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Six Surprising Tidbits About Irish Dancing Masters


Photo Credit: member JmO’rneau


We’ve been reading up on Irish Dancing Masters of the past (time frame: 18th & 19th centuries) and here are six of the most surprising and interesting tidbits we discovered:

1. Dancing Masters were almost always men.  It was rare to find a female teacher but there were a few out there and they were, of course, fine dancers.

2. Since Dancing Masters constantly traveled (they each had a defined geographical area where they taught), most didn’t even have a place to call home.  So where would the wandering teacher rest his head?  Sometimes with students (it was a big deal to host). Sometimes in very cheap lodging. And sometimes, if they were truly lucky, like one teacher in Cork, the townspeople would build them house! Can you imagine?

3. Some Dancing Masters wouldn’t teach women to dance. Yep, you read that correctly.  The majority of Dancing Masters would teach females, however, there were some who either wouldn’t or would only teach women certain steps – steps that were etiher seen as more feminine or less challenging.  Women who couldn’t learn from their region’s Dancing Master would pick up steps for their brothers or male friends.

4. Dancing was popular and it was desirable for your child to dance well and correctly.  Parents with a little extra means would hire the Dancing Master to provide private teaching sessions for their children.

5. It was important for the Dance Master to only teach within their defined geographical region and to not cross over into another teacher’s realm.  It was like Dancing Master code.   However, the crossover did sometimes happen and occasionally a teacher would try to poach a student from another Dancing Master.  These actions were major no-nos, of course.  Since the Dancing Masters rarely met in person, there would be a lot of trash talking at a distance. In the rare instant the teachers’s paths crossed, there might be a dance-off and in even rarer instances a step too far was taken to physical violence.  Whoa.

6. Dancing Masters were barely tolerated by the clergy and local authority.  Though the actual practice of dance was well respected, it was the social aspect that was frowned upon.  The clergy and local authority did not want students getting too cozy while mingling during lessons and evening dances.

To learn more about Diddlyi’s Dance Masters, check out these links:

What Exactly Is A Dancing Master Anyway? 
Be Inspired By Nicola Byrne 
Be Inspired by Paula Goulding
Be Inspired by Shane McAvinchey
Be Inspired by Ashley Smith
Be Inspired by Ciara Sexton

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Source: Brennan, Helen.  The Story of Irish Dance. Lanham, Maryland: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1999.

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