Liam Scanlon: The Leitrim Dance Project

Creating a community of professional percussive dancers

Travelling and meeting people from other cultures is always interesting. Trying to communicate and being understood, experiencing different customs, points of view and alternative ways of life can be an eye opener.  The same could be said of meeting and working with dancers from similar but simultaneously diverse dance traditions. In April this year, twenty dancers from various countries and dance styles descended on Carrick on-Shannon for a week long dance residency.

However, this was a residency with a difference. Our commonality was percussive dance, and under the guidance of Nic Gareiss (Dance) and Ultan O’Brien (Fiddle,) we began our adventure.

During the workshops, through discussion, exploration, trial and error, Nic steered us through the deconstruction of our steps, before facilitating our re-focusing of these movements in sync with Ultan’s understated music.

A special morning class was also afforded young local dancers the opportunity to explore and learn from a dancer of Nic’s calibre.  

The Friday afternoon was a chance to share work or ideas dancers were developing, and receive feedback from our peers. It also exposed other dancers to the creative potential they could aspire to.

There were several afternoon talks facilitated by Hazel Hodgins representing Dance Ireland, Dr. Mats Melin of The Irish World Academy, Paul Flynn from the Arts Council of Ireland, and choreographer Michael Keegan Dolan. 

Friday afternoon, saw the project move to the village of Drumshanbo and The Lough Allen Dance Weekend. Over the course of the weekend, those who had partaken in the residency, were joined by cohorts of dancers from varying traditional backgrounds, modern Irish dance, old-style step genres, sean nós, set dancers and more. Here they engaged in master classes to expand and improve their practice with teachers such as the virtuosic James Devine (Modern Irish Step), Siobhán Butler (Sean Nós), Edwina Guckian (Dancing the tune), Joe McGuigan (Old Style Step Dance), Maureen Culleton (Two Hand Dances) and the infamous Timmy “The Brit” (Polkas and Slides).

The weekend also featured music and dance sessions, as well as an open floor discussion. Dancers, musicians and others contributed their personal thoughts and views on a number of topics ranging from the relationships between music and dance, to the transmission of our oral traditions into the future. The debate and discussion provided a forum for associates of various forms of Irish and percussive dance to share and question beliefs and varying viewpoints with members of other traditions. Traditions which may not necessarily mix or exchange ideas on a regular basis. What resulted was a lively and enlightening discourse challenging people’s perceptions and outlooks. 

The week began with strangers from differing percussive dance backgrounds and traditions coming together to be taught, but instead learned. It ended as fledgling community of percussive dance artists looking at their dance in a new light and reflecting on how they could help take their art form forward.

What was particularly of interest to me was the change in perceptions, and how individual dancers viewed their dancing and the various traditions, by the end of the week. 

The Leitrim Dance Project has just completed its second year running, and plans for 2018 are already being finalised. For more information please see Facebook –Leitrim Dance Project.