Rhythms and waves at Lookout

Today we continued with some assiko rhythms in drumming class, and there were fewer students now that the Brades kids are back in their usual location (we’re coming to you on Friday!) so everyone was able to focus more. We even had to play the rhythm one at a time! The kids did a great job echoing the rhythm back.

The Irish dance class also worked better with fewer students, and we were able to get through a céili dance with advance/retire, switching places with 7s and 3s, right and left hand turns, and the always difficult “waves” from the Waves of Tory dance. There were some collisions (as expected), but we finally got it!

The important thing to remember is that social dancing is a team activity, so even if someone messes up, we have to keep going and we can fix any problems the next time. There’s no time or space for doing your own individual thing, so it’s important to be considerate of others at all times. And be patient with each other!

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St. Augustine girls find the salsa in sean-nós dancing

Today the girls at St. Augustine were ready for some more advanced steps, building on the toes, heels, and stamps patterns that we’ve been working on. We introduced the basic step of sean-nós (old style) dancing: “and-a heel and heel stamp, and-a heel and heel stamp.” Then we learned a “toe heel toe” step and a “cross in cross out and stamp stamp stamp” step. The girls love saying the words while they dance! But sometimes it takes time and practice for the words to travel down to the feet.

The girls noticed how similar the “cross in cross out” step is to the basic salsa step, so we put a little hip into the sean-nós dance. Irish dance like you’ve never seen it! Each girl got to show off their own personal salsa style one at a time, and then they demonstrated the “hip bump” with a partner.

Their creativity is brilliant!

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Adults get into the sounou and jig groove

Yesterday the adults reviewed some assiko (aka “highlife”) rhythms from last week and also added on some new patterns in the same family. We learned a long break as well, so there was a lot of memory involved! Things are getting more complicated, but the challenge is good and everyone seems up to it. The students seem more comfortable with the drums now and there seem to be fewer sore hands as the weeks progress.

The sounou rhythm was also introduced, which is a bit of a brain pretzel because it requires alternating right and left hands. It’s okay when it’s slow, but once you speed it up…!

The sounou has a nice swinging quality to it (it sounds almost like a waltz to me), which segued nicely into the Irish dance lesson for the day: introduction to the jig. The jig is in 6/8 time, which works well with what sounds like the 3/4 time of sounou. (I’m not entirely sure of the time signature of sounou, but that would be my guess.)

Students were introduced to the rising steps of the jig: rise & grind and sink & grind. These are hard steps to master, so we’ll be reviewing them more in the coming weeks.

The Haymaker’s Jig was the céili dance for this week, which incorporates the rising step. There are some complicated figures, especially the “weaving” down the line figure, but there was much less chaos than expected. This dance could be a contender for a St. Patrick’s Day performance?

Hook Right and Left Elbows: Céili Dancing at Lookout/Brades Schools

The girls’ Irish dance class today was smaller than usual today, so we were able to really focus on getting the 3s right and there was enough attention span to learn an entire céili-style dance. We formed long lines facing our partners and did moves like advance/retire, hook right/left elbows, and follow the leader.

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The boys’ class was a bit more chaotic, so lesson plans were scrapped and instead we had a few competitions: who can get across the floor with the least number of cartwheels, who can hold a handstand against the wall for the longest time, and (to introduce a theme from Irish dance), who can get across the floor with the least number of “cuts” (kicking the heel up towards the hip). The boys also showed off their flexibility.

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It wasn’t a completely Irish dance-less class though: a couple of the boys were able to really focus on learning a hard shoe rhythm pattern to work on “treble hop backs.” They saw how cool this move can be when done fast, and they were willing to break it down to slowly work it up to speed. If they practice everyday this week, they’ll have it by next week for sure!

Blending rhythms in the fresh air

Today was “sports day” for St. Augustine School, so we met the students at Little Bay field instead of at the school.

Luckily the rain held off and it was a beautiful afternoon! This was the first time that we had the drumming circle right next to the dancing circle, so it was a good opportunity to try “blending” the rhythms. While the drummers played, the dancers inched closer and closer so they could hear the rhythm better. It wasn’t easy, especially when the drumming sped up–it required some fast feet! We have a few weeks to practice before we start blending the classes for real.

Talent in both groups is really starting to shine, and now at St. Augustine we are also getting a few “cross over” students who are participating in both dancing and drumming.


Today Kate also explained her Irish claddagh ring to some of the girls: the hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty, and the heart represents love. Friendship, loyalty, and love!


Adult djembe and céili classes lead into an impromptu masquerade dance jam

We had good numbers at the adult drumming and dance classes yesterday evening, and it’s great to see that we have regulars who come every week (and are showing real progress!) as well as new faces.

We learned some new djembe rhythms (including lamba and assiko, or “high-life”), and this week we were under a bit more pressure, as each student had to play a (difficult!) rhythm pattern alone! It’s easy to play when the rest of the group is backing you up, but you really have to confront your own mistakes when playing solo. A hard but valuable lesson!

We also reviewed some sean-nós (“old style”) steps from last week, breaking down the footwork in more detail. The “basic” step is actually one of the harder steps, but once you’ve mastered it, anything is possible.

We ended with a fun céili dance called “The Waves of Tory,” which is a good interactive social dance that progresses down the floor. There were a few minor collisions, but what fun would it be without them?

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After the workshops, everyone gathered outside the school building in the basketball court. People were still dancing “skip 23s” around, and this eventually morphed into Montserrat’s masquerade dance! Some of the students are in the Ladies of Alliouagana masquerade troupe here in Montserrat, and they showed just how similar some of the steps are to Irish dance: there is a similar 3-count step, as well as a heel/toe step. Dominique pulled out his djembe and gave us a beat while we danced masquerade!

This kind of “trading” of steps and rhythms is exactly what these workshops are all about: the intersection of Africa, Ireland, and Montserrat.

Adults djembe class

Adults djembe class (audio)

Adults dance “The Waves of Tory”

St. Augustine dancers review 3s, 7s, and rhythm patterns

The girls at St. Augustine proved that they’ve been practicing in the past week, because their 3s and 7s were much improved! As it turns out, the school is up the street from our house, so I was delighted the other day when I passed by during their break and caught them practicing 🙂

They also learned some new footwork patterns, which they picked up with no problem at all. Some of these girls are real mathematicians when it comes to breaking down rhythm counts. Dance–it’s both mind and body!

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The younger class (Kindergarten – Grade 2) learns to dance Cotton-Eyed Joe, an old favorite from the O’Neill-James School of Irish Dance in Washington, DC

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The older class (Grade 3 – Grade 6) reviews their 3s and 7s from last week, showing some serious improvement

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The “model walk” is not a traditional Irish dance, but we tacked it onto the end of the dance anyway, just for fun. These girls can show some attitude!

Day 1 at Montserrat Secondary School

Numbers were small at Montserrat Secondary School workshops this afternoon, but it didn’t matter. This lucky student got a private djembe lesson! Among the rhythms learned were koteba breaks, including lamba and kassa. The room was small and hot, but it had some great acoustics!

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Learning the counts for hand positions

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Getting the hang of the rhythm pattern

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Djembes spread joy!

Looking forward to next week and hopefully a few more students!

Adults learn kassa from Guinea and sean nós from Connemara

Week 2 of the adult drumming workshops covered kassa rhythms from Guinea. We learned to play after the “break,” and had half the circle playing one rhythm while the other half played another. It wasn’t easy, but after some practice, it sounded pretty awesome. I think I speak for most when I say that our hands are pretty sore today!

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Here is a short video of the kassa rhythm:

Week 2 of the adult dance workshops was also successful: we reviewed sean-nós (old style) steps from last week and then reviewed the “3s” before attempting a céili dance (a variation of the Walls of Limerick). Everyone was sweating and smiling by the end!