When most of the people in the group that had signed up arrived, it looked even worse; they were keen, but I knew that trying to convince two older guys to dance with eachother (meaning no offence to them) was going to be a hard sell, no matter how keen they were about the dancing idea. Reluctantly but with the boldness of the lunatic I plugged the mike and music player in, stood up and started giving some instructions. My quick 'one two' test of the mike received a few friendly but off-putting heckles from the guys at one table. But Rob and Jen were willing and learning, and with nothing to lose I called out "any of you people willing to get up and learn some dancing?"
John, the owner of Naughton's Hotel, gets the credit for what happened next. He knew the students - they'd been coming down to the pub for a while, it seems - and called out to them, "come on, you lot, get up an dance!" Soon one couple got up, then another, and then a fourth, and in astonishment I was teaching a complete set the basic steps and the first bits of the South Galway Reel Set. I started them on a nice slow hornpipe and they got into it, and I swear I have never seen a group of people who've never seen set dancing or even done much traditional social dancing before do it so well! All eight of them were really great, getting around a house in just the right time and still laughing and carrying on.
They responded enthusiastically to suggestions that we do it again at the regular speed, and I taught the first two figures easily. They had a break and I was afraid of losing them again, but they all came back eventually and we did the last three figures. There were a few flailing feet and the 'stomp the ground' action associated with mocking hillbillies, but they were still all having a great time and the rest of their peers were applauding and cheering on. And they were all dancing really well (given the above caveats) - keeping in time and not going too fast or slow. They grasped the geometry of the set quickly and were still laughing away and having a great time. The set finished with a massive cheer and everyone (including me) sat down tired but happy.
And you could have knocked me over with a feather when one of the other guys that had been watching on came over and said "'scuse me, sir, but would you have the music for the Heel And Toe Polka?" Well, anyone that keen cannot be denied, and for the first time in my entire existence I can honestly say that I was sorry I didn't have the Heel And Toe Polka on my music player. I rustled up something that was a reasonable approximation of it and grabbed a partner and soon five couples were polka-ing up and down in the available space. It was, in a word, awesome.
I'd love to do it again on Friday Night. All I have to do is get some of the women around at LCA - especially the organisers - to find some partners and I'm pretty sure we can get another set done. I'll check with the organisers though to make sure that this is both a sanctioned activity and isn't going to get too much in the way. But after that experience on Monday night I am more convinced than ever that Irish Set Dancing needs to move beyond the older people that currently do it and be shared with the young and enthusiastic. How can anyone not enjoy teaching such a excited, able group of people?
Suddenly I realised that I should do what wikis and most other good content management systems have done for ages - made URLs which reference things by name rather than number and let the software work it out in the background. Take the name for the set, flatten it into lower case and replace spaces with underscores; it would also be easily reversible. CDs might be a bit more challenging but there are only one or two that have a repeated name, and I'd have to handle such conflicts anyway at some point.
That combined with my planned rewrite of the site to use some sane HTML templating language - my current choice is ClearSilver - so that it's not all ugly HTML-in-the-code has given me another project for a good week or so of coding. Pity I'm at LCA and have to absorb all those other great ideas...
The ultimate proof of this is to extrapolate what would happen if everyone did this: the web of trust would die. Is this what these people really want? If you don't want that, then don't do it. If you do want that, then please don't pretend that you're only doing it to make some highfalutin intellectual point. Shut up and try to behave. It's not a web-of-friends, it's a web-of-trust-of-identity. I may not be a friend of Arjen Lentz, but I'll sign his key to say that he's proved to me that his key identifies him. And, frankly, Chalmers and Krafft make me want to ignore them rather than befriend them.
After a bit of odd-hackery, I got it going - pleasingly well. The sound skips slightly when context-switching from the VMWare client, which is nothing unusual - the standard performance practice is to boot afresh and only starting those things which you absolutely need anyway. So it's all systems go for Friday night...
All posts licensed under the CC-BY-NC license. Author Paul Wayper.