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!