Ireland – Irish Set Dancing – by Victoria Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Ireland – Irish Set Dancing – by Victoria Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and


[Arden dancing with a local while the instructor (the man behind her) reminds the group of the next steps]

When we first got to Ireland, we were told that every Thursday night there was the opportunity to partake in dance lessons. As someone who spent fifteen years of their life dancing, hearing this made my ears perk up. We were told that we had the option to attend something called Irish set dancing. I had never heard of that and wasn’t really sure what I had signed myself up for when I walked through the doors to the Derrylahan Thursday night.

Being that it was our groups first time attending the dance lessons we were uninformed of the fact that the instructor comes at 8:30 not 8 o’clock as we originally had been led to believe. This left us sitting in a pub waiting for a half an hour but the time went by quickly as I talked with other students about where they planned on traveling over different school breaks. One of the other students, a boy named Zach, had only gone to the pub to eat dinner, but of course he ended up being dragged along to the dance class. Before we knew it we were being ushered into a room connected to the pub by a hallway.


[Zach and Allie dancing with two women from Luisburgh]

The room had all wood floor with chairs facing a dance floor just waiting for us to begin. A thin curtain separated the room in half. On the side, opposite of the side we were on several tables and a bar were all set up. It looked like the kind of place where wedding receptions or banquets were held. Although the heaters were all on high, the room still had a sharp chill to it.

Most of us students choose to keep our coats on to begin. The instructor told us each to pair up and form two circles, each circle having four “couples”. Because the majority of the class was older women, some women had to take the place of the man in the dances. The instructor slowly went through the first set step by step. My partner happened to be my good friend Allie. Because Allie is much taller than I am, the instructor suggested she take the lead position.

Allie and I struggled through the first set because neither one of us had ever been taught how to waltz and there were several times throughout the first set where waltzing was required. After being led step by step through the first set, we were all warm enough to shed our jackets. The instructor played the music for us before we began. Allie and I looked nervously at each other because of the fast beat of the music. We both know that if we messed up we would mess everyone else up too. Luckily for us, we both turned out to be a quick study.


[The circle moves in and out as a part of the set]

After the first run through of the set we began to allow ourselves to relax and enjoy the dancing. It was so fast paced that it turned out to be more than just a dance, it became a work out. As time went on, more people joined the class, which was a good thing because after dancing a couple times in a row, a water break was much needed. Throughout the remainder of the class, we learned two more sets. Each one slightly more difficult.

Sometimes Allie and I would split up and be partners with the locals which was always a fun little treat. You could definitely tell who attends class regularly and who doesn’t. Those who attend class regularly are often great leads. They always spin you of into the right direction and the don’t hesitate to tell you when you have missed or added an extra step.

On one of the short breaks that I got from dancing, I looked around and for the first time I saw what was really going on. All the other students, as well as the majority of the locals, had smiles on their face and sweat seeping through their clothes. When someone would mess up it was often noted but brushed of quickly with a laugh. The enjoyment of the activity by everyone participating was clear to anyone with eyes. It was official: Irish set dance lessons was going to become a Thursday night routine.

[Video caption: Everyone dancing the first part of the set]

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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


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39 responses to “Ireland – Irish Set Dancing – by Victoria Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

    • Greta

      Great article! I think a dance class world be a fun activity to try. It’s also very interesting because ever one comes from different cultures that have a different meaning to dancing. Some cultures have celebrations where they dance for days and most of use are used to dancing just for an hour or so. We even have competitive dances so people have the opportunity to compete and show off their moves.

  1. Hi Victoria,

    How fun! I have always wanted to take dance lessons but how cool it would be to take them with awesome friends as well as strangers! What a great bonding time to have with the group and to get active together. Thank you so much for sharing. Cheers!

  2. Grace Young

    This was an entertaining article to read and it is really cool to be able to not only hear about your new adventures, but be able to see pictures and videos of the fun you are having. Dance is such a cool art form because it not only allows you to express yourself in a different way, but it shows variations between cultures. I think that it is especially cool that there were locals involved in the dancing that helped you know what to do. It would be interesting to see how this type of dance class in the United States would compare with the one that you experienced. I think there would definitely be different styles of dance and music that you listen to while dancing. It is amazing how many different forms of nonverbal communication can happen in art forms in every culture.

  3. Matthew Breeze

    This is both really cool and very different. I am glad that it turned out to be so much fun. Being with the locals and getting to be part of their lives, even for a short time, seems like a great opportunity to get to know the people around you. They sound like they were nice as well as welcoming, especially when correcting people on their dance mistakes. I also appreciate the video to get an idea of how this dance looks.

  4. Dylan Brovick

    The Irish set dancing sounds like a fun time. I am not much of a dancer but would love to have the opportunity to learn how to dance every Thursday. I can imagine it being quite the workout after awhile of dancing. I enjoyed the story of Zach being at the bar just to eat and then being dragged to Thursday night dancing, hopefully he enjoyed the workout. Also I enjoyed the part where you were able to look around and see everyone smiling as they had sweat on their shirts. It is always nice to be able to look around and see so many people having fun doing something they might get a chance to do often. I hope the lessons continue to be a fun Thursday night activity for the weeks to come!

  5. Kathleen Reicher

    Thanks for sharing, Victoria! I grew up dancing as well. I did ballet for several years then moved on to other forms of dance after my ballet base. What type of dance did you do growing up? I’m sure your dance background helped a bit with learning the Irish Set Dance. You said you learned several sets; how many sets are there? Or is it an unlimited amount because a set is a different combination of steps? Irish set dancing sounds like a blast. I’m sure the group of people you are dancing with make the experience even better. I hope the rest of your trip is as much fun as Irish set dancing!

  6. Sheila Iteghete

    I can understand how your excitement rose because I would be the same way because you are in a new place. The love for dancing can never change as I have been dancing for if I can remember. It is also great to share this feeling, but also awesome that I get to experience this through your experience so for that thank you for sharing. I have never heard of Irish set dancing until reading it today and it sounds very fun, but also difficult as it requires so much coordination. I also enjoy new classes that allow for people to make mistakes and laugh about it because that is the only way you will feel comfortable enough to make the mistake and learn from it.

  7. Trevor Schwartz

    Talk about an interesting experience! I think it’s wonderful you spent some time with the locals because there is not any better way to learn! Throughout my experience when learning about the Irish, dancing seems to be a big part of their culture. I have never been much of a dancer, but I think if I were in your place I’d dance my shoes off. I hope your trip keeps going well and I can’t wait to hear more from you guys.

  8. Paige Perreira

    Dancing is something I’ve always wanted to be able to do. I feel like if I took a course, I would get too frustrated since I’m so clumsy. Dance is an essential part of culture, just like music. They can sometimes go hand-in-hand too. For example, Native Americans focus a lot on dance as a part of their rituals. As you showed us, the Irish have their own traditional dances as well. It’s so cool to see how something so fun and lighthearted can bring so many together.

  9. Nouqouja Yang

    What a wonderful post! The way you described everything made it really amusing to read. I am also a long time dancer and so if I was to hear anything about dancing also, I would be really interested. It’s so nice to see people trying new things even though they may have never done it before. Your experience sounded so fun. I really appreciated the video that you have included. It put my thoughts, of how the dance would be like, together. It looked really cute and fun!! I would like to try it one day. I feel like it would be a fun family thing! Thank you so much for sharing!!!

  10. Alexa Lee

    I have also been a dancer for the majority of my life, and I was really excited to read this! I am so intrigued by the fact that it was both a partner and a group dance at the same time – that is something I have never heard or thought of. I also like that, while it was fun and not detrimental if someone messed up, people really committed themselves to doing it the correct way, because that makes it even more fun, and there is a great sense of accomplishment when everyone does it right. I personally love dance because it is so universal. That is not to say everyone does the exact same styles to the same kind of music (we see here that isn’t the pace), but the general idea is always there, and it is always a part of people’s lives. Even this kind of dancing is a way for people to express themselves, have a good time, and make connections with one another on a really personal level. I hope you all have made this a routine, because it sounds like a perfect way to mix with the locals, and really become a part of the community you’re in.

  11. Avnish Miyangar

    That is a form of Irish dancing I am not familiar with. It looks like a lot of fun and it was very brave of you to make the decision to go. It is important for people to respect other cultures and I think you explained your experience very well. It is nice to see you taking an interest in a form of art. Referring back class and how this dance would have been transformed through generations. You can tell by the sound of music and the different age groups.

  12. Michaela Campbell

    Dancing is something that I am not particularly good at, so I think it is very brave for a good chunk of your group to try a new form of dancing in a new country! I think it is interesting that prior to your group showing up, most of the dancing participants were elderly women. I wonder if this is a pastime that is more attractive to women of that age group, or if elderly men simply choose to not usually participate? I am very glad that you included a video of the dancing as it is always better to visualize something if you can see it in happening right in front of you. For your first time doing this dance, it seemed that after one session you all picked up on it relatively quickly, so that is an amazing accomplishment in of itself! I can’t wait to hear more about further dancing lessons, and your other adventures to come!

  13. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing this event! I too have been dancing all my life and never have I set foot on and Irish dance floor. It sounds like a great opportunity to explore a new technique of something you are quite familiar with. Your comment when you stepped back and saw the smiles and laughs on the dance floor is wonderful to hear that it is not a competition of who is dancing the best. Regardless of age your video showed how much fun each person was having. This are you accustomed to dancing already but now you have made that connection from across the ocean and in a new setting. You and your friends tried something new and now you said it will be a Thursday night routine, which you may not know but you’ve created a new tradition. That is something you can come back to the US and teach the rest of your friends and family too. It are those experiences that allow you to have a connection to a different part of the world using your previous passion and love for something you’ve known most of your life, dance. I hope you continue to go outside your comfort zone and try new things in Ireland and hope to read your posts about them!

  14. Amanda Sullivan

    What a unique experience! Your study abroad experience seems like it is something you will never forget. It goes to show that it is always worth trying something new. Although it might not be something that you are perfect at, it is worth the shot. I liked your comment about how happy everyone seemed and that it was evident that everyone was having fun. I’m sure none of you realized how much of a bonding experience Irish dancing lessons could be.

  15. Kalahan Larson

    I feel that dancing is a great way to really get a feeling for another culture. Even if you do not dance regularly, you know what the dancing of your own culture looks like. The video shows the connection between all of the dancers. There is a lot of eye contact and movement with multiple people- this to me shows greatly of how this type of dancing can be enjoyable and create friendships. Overall, this article shows a blending of cultures and how we can compare other cultures to our own.

  16. Emily Bugni

    I, like you, have been in dance for fifteen years. Something I have always wanted to do was to take dance lessons in a different country. So, I would have been intrigued by this idea. I am glad at first you found it difficult but toward the end, you got the hang of it. When someone becomes good at something others lean on them for support, which in turn leads to an increase in communication in a community. Communication within a community is important and encourages it to grow. I find it interesting how something so simple can bring a whole community together.

  17. Caroline Grube

    This was a very interesting article to read! I would love to learn Irish dancing! This experience sounded like a ton of fun. When I started dating my boyfriend, I had no idea how to dance any type of dance. However, he soon changed that and taught me how to country swing dance. This is different than jazz swing dancing and is also known as “Jitterbugging” in South Dakota. I think learning how to swing dance was somewhat similar to what you talked about in this article. I would love to take lessons in a kind of dance to help with activeness and have a little fun! I hope you enjoy a lot more dancing in Ireland!

  18. Francesca Do

    Hello Victoria,
    Thank you for sharing your experience with us! Irish dancing looks really unique and fun to do! I do not have a lot of experience in dancing except for traditional Vietnamese dances. I think it’s interesting that Vietnamese dancing is much slower and more extending of the body, contrasting it to Irish dancing which is at a faster-pace and has quick movements of the body. The video is a great visual to see the people bonding and having a good time with each other of all ages. I hope the concept of expressing oneself through dancing spread more love and peace to the world.

  19. This sounds like a very fun and unique opportunity for you! It must have been nice being able to do something that you are comfortable with, while being in a foreign land! I bet it was a ton of fun, and that you would go back any chance that you may get!

  20. The dance classes seem like a great way to get to know the locals and to enjoy the culture and tradition of Irish dancing. I had many friends in high school who were Irish dancers. They would compete regularly and they’d be extremely dolled up with makeup, their hair in ringlets, wearing frilly and embroidered dresses. They would also wear hard shoes, similar to tap shoes, which would create the rhythmical percussion’s during the dance. It’s great to hear how small Irish towns continue to keep the Irish spirit and culture of dancing well and truly alive!

  21. Skyler Long

    Sounds very interesting but different and a unique opportunity that I have not got yet, I have always wanted to be able to dance but just never had the talent nor did I practice. I like hearing these type of stories in foreign countries. I hope you get another opportunity and use it. I think going to another country and learning and living their culture would be so cool but different. Even just the traditions their would blow my mind and would be so much fun to try one day. Thank you for sharing your story with us it was fun to read and just dream one day I would get that shot.

  22. McKenna Holman

    How interesting! Dance is a key component in a lot of cultures, I wonder how many Irish people know how to do this particular type of dance? I’ve never been a big dancer, but Irish set dancing is something that I would be interested in learning. Clearly this is a great way for people to let loose, enjoy themselves, and make new friends. If you continue to go each Thursday you’ll come home and be an pro at Irish set dancing, how exciting!

  23. William Brennhofer

    i love how going to a different country allows you to do something they you love to do in a new way. I know i would have never even thought of going to a dance class if i was over there. Considering that i wouldn’t do it in Duluth even if i had to do no work for it. I also love how for all the older ladies it is there time to get out and have fun, and not worry about having new people come in. I feel like that would be the worst part is having a bunch of new kids from a different country come in and mess up what that can do so well.

  24. Kendra Brunn

    This looks like so much fun! It’s awesome that you are participating in stuff like this, I’m sure it will make the experience a lot more memorable! Dancing has never been something I enjoy, but I would like to think that I would try something like this if I was given the chance. I really like that you noticed that everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Thanks for sharing!

  25. Andrew Bailey

    Victoria, thank you for sharing your experience with Irish set dancing. I am not much of a dancer, I will fully admit, but I bet if I hopped in I would have a lot of fun. It is interesting to see the parallels between different countries and cultures, to see where different styles of dance originate from. I think the types of dance and the music that is danced to really describes the people of the dances origin. Every time I think of dancing, I personally think of the television show dancing with the stars. From your video, I think the Irish set dance should make an appearance on DWTS!!

  26. Hanna McLevish

    What an experience! It’s so cool to experience different cultures and their own traditions and things! Your experience in Ireland sounds so fun! Keep enjoying the culture you are in!

  27. Joel J Scheuerlein

    That sounds like you had a great time. I found this article especially exciting, because I feel as if America has lost there muse if you will. We no longer know our roots and have a dance that we still can call our own. Dancing has come along way, but what we do in todays society, I wouldn’t consider dancing. So it is amazing that you got the chance to learn something as unique as a cultures dance. It seems like it was a great experience for you, and a wonderful opportunity to be apart of something historic.

  28. Bryce Gadke

    I enjoy the novelty of this experience! I am impressed that you could be comfortable with the situation despite being so far from home. I suppose that speaks volumes about you and your surroundings. I personally also love attempting to learn new customs and participate in a safe setting. I hope you to continue enjoying your trip!

  29. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing more of your experience! This seemed like a lot of fun. I have always thought Irish set dancing was a very complex dance routine but it seems like your teacher did a great job teaching you guys. This seemed like a fun way to get to know the local people. I thought the video was a great touch to the article. It really shows how nice the locals are helping you guys get the hang of this very different dance. Great Article! I can’t wait to hear more about how this dance class will turn out!

  30. Ellen Hansen

    Participating in lessons like these is always an amazing experience! Not only do you get to try out the artistic styles of different communities, but you get a reminder of the universality of dancing. While the steps of a dance may vary from region to region, we all ultimately understand it. Much like music and math, it is a language that, with a little practice, we can ultimately use to communicate ideas across cultures. Finally, I especially feel for you and your experience trying to learn how to waltz… It is basically designed to make you step on people’s toes.

  31. Mariah Koenig

    I am not much of a dancer, but I do know how to waltz and this seems like it would be really fun to try out! It’s really cool that their community offers something so fun and community oriented for free! If that was done in America, I’m sure there would be a membership fee or something! As for the dancing, at least you picked it up fairly quickly! I am wondering though, exactly how many sets are there and do you go through them in a certain order? I’m glad you’re having a great time! Thanks for sharing!

  32. It sounds as though dancing was a good way to connect and unite the U.S. students and the local Irish folks. Were most of those who attended that were locals older, or was there a balance between the younger and older who attended? It would be interesting to hear if age determines one’s level of appreciation for the set dance. I find it interesting, also that the formation of the set dance was four. I was in an Irish play here in Duluth and had to learn some Irish dancing that was required in the show, and some of the dancing we did was very fast-paced and involved a formation of four. I was also wondering, what the man does differently in the dance and what the woman does differently within the couple. Did those who filled in for the male partner have to learn to do something different within the dance?

  33. Elaina Wald

    It was very brave of you and your friends to give a completely new type of dance a shot! Even as a dancer, I’m not sure I would have been so willing. Dancing is possibly the quickest way to bond and get to know people, even complete strangers. I loved watching the video and hearing the music. It actually reminded my of a typical Italian dance that my family does at weddings. Thanks for sharing!

  34. Hattie Meyer

    Reading the article I got excited since I an a long time dancer as well! Learning a new type of dance is always a fun time, but to have the opportunity to learn a new type of dance in the place its from is a spectacular! I enjoyed the part when you described the hard work of learning the dance but how fun it was too. I think that more people need to keep that in mind when they are trying something new. It will be a lot of work and you will mess up but it well worth it in the end. The people you meet, the things you learn, the work it takes. It is all worth taking the jump when it comes to trying something new.

  35. Isabella Restrepo- Toro

    I would have loved to be able to go to those dance lessons, and I bet that as a dancer the experience was even more interesting. I bet is was amazing to learn how to waltz, as it is a dance that has been around in society, specially the elite society, for decades. I am really glad that you were quick studies, it would have been awful, and at least from what I know from experience that you were both quick studies and that you didn’t cause others to make a mistake. I am so happy you mentioned that the dance became a work out, as I see dancing as an exercise but most see it as a luxurious activity. I wish I could have been there with you guys to learn how to waltz specially with the locals that attended the class regularly, as dancing with a good lead in always really enjoyable. I am glad you all enjoyed the lessons and that it is becoming part of your Thursday routines as doing these types of activities will let you experience the culture in a different way.

  36. Definitely a great way to spend a thursday night! I love looking at the different styles of dancing all over the world. Sometimes I wonder about the dancing we do here in the U.S., but dancing is fan no matter what. That’s awesome you got to meet up with some locals and dance with them. Dancing is something that all people can partake in and have fun.

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