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Archiver > Scotch-Irish > 1998-02 > 0886583130

From: Burnside< >
Subject: Dancing Celts
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 1998 04:05:30 -0500

I have seen old timers in North Carolina do some sort of step dancing,
rather a soft shoe, to Bluegrass tunes of recognizably Celtic sound. Last
summer at the Saline Celtic Festival a young man got up and did what I
believe he termed "Canadian step-dancing" which looked much the same. It is
quite a bit sloppier than "River Dance" and the arms are used, and no
special shoes. Is this considered "clogging", or the origin of "clogging" or
a degenerate form of "clogging?" It seems this sort of dancing is common in
Appalachia from long ago. Did we get it from Northern Ireland or is it
Scottish as well?

Highland dancing, from what I've seen at Alma and elsewhere, seems a very
different animal. Watching the young girls do it is alright, but it seems to
lack something--testosterone perhaps. Did girls begin doing it during the
period when the English hanged Scottish men for such things? I once saw a
lithe young man of 17 or 18 do the sword dance. It was absolutely inspiring,
the heights to which he could leap.
Its a pity more young men, at least in my area, don't take it up. Its a
noble thing. It makes me think of a description I once read in the
literature, of an Irish chief leading his men on a march to battle,
chanting, and every so often the chief would leap into the air and shake his
cloak--something like Mannannan I have imagined.

Another image is the Celtic warrior after victorious battle, driving his
sword into the earth, addressing the sword as though it were a living being,
then dancing around it sunwise while a Bard chanted something called "the
rann of jubilee."

The Celts seem to have delighted in battle. I remember descriptions of
Celtic warriors riding full speed into battle, dancing between their horses
on the beam of the chariot, all the time slicing the air with their weapons
and hurling insults on their enemies.

It seems I remember, in relation to Irish dancing, that a certain
chieftainess had an audience with Queen Elizabeth I.
While the lady strode down the aisle to where the Queen was seated, her
retinue, in single file on either side of her, danced down the aisle, like
some sort of Pyrrhic Dance. What
a sight that must have been.

I read a description once of an elderly Welsh school teacher, late in the
last century, who entered a neighborhood pub. He looked as straightlaced and
Methodist as you please, in dress and decorum every bit a gentleman. There
was a harper playing by the fireside. The harper began a lively tune and the
old gent removed his cape and bowler hat and laid aside his cane.
He mounted the table and began to dance wildly some long forgotten dance, as
though caught in a fairie circle. When
the music stopped he climbed down, serenely put on his garb, grabbed up his
cane and quietly walked back out the door.

Forgive if the particulars are not right on. I'm working from distant recall

Anyway, Methodists frowned on dancing, pronounced the Welsh pipes the
"Devil's instrument," dampened perambulation of churches, the ritual of
"bumping," even went so far as to put the hammer to standing stones. But
theres something inside of a man that needs to dance, whether he knows it or
not. And "the Serpent exits the hill. I will not harm the Serpent and the
Serpent will not harm me."

I took great interest in John Giacoletti's message of 1 Feb.

"...There are some eerie and very powerful pagan dances done in the Scottish
Lowlands and north of England where swords are brandished and then locked at
the hilt performed by about 6-8 dancers...The Highland and Lowland cultures
are quite different as shown by the above dancing differences."

Not to deny the Angles whatever might be their "due," I
wonder if this type of dance is a lingering tradition of the Britons of
Strathclyde and old Cumbria. I wonder if it is known predominantly in the
east or the west of this area? Mostly I wonder, where can I read more about


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