through me.   I become like a channel.    When I know the tune, I simply play around with the way I hear it, or I can listen to the way the musician is playing it and mimic his ornamentation. 

But on Saturday I sat far away and had to focus on my dancers' performances the whole afternoon to make sure I knew what needed work for Ennis.  I hadn't stood on the floor and tested the sound, which was quieter and deader than I'd hoped (hotel parquet floors are designed for withstanding high-heels and spilled drinks, not giving good sonic feedback to percussive dancers).   And the un-amplified accordion was far enough away I couldn't feel the music.  I asked for a "reel" and got a reel I didn't know.  

I had prepared myself to not plan.  I had prepared myself not to "try", but just to dance.   And to demonstrate my ability to respond to the music the way true sean-nos dancing does.  And that is what I got.  Because there was nothing coming in.   At all.  


So I returned to my basics.  And I did have an advantage to keep me out of the rabbit hole of self-consciousness:  I knew the judge was from Ballinasloe, Co Galway.  

When I dance for someone who is from Galway I always feel like I don't have to try so hard.  They KNOW what sean-nos dancing is.  They know it's a thing, and where it comes from.    I don't have to try to convince them it's real, or keep them entertained with something that they expect to be competition style step dance.  I knew that this judge would know what he was looking at, and things that feel "basic" to an uniformed audience member would be understood to be "traditional" (as they should). 

To say I "won" feels...odd.    It feels better to say that I am really happy for the recognition.  I have traditional steps and rhythms that have been gifted to me through my teachers and fellow dancers in the style.  It was nice to hear that even in a vacuum those things are recognizable in my body.  



I will do it.

I made myself send in the competition registration form without hemming and hawing.  But let's be real: I had heard that no one else was competing and thought I was safe. 

I told myself: I love Se Coyle's accordion music so much.  Every year, having to sit through a day's worth of danceable accordion music makes me crazy.   This year I will let myself dance. 

I told myself: I don't need to overthink it.  I'll just let myself do what I love. Because It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.  And I can overthink it when I get to Ireland. 

And then someone else registered. 

I'm not going to do it. 

I called everyone I knew trying to find justification for staying in, or reasons for dropping out.  

The reasons for dropping out were clear and loud.   You will feel terrible if you lose.  You will be embarrassed if you lose.   YOU don't want to COMPETE!   You don't have to!  WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?

I didn't really have an answer, I just kept searching for something that made sense.  

And then I realized: 

If I drop out, I am a raging hypocrite. 

I tell the kids to do the fleadh. 

 That it's no big deal.  

That they should just be themselves, and share their best work, or just their work at all.  

That we work hard, and they should be proud of that work.  

They should use it as a way to get better.  

That it doesn't matter who wins.  

That we do it to share our dancing outside of our little DC bubble. 

That the adjudicator is just 1 person, choosing a winner "on the day" and YOU ultimately decide your worth, not them.  

That we do it for OURSELVES, to grown, to share, to get better.  

That it is a safe space, because we have each other.  


I really do believe that.  

For them at least.  

Do different rules apply to me?

Last year, I sat in the dance competition next to Lucy.   She competed, with a fever of 102, in the under 12 set and solo sean-nos competitions.    They called, "Over 18 solos", and she looked at me.   

"When are you dancing?" she asked. 

"Oh, I'm not," I replied. 

"What?  Why?" she asked.  "That doesn't make any sense."   And it really didn't.   

I truly believe it is important FOR EVERYONE to dance.  My life's work until this point has been about encouraging people to do that.  To let your body express itself.  To own it, and to own the fact that you love doing it.  

To resist the urge to ask for permission.   Ever.  

To me, one of life's greatest tragedies is when people wait for permission to be themselves.  And now here I am:  a sean-nos dancer, asking everyone I know if I should dance at a sean-nos dance competition that I registered for myself.

Gimme a break.  

BUT... is it enough to simply want to dance? Or do I have to abide by  different rules because I am a leader? 

To dance might feel good to me right now.  But as a leader, do I have more of an obligation to the event as a whole?  Do I have to give this more thought, about how it might affect the community? Or worse, MY CAREER or REPUTATION??!  Is what I say louder, because I am saying it?  Do different rules apply because I am a grown up?   Do grown ups not get to do things simply because they are fun? What if I am something terrible happens and it sets off my life into a series of terrible events....!  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH



What if I go ahead and OWN my humanity, instead of pretending like, because I'm a leader, or an adult, that I am not still growing/learning/changing/exploring and (gasp) IMPERFECT?

Because, really? I have to be perfect, and I don't get to grow because I am a leader, or an adult? That's ridiculous.

And exhausting. 

And boring.

And no fun.  

So what kind of work do I want to show here?   What is this an opportunity to model? 

What do I need? What is going to make this experience a good one, for all involved? 

I need to respect tradition. 

I need to express myself in my dancing. 

I need to get up to dance at all, perform nice clean steps, let myself improvise completely, and connect with the music.

That's it. 

But what about the other people?  The judges? The audience?  

The other people there (judges, audience) are simply there to witness that work.  

Whether or not they know that is their problem. 

I mean, at the end of the day isn't this is all just one way to keep busy being human? A competition is just human beings' way of ensuring we remember our ancestors (dance or otherwise), and that we keep doing our best work.   

I was 90% convinced. 

In the end, I asked the children what to do.

They didn't even hesitate.

Of course I should do it, obviously, because that's where the dancing is happening and I am a dancer.  

There was very little discussion, it was decided unanimously in 1 sentence, and then they launched into a discussion about nerves, and what to wear, and what the judges think, and all of the craic that comes with situations like this.    

"Shannon what are you going to dance? I'm going to dance a reel.  Or maybe a hornpipe.  Or maybe a jig.  I don't know!!! hahah!" 

"Omg, remember the judge last year?  He HATED me!" "Not as much as Seosamh O Neachatain hated me!"

"Remember what the woman in ireland wrote?   'Didn't care for the clicks'.   OUCH! hahah!" "Yeah, well Ada won just because she danced in a circle!" (Uproarious laughter from everyone) 

And guess what: that conversation alone was GREAT FUN.  And we hadn't even done anything yet.   

After that we decided to dance for each other and yell heckles at each other to try to make each other smile, or crack up, or dance better. 

It was worth the decision to do it just for that moment, standing on the Upton's deck in the sunshine, between figures 1 and 2 of the Cavan set with a bunch of girls I have been dancing with for almost a decade, talking excitedly about how ridiculous competitions are, all the while knowing that without them we wouldn't have all this fun stuff to talk about. 

I will do it. 

And I'm going to really try my damnedest to have fun. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go vomit.... ;)



#TBT Musician-Dancers: Michael Tubridy and Alga Mae Hinton!

This week we will feature musician-dancer Michael Tubridy and Alga Mae Hinton, in honor of Michael Tubridy and James Keane's visit this weekend!   


Events abound!

Visit for the full schedule and discounts!





In the wake of recent events, SDD would like to remind our dancers, families, and supporters that it was not that long ago that the Irish in America were subject to racism, oppression, bigotry, persecution, discrimination, and hatred. There are countless articles online (like To show our solidarity with #blacklivesmatter, we will be featuring black dancers, artists and musicians who have been inspirational to the Irish percussive dance community.

#TBT: Bill Robinson meets Róisín Ní Mhainín and the Devane brothers!

First watch the dance routine of Bill Robinson found in "Harlem is Heaven" at 22:24

Pay close attention to 24:30, and see a smilier movement in this great video of Róisín Ní Mhainín, at 0:44

Then watch the movement at 24:55, and see the same step done by Patrick and Gearoid Devane here, starting at 18:07! (To the same tune that Róisín is dancing to, btw!) 

In the wake of recent events, SDD would like to remind our dancers, families, and supporters that it was not that long ago that the Irish in America were subject to racism, oppression, bigotry, persecution, discrimination, and hatred. There are countless articles online (like To show our solidarity with #blacklivesmatter, we will be featuring black dancers, artists and musicians who have been inspirational to the Irish percussive dance community.

#CultureWednesday: Social Dance

I just saw this TED talk on Facebook, and thought it was a perfect jumping off point for today's blog post! 

Irish dance comes in many forms, but all of Irish dancing includes some kind of percussive element, even if the percussively is felt within the body of the dance (as in the soft shoe slip jig, or the jive). 

Here's a random sampling of Irish dancing at social events.   I included competition footage because competitions were a very important part of Irish social events, as were dance as performance. 

  • What seems continuous?  
  • What is different?  
  • How is it different than the clips of the African American dances?  
  • How is it the same?


In the wake of recent events, SDD would like to remind our dancers, families, and supporters that it was not that long ago that the Irish in America were subject to racism, oppression, bigotry, persecution, discrimination, and hatred. There are countless articles online (like To show our solidarity with #blacklivesmatter, we will be featuring black dancers, artists and musicians who have been inspirational to the Irish percussive dance community.

#MusicalityTuesday: Diane Walker and Joe O'Donovan

Today's #musicalitytuesday features the beautiful Dianne Walker and Joe & Siobhan O'Donovan!

Dianne Walker is a tap dancer, also known as Lady Di. Her thirty-year career spans Broadway, television, film, and international dance concerts. Walker is the Artistic Director of TapDancin, Inc. in BostonMassachusetts.

As a tap dancer, dancing to jazz, Dianne is expected to interpret the tune the same way a jazz musician would.  Both musician and dancer use the basic melody to solo, and create their own version of the basic melody.   With regards to musicality, it's a different approach than the way we dance Irish steps.  Her phrasing and movement continually changes, as she interprets the tune.   

Now look at this clip of Joe and Siobhan O'Donovan, Old Style Step dancers: 


Joe O' Donovan (1918-2008) was born in Cork city into a household filled with Irish music, song and dance.  His father, Michael O'Donovan, was the founder of the Blackpool Step-Dancing Club and Joe's older sister Mary became a registered Irish dancing teacher.  As a boy, Joe O'Donovan learnt to play the melodeon and accordion and later went on to learn a number of other instruments.  He played with the Cork Volunteers' Pipe Band and was a keen collector of recorded traditional and classical/ operatic music and of books on history, folklore and current affairs.

Siobhán O'Donovan (1918-2013) was born Hannah Twomey in Cork city as one of thirteen children.  She later adopted the name Siobhánto distinguish herself from a school friend also called Hannah Twomey.  Siobhán and her eight sisters were all accomplished step-dancers.  Friendly with the O'Donovan family, two of the Twomey girls, Breda and Siobhán, married two of the O'Donovan boys, Mike and Joe, in 1948 and 1949, respectively.  Joe worked for an engineering firm and was heavily involved in the trade union movement but in his spare time he taught Irish dancing classes at An Grianán under the auspices of Sceim na gCeardchumann, a society run by trade unionists promoting an interest in all things Irish.  For the remainder of his life, Joe O'Donovan played a significant part in the revival and preservation of many of the country's regional and national dances through workshops, lectures and articles.  Joe and Siobhán O'Donovan were heavily involved in Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (an international movement engaged in the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music)  and travelled extensively across the globe participating in festivals and teaching Irish dancing. Their unparalleled contribution to Irish music and dancing has been acknowledged by a number of tributes and awards, including the TG4 Sé Mo Laoch Tribute and Gradam Ceoil Award.


When Joe and Siobhan dance, they dance "steps", 8 bar repeating phrases (L and R).   This mirrors the way Irish music is played: in most cases, each A and B part repeat, and smaller variations/ornaments happen within the repeating melody of the tune.  (Note: they are not Connemara sean-nos dancers, which has it's own way of approaching musicality.)

Ways your might use these videos for deeper study:

  • Watch the videos, and note movements that repeat and movements that seem unique to each dancer.  
  • Watch and see what qualities you think each dancer exhibits.    
  • Look one-at-a-time for: drums/cramprolls, cuts, toe knocks, flaps/tip-down.  Listen to the way they apply those movements to the music, rhythmically.   (A good way to do that is to sing along with the tune and listen for their rhythm). 



In the wake of recent events, SDD would like to remind our dancers, families, and supporters that it was not that long ago that the Irish in America were subject to racism, oppression, bigotry, persecution, discrimination, and hatred. There are countless articles online (like To show our solidarity with #blacklivesmatter, we will be featuring black dancers, artists and musicians who have been inspirational to the Irish percussive dance community.




#TUNE OF THE WEEK: The Boys of Blue Hill meet Chuck Brown!

During the creation of Washington Sound Museum: Hip Hop Meets the Music of Ireland, Christylez Bacon noticed that Shannon's old style hornpipe steps fit right in the "Go-Go pocket".

Go-go is a subgenre of funk music developed in and around the Washington metropolitan area in the mid-70s. Brown is called the "Godfather of Go-Go" and was considered a local legend in Washington, D.C. Darryl Brooks, a local promoter who worked with Chuck Brown during his career, stated, "He was a symbol of D.C. manhood, back in the day, because of the authority that he spoke with. He just spoke from a perspective that black men could understand." Andre Johnson, the leader of the go-go band Rare Essence, said that Chuck Brown "influenced generations of people—not just one—a few generations of musicians around here." Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said Brown was "Go-go's creator and, arguably, its most legendary artist."

Today's challenge is to take your hornpipe steps and dance them first to the Boys of Blue Hill, and then to Chuck Brown, and see what feels the same and what new inspirations strike! 


If you don't remember the Boys of Blue Hill, this is a GREAT video for both dancing and learning some nuances in the melody:

Then take those same steps and dance them to Chuck Brown: 

In the wake of recent events, SDD would like to remind our dancers, families, and supporters that it was not that long ago that the Irish in America were subject to racism, oppression, bigotry, persecution, discrimination, and hatred. There are countless articles online (like To show our solidarity with #blacklivesmatter, we will be featuring black dancers, artists and musicians who have been inspirational to the Irish percussive dance community.


PRACTICE TIP: Clean Your House to Irish Music

"What do you do before you go onstage?" "I improvise, and try to get out of my own way."
-Michelle Dorrance, Tap Dancer and MacArthur Genius Grant Award Winner 2016

I hate cleaning.  I just have a hard time getting that excited about the activity.   I do love the result though, so I find that having the right conditions is key.   Irish music is great for that.  It's fun, upbeat, and keeps me naturally moving forward.    It's like a "whistle while you work" phenomenon.  (People have a told me the same thing about when they run, but you won't catch me doing that nonsense.)

I've notice there is a secondary benefit to cleaning your house to Irish music:    you're only half listening.    

Imagine a true session or party where there's great music: you aren't sitting with your hands folded in your lap as if in church or at a concert.  You aren't actively listening.   You are moving around, talking, socializing.  If the music is good it will grab your attention.  

The thing is, "good" can mean a lot of things, and it can mean different things to the head and the body.   The head, for example, might respond to a virtuosic fiddle tune with 97 parts and 43 accidentals.  But the body might really respond to simpler things, like a good groove or a simple tune with lots of room for extra rhythm.  

Everyone is different, and its important as a dancer that you know what kind of music grabs your body.  


When you are half listening, you are honestly responding. You are not efforting a dance or making an analysis.  By half listening, your essence and/or body are able to respond to particular triggers from the music.  It's primal.  

This is the kind of response we want to embody in our sean-nos dancing.  The best sean-nos dancing comes from that place.   The place where the music has grabbed us and we have no choice but to move to the dance floor.  When we are on the dance floor before we even know what's happening.  

It's the expression of a personal connection.  By listening to that body-voice, we can support and develop that connection.  This leads to better, more creative and confident improvisations, and the development of genuine personal style.  

Note: Practice is important.  But as improvisors we practice our skills so that we have a  range of rhythms/moves in our aresenal. We practice so that those moves are second nature, and in the moment we can access those skills to help us express what we are hearing/feeling. 


1) Don't listen.   Or rather don't actively listen.  Put on Irish music while you are doing something that requires so level of basic focus so that the mind can't respond but the body can. 

2) Let the music grab you.  When you find your body responding, do what it wants to do.  Even if it's just a little step in your imagination. 

3) Be the observer.  How do you feel?  What elements are you using?   How do you naturally move to this music?    Being able to access this place will be important in developing your own personal style. 

4) Take note.  Either in your head, or in a notebook.  Take note of instrumentation.  Style.  Players.   Tune names.   

5) Observe patterns.  Chances are the same players, instrumentation, or tunes will come up time and time again.  For years I loved the Old Blackthorn, but only when I started asking "what tune was that? I LOVE that tune" did I realize I was getting the same answer repeatedly.  

REMEMBER: the point is to let your body respond and tell you what IT likes!   Your head might like the idea of minor complex tunes that have 17 parts, but your body might like a good solid single reel in G.   You never know!

PRACTICE TIP FRIDAY: Listening for Repetition

“You want to be a sean-nos dancer?   Just dance the tune!” -Anonymous Dancer, Miltown Malbay

In an ideal world, all sean-nos dancers would grow up in the following manner:  Irish music present from day 1 and the only musical experience, and as they unconsciously absorb the nuance of traditional tunes and ornamentation they develop an inherent need to express the particular character articulated in each tune with their feet through rhythm. 

This isn’t the case for most of us.  But the good news is that you can easily develop an ear for the nuances that make each tune unique through active and critical listening

You want to make sure to keep critical listening tasks manageable. Don't try to bite off too much at once. And so...

This week's challenge: Listen for 3 different kinds of repetition: 


First, identify part (8-bar) repetitions.

Ask: Do the parts (8 bar melodies) repeat?

In Irish music speak: Is it a single or a double?

In the Connachtman’s Rambles, the 8 bar segments repeat in an AABB pattern.  It is double. 

Next, identify repetition within the parts.

Ask: Does anything repeat within the 8 bars?  What is it, how long does it last, and how many times does it repeat?

In Connachtman’s Rambles, the opening phrase happens every 2 bars.  This happens 3 times and then there is a 2 bar ending phrase.  

Finally, identify repetition across the parts.

Ask: Does the A part sound, in rhythm or melody, like the B part?   

In the Connachtman’s Rambles, the B part echoes the A in the melodic structure:  in each set of 3 notes, one note is followed by 2 repeating notes.    

A part: F-A-A D-A-A

B part: F-B-B F-A-A 

This keeps the groove and the rhythm the same.    


Note: If you find listening and identifying difficult, print out the sheet music or the ABCs from the   Looking at the visual structure of the tune can help demystify the tune structure.  

Some other great classic tunes that are hellarepetitive, and great for this exercise!

  • Humors of Tulla
  • Silver Spear
  • Come West Along the Road
  • Kesh. Jig 
  • Lilting Banshee