Publications available

Kate Spanos has published the following articles about her dissertation research on Montserrat:

Thank you, Montserrat! #BlendedRhythms 2014 comes to a close


This photo is from the first day of Blended Rhythms workshops back in January, and it’s hard to believe how much has happened since then. A lot of dancing and drumming, that’s for sure!

THANK YOU to Montserrat for supporting #BlendedRhythms this year and welcoming me and Dominique into the community and schools. We are making plans for next year, which promises to be even better!

A VERY SPECIAL THANK YOU to Herman “Cupid” Francis for all of his support: helping us promote and schedule the workshops, setting up our performances at the St. Patrick’s Festival, and the hardest job of all, carting the drums across the island 3 times per week amid his busy schedule.

Yesterday we had our last adults workshop in Salem and we reignited the Bonfire dance from a few weeks ago. Thanks to everyone who came out for this final class! I hear that some of the students will continue meeting (same time, same place) so that they can keep up the dancing and exercise. I can’t wait to see what new choreography you’ll have to show off by the time I come back next year!

An update on the djembes we ordered through the #AwesomeWithoutBorders grant back in January: unfortunately, they still have not arrived due to some issues with the international post, but we are still trying to locate them and hoping they will arrive eventually. I hear that some people on island are also still waiting for Christmas packages, so there’s still hope!

UPDATE ON MAY 23: Guess what! Two of the djembes arrived the day after I left, and they are beauties! These drums, hopefully along with the others we ordered, will be waiting for us when we arrived next year for #BlendedRhythms 2015. Thanks again, #AwesomeWithoutBorders!


Until next year!

Beach party at Little Bay, Sunday May 11

You’re invited!

We will be having a small beach party at Little Bay next weekend for all those (kids and adults) who participated in and supported the dance/drumming workshops this year. We’ll have some drinks/snacks, and please bring some to share.

Sunday, May 11 at 2pm until. Spread the word and see you there!

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Irish dancers on the red carpet at the Easter Sunday Hat Parade and Tea Party

The St. Augustine Irish dancers did a great job performing their choreography at the school’s Hat Parade and Tea Party fundraiser on Easter Sunday yesterday. While the audience sipped tea and snacked on Easter treats, the girls showed off the dance they’ve been rehearsing for weeks. Don’t they look great in their coordinated pinks?

Video credit: Elizabeth Piper-Wade

Seeing all the creative hats that the students made was fun way to celebrate on Easter Sunday afternoon. Even the young ones had their model struts down, and the K-2 boys put on a lively performance for their walk down the red carpet. I don’t know how the judges were able to determine a winner!

The Catholic Youth Community ladies also showed real panache as they modeled high fashion Easter hats for the occasion.

The St. Augustine steel pan orchestra provided some pleasant entertainment as well. They play with such energy and vigor!

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Threading the needle and breakin’ it down

Yesterday we did some collaborative choreography in both classes, at Lookout Primary School and with the adults in Salem. It was great to get everyone’s creative input!

We included a new figure called “threading the needle,” and also included some moves inspired by Afro-Brazilian/samba and…break dancing. Yep, our Irish céili dance has a top rock in it!

The Lookout and adult versions of the dance have the same basic structure, but there are some differences since the students were responsible for the choreography. We’ll keep developing these dances next week and see what we come up with! These would be great performance pieces in the future.

Also, the Lookout girls proposed a great idea: a beach party for everyone who has participated in the Blended Rhythms workshops! We have chosen Sunday, May 11 at 2pm at Little Bay beach for snacks, drinks, games, and swimming. Stay tuned for more on this!

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A three-hand reel at Lookout Primary School

Lookout Primary School is officially on spring vacation right now, but the Grade 6ers were at school for exams, and they wanted to meet at our usual time for Irish dance class. It was a small class, but we choreographed a whole new dance! This is the creative group—they are focused and motivated, and have choreographed their own dances already, so I knew they’d be up for creating something new today.

We made up a three-hand reel, or a dance for three dancers (yes, we know they actually have six hands total). We started with a simple lead-around to “mark the territory,” as is traditional in a three-hand reel, and then did some side steps. The “double bridge” (as we’re calling it) was a new figure that looks pretty cool, and then we did a rose-like formation in a circle. The end of the dance has a couple Charleston steps, just for fun. (Homework this week is to look up flappers and Roaring Twenties Charleston steps on YouTube!)

Also, well done to one of the girls, who did an amazing job keeping up even though it was her very first day joining us!

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Small Beginnings Music Camp gets fiddlin’

Just because the Blended Rhythms workshops at the schools are on spring vacation for two weeks doesn’t mean that musical activity for the kids is on hold. Herman “Cupid” Francis is running the Small Beginnings Music Camp from April 1-13 so the children have an opportunity to learn various instruments. They each choose two instruments from a vast list, including violin, keyboard, guitar, banjo, mandolin, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and masquerade drums, and spend 3 hours each day practicing them with a variety of instructors at the Old Primary School in Salem.

This afternoon the camp invited guest violinst/fiddler Mike Evans for a workshop/demonstration. Mr. Mike has been on island for the past couple weeks and has played for our adult Irish dance classes a couple of times. Today the beginner students learned how to play rhythms on the violin, starting with the rhythm of: “Mont-serr-at is a beau-ti-ful is-land.” Most of the students haven’t yet been introduced to finger placement, so they while they weren’t able to play the melody of “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” they did echo the rhythm successfully.

Someone requested to hear “Greensleeves,” and the waltz inspired the masquerade drumming instructor, sitting in the back, to quietly tap out the rhythm with his sticks. Soon the whole room was clapping out the rhythm, with half the room clapping the “one” downbeat, and the other half clapping the “two three” upbeats.

The last song Mr. Mike played was an Irish tune, which incited a few celebratory “yeeeee-haws!” and the Irish dancers in the group started squirming in their seats. They were a bit shy at first, but with some encouragement from Mr. Francis, they finally got up and demonstrated the dance choreography they’ve been practicing while Mike played for them. It was quite a collaboration!

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Mr. Francis helps a violin student with proper technique and placement

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Mr. Mike leads the violin students in echoing the “poetic” rhythm of
“Mont-serr-at is a beau-ti-ful is-land, Mont-serr-at, the Em-er-ald Isle”

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Irish dancers demonstrate their céili dance choreography

Adult dancers heat things up with the Bonfire dance

This evening we started with small numbers, but ended up convincing some of the guys who play basketball outside to join us. (We spied them imitating the dance in the doorway, so we invited them in, and it didn’t take much to persuade them!)

We had fiddler Mike Evans in the house again this week, this time playing reels for the Bonfire céili dance. This is a good dance for social interaction, as you move around the circle and dance with a new partner every time. The figures are a bit more complicated than those we’ve done in previous dances, and the circular nature of the dance was also new.

Trivia: the Bonfire is the only céili dance that has a figure named after a flower: the “rose,” when the ladies go in the center and gents stay on the outside circle, and then vice versa. When on the outside circle, the “book” (that is, Ár Rincí Fóirne) states that the dancers should wait in a pose with the left hand on the left hip and the right foot pointed forward with knee slightly bent. However, the boys got a little more creative. They decided to add some “vogue” poses every 2 bars, and I think I saw some Latin dance moves in there too.

I had come straight to the Irish dance class from a masquerade dance rehearsal with Montserrat’s Ladies of Alliouagana troupe. It is interesting to see how similar the quadrille formations are to céili dancing, and they also feature a one-two-three step. However, instead of hopping and standing erect and upright, the step is more of a shuffle with an emphasis down rather than up, and the posture is slightly bent over. We went through 5 quadrilles, one after the other, with lots of hooked arms, ladies chains, and arch-like formations. Not to mention the famous heel-and-toe step that is supposedly related to the Irish polka!

It was a wonderful (sweaty!) evening of blended rhythms, going from Montserratian to Irish dancing 🙂

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Some #BlendedRhythms announcements

Schools are on vacation for the next two weeks, so there will be no Irish dance classes for children during this time. (However, Small Beginnings will be holding a youth music camp from 1-13 April in Salem, so there will be no lack of musical education activity!)

St. Augustine dancers will be rehearsing next week for an appearance at the Easter Sunday Hat Parade & Tea Party fundraiser on 20 April at the school in Palm Loop. We’ll be performing an Irish dance alongside the fashion show while attendants enjoy a “cuppa.”

Adult classes are still on, and we will have guest fiddler Mike Evans playing again at our next class on Tuesday 1 April. If you missed last week, be sure to come next week!

Did you see Graham Clifford’s latest article in the Irish Independent about Afro-Irish culture on Montserrat? Blended Rhythms is mentioned at the end, and it’s wonderful to get some transatlantic ink!

Finally, I want to mention that I’m having a blast lately learning the different rhythms of Montserrat. Yesterday I had a lesson in masquerade drumming, and if those rhythms sound difficult, they are even harder to play! What a brain pretzel. Then I went straight to steel pan rehearsal, which is another challenge altogether—the melodic rhythms are difficult and I have a hard time fitting my tenor part into the overall ensemble puzzle.

I wouldn’t say that all these Montserratian, Irish, and African rhythms are “blending” in my head, but they are certainly competing for space! But it’s a harmonious competition. It’s pretty exhilarating.