Dancing like the sea

A trip to Second Friday Ceilis at First Christian Church provides
a rousing introduction to the art of Irish dance
Wednesday, November 16, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:15 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

A three-man band sits on folding chairs up on a stage, while a dozen people learn basic ceili dancing steps on a hardwood gym floor.

It’s Second Friday Ceilis, a time for Irish social dancing and live music at the First Christian Church, 101 N. Tenth St.

Christine Harker is the dance-caller tonight. She runs through the step sequence to “The Waves of Tory.”

Kate Akers, holding her baby daughter Mara, leans over to explain the dance’s history.

“Tory is an island off the coast of northern Ireland,” Akers says. “The dance is supposed to emulate the crashing of the waves against the island.”

A guitar, fiddle and bodhran, an Irish frame drum that is beaten with a stick, start playing a lively song. Feet dressed in soft leather shoes start to skip and dance. The soft sound of shoes tapping against the wooden floor mix with the music, shouts and laughter.

Couples stand across from each other and form a tunnel by holding hands. Every couple arcs their arms alternately upward or downward as others skip down the line, like the ebb and flow of waves.

The dance ends, and everyone retires for a few seconds of repose beside the dance floor. Rune and Paul Sharp approach with friendly smiles and, before long, a reporter and photographer are led to the dance floor. Akers joins the dancing, with Mara in her arms.

Dancers note whether they are a “lady” or “gent” for this dance. With everyone in place, a new dance begins with an advance and retire — two lines of people face each other while skipping forward to meet, then skipping back to retire. Some smile and laugh, others are in deep concentration to get it right. Next, a short step, including a small kick, and a whirlwind of spinning, skipping and twirling down the lines commences. The music is peppered with shouts of “go home,” meaning return to the starting spot, and “to the left,” “to the right” and sometimes even “your other right.”

The dance ends with a reporter feeling slightly dizzy, a touch exhausted and rather exuberant.

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