"Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha…"

There have been interesting conversations happening about what Irish dance teachers should know in terms of body mechanics and kinesiology. There are strong feelings on both sides of that fence. Links to this blog have been posted a couple of times on the TCRG exam board…but they were removed because dance kinesiology and even the discussion of whether or not ID teachers should know this information is not currently relevant to taking the ID teaching exam. Fair enough.

I was interested in what is required to pass the TCRG (teaching) exam. This is from the syllabus at http://www.tcrgexam.9k.com/:

The examination consists of six sections as follows:-
(a) practical test in stepdancing
(b) written ceili dancing test
(c) practical test in teaching ceili dancing
(d) practical test in teaching stepdancing
(e) written music test
(f) oral Irish language test (optional if candidate lives outside Ireland).

The syllabus also includes detailed information on each section of the exam: TCRG Exam components

Very, very thorough and intense examination process. When certified, TCRGs are rather incredible resources for Irish dance history…by the very act of certification, the Irish dance historical survival is ensured. Fantastic.

So what about addressing the current situation in which contemporary ID teachers are leading ID forward by continuing to introduce innovative steps into Irish dance which is making it more athletic and changing it from being simply a folk dance form, as many folks call Irish dance?

That being said, I looked up the definition of folk dance. Wikipedia says this:

Folk dance is a term used to describe a large number of dances, mostly of European origin, that tend to share the following attributes:

1) They were originally danced in about the 19th century or earlier (or are, in any case, not currently
copyrighted);

2) Their performance is dominated by an inherited tradition rather than by innovation;
3) They were danced by common people and not exclusively by aristocracy;

4) They have been developed spontaneously and there is no governing body that has final say over what “the dance” is or who is authorized to teach it. This also means that no one has the final say over the definition of folk dance or the minimum age for such dances.
 

Some other definitions also state clearly that folk dance forms have evolved without the benefit of a choreographer… I think this is another way of saying that folk dances “develop spontaneously.”(For more great definitions and resources, click here.)

 

So does Irish dance qualify as a folk dance?

Of course it does. Irish dance encompasses ceili dancing, set dancing, and sean nós as well as step dancing. The first three forms definitely satisfy the criteria above…except for the “governing body” part, but I will get to that in a moment. Irish dance does have a rather long history of dancing masters who developed their own steps…I read somewhere that these dancing masters had their “territories,” areas where only they taught dance and others were not welcome. I have also read that sometimes dancing masters were kidnapped to teach in new areas…gotta love the Irish! So, although there is this idea that folk dance “develops spontaneously” (sounds like the myth of the fruit fly!), except for the improvisational forms (i.e. sean nós) someone, somewhere “choreographed” the dances, even if it was by committee over a long period of time or, as with the Irish, the dancing masters who helped spread the tradition.

Now, this “governing body” idea… I looked up a few things to see if other folk dance forms have programs to certify teachers. Yes they do exist, though I did not find any that were as big and organized as the CLRG (An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha). But it does seem as if folk dance certifying bodies are all interested in preserving their own dance form’s history, just as CLRG is.

This is a wonderful thing, of course, but it makes me smile because of its irony. There is a peculiar characteristic of the Irish (not that it does not exist in other cultures, but being Irish meself, this has familial implications as well)…if I had to describe ONE trait that seems to be genetic in the Irish, it is our contentious individual independence. “You wanna tell me what to do? Go suck a lemon!!!” When was the one time that Ireland was unified under one leader? The early 11th century under Brian Boru, and that only lasted about 12 years! But, threaten me, challenge me, and then my brothers and sisters will stand right behind me…we’ll unify!! My father always talked about how my siblings and I would fight and tease each other mercilessly, but as soon as one of us was in need, the wagons would circle, no questions asked. Being fractious is an Irish trait, for better and for worse.

And yet, we have had CLRG since 1930. It was established by the Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) which itself was created in 1893 to preserve the Irish language. And I am guessing that the motivation behind this was to unite against those who would deprive the Irish of their culture… circle the wagons as the oppressed are wont to do. And Irish dance has flourished.

So, the folk dance angle…yes, I see most of ID as fitting into the folk dance category, even if we do have a “governing body” (can’t do EVERYTHING like everyone else!). But, is Irish step-dancing still classified as folk dance? Is step dancing “dominated by an inherited tradition rather than by innovation,” as stated above? No, innovation now seems to be the order of the day.

I have not been able to find that the CLRG states that Irish dance is a folk art, yet folks argue that CLRG is only there to certify the teachers on their historical knowledge of this folk dance form. One cannot compete at feiseanna unless one’s teacher is certified by the CLRG. (I know there are other ID organizations…)

But Irish step dancing is no longer folk dance. Innovations are happening at an ever-increasing rate. Fantastic. No problem. But, as any dance form evolves, so should the teachers. The first section of the TCRG exam is a “practical test in stepdancing” followed later by a “practical test in teaching stepdancing.” If what is being tested is the historical knowledge of what are considered to be the traditional steps, why are teachers not restricted to using only traditional steps in their choreography for competitions? If having the teacher certification is so important, and they are not restricted in this manner, then who is governing the step innovations, making sure that teachers know how to teach them? In order to get the certification, don’t teachers have to demonstrate that they themselves know and can perform the traditional steps? So why do they not have to know and be able to perform all of the new steps that are now being used in solo Irish dancing? Is that not within the purview of the CLRG?

I do not fault the CLRG for the state of things, but since it is such a strong presence in ID, is it not now time to step up to the plate and address the very serious issue of their certified teachers knowing how to safely and correctly teach students how to perform the new steps, the tricks that have been borrowed from other dance forms? There are many ID teachers who have taken it upon themselves to be educated in anatomy and kinesiology, but what about those who haven’t, those who say that since the CLRG does not require it they do not need to know it?

This is from the exam syllabus:

14. Rince Aonair: Stepdancing Teaching Test

…Amongst the qualities taken into account in assessing a candidate’s capabilities in this section are:-
(1) Instruction (should be clear, concise and suitable for those under instruction);
(2) Clarity and audibility of instructions;
(3) Ability to demonstrate and break down steps;
(4) Selection of suitable steps;
(5) Manner of handling dancers;
(6) Identification and correction of faults.

The CLRG DOES want to know that a teacher can identify and correct faults…but since only certain traditional steps are identified on the syllabus, those are the only steps the exam candidates worry about.

Since the CLRG already has a teaching evaluation as part of the exam, can they not start to include some of the harder steps (toe stands, changement, entrechat, etc…) that have made their way into mainstream ID into this evaluation along with rocks, cross keys, trebles, etc? CLRG did make a ruling against toe stands for dancers under 12. To me, that means that the organization has acknowledged that toe stands have made it into mainstream ID. Is CLRG evaluating their teacher candidates on their ability to correctly evaluate whether or not their students are ready to execute toe stands and then how to teach them safely?

Now, this does not address the issue of dance teachers being fully educated in human movement, but it would be a start. Adding another component in this area would be quite an enterprise and one that CLRG may not want to take on. Perhaps in the future a class in kinesiology or injury prevention & rehabilitation will be required in order to take the exam. That is simple enough.

Here’s my plea:

Dear An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha,
Irish dance is changing, and you have a significant place in this growth as either a support for innovation or as a brake to keep ID traditional. Your certified teachers, the wonderful repositories of Irish dance history, are moving forward as many believe they should. They trust you. You have created an excellent exam…if innovation is to be encouraged, please think about including other elements to be tested in the step dancing portions. Please consider requiring a class in kinesiology, or anatomy, or injury prevention & rehabilitation before a candidate can take the TCRG exam. Please add your authoritative voice to this discussion.

Sincerely,

me

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology
To start educating yourself, try here.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Krista/PogMoGillies
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 08:38:00

    This is, as always, well though out and rational. If you wanted to start this as a peition to CLRG, I’d be one of the first to jump on the wagon and put my name to it.

  2. Anonymous
    Sep 29, 2007 @ 12:50:00

    It’s interesting that the post providing a link to your kinesiology posts has been removed AGAIN from the TCRG voy forum.

    When I was in high school (several decades ago), I hated gym class. Actually, I always hated gym class and any form of body-movement activities. It was always presented to me as a form of punishment (“You are so awkward, so I’ve signed you up for tap dancing…”)

    One particular gym class is still very memorable. The teacher (name and face long forgotten) had hauled out the “gymnastics” equipment. There was a set of uneven bars. We all stood there looking at it wearing are bright red, IRONED, cotton “gym suits”. She explained that in a few weeks would would be graded on a routine and some itsy-bitsy little girl went up to the bars to demonstrate. First thing she did was haul herself up around the lower bar feet-first. Now I could sort of do it the other way – stright arm up and then let gravity do it’s work and around you go. But this way? It was a mystery. How do you do that? I asked the girls who could. They didn’t know, they just did. The rest of us (most of the class) just stood around and stared. We were told to do it.

    We did not have the upper body strength to pull into the bar (not that we even know that was what we had to do). Did the teacher ever have us do any conditioning exercises for this activity? No. When we couldn’t do it, she just told us TO do it and don’t be lazy. I didn’t get an “A” in gym and just hated even more.

    Here’s my point. Any of you TCRGs out there reading this: It is all well and good you can recognize the steps and moves and know whether they are executed well, but if you can’t help a student get to the point where they CAN dance those steps, you aren’t worth any more than my long-forgotten gym teacher. Reminding a student to turn out or get up high on their toes is not the least bit helpful to the dancer who can’t. The good teacher needs to be able to sort the CAN’Ts from the WON’Ts. The can’t-do-it-yet dancers need background strengthening work and encouragement that they will someday be able to dance the way you want. The won’t-do-it-yet dancers are the ones that benefit from the “reminders” because they can do the move, but aren’t doing it consistantly. Nagging a CAN’T only makes them feel worse.

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