Category : Ceili

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Training winning ceili teams

While there is a lot of time and effort devoted to solo dancing, ceili dancing takes centre stage at many schools in the lead up to Oireachtas and Worlds. Producing top teams is tough work though. Following on from our last story about putting a strong team together, we asked our experts how they train their teams, and get them to work as one cohesive unit.

Placing couples

Putting together a team is not an easy task. According to Conor Ayres, ADCRG, from the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing, there are a variety of factors to take into consideration when placing dancers into couples and various positions, including their age and experience. “In senior teams, we like to keep our teams the same where possible, as they are used to working together. It ensures consistency, and gives them a goal to achieve i.e. they may have won a championship last year. They will then work towards trying to retain that title for the next competition. In younger teams, height, dedication i.e. regular class attendance, and abilities are all factors.”

Team spirit and leadership

One of the best ways to build team spirit and encourage team work is through dancing ceili. Dancers learn skills that are valuable for life, and make friends in the process. But teamwork doesn’t always come naturally. Marie Moore, ADCRG, from the Marie Moore School, notes, “We feel teams are an important part of a dancer’s life – it creates team spirit, morale and bonding with other class members. It also helps with the overall fitness of the dancer.” Ayres adds, “Bonding comes naturally through being in teams all year but it’s always nice to encourage some after class social interaction.”

Another way to foster teamwork is through assigning a team captain. Colleen Schroeder, ADCRG, from the Lynn O’Grady Quinlan Connick Academy, relays her experience, saying, “Usually the team is in charge of selecting the team captain. It’s the first thing they need to do as a team. I feel it is so important that the team cares enough to allow a member to be in charge of leading the team in the right direction. When the team members stop arguing amongst each other and start listening to the team captain it shows the teacher that this team is serious and wants to work together. The duties of a team captain are to call the counts to the team and to point out little things that are wrong that need to be corrected. They are also in charge of the group text messages that go out to the team and will sometimes even schedule practices outside of regular ceili practice with the TCRG!” This cooperation can start at an early age, with Ayres mentioning, “We assign a team captain in younger teams. It’s a nice encouragement for them, and we usually assign that position to a dancer who may need a boost in confidence.”

Drills drills drills

When it comes to hands and feet, it’s all about drilling the pieces before it all comes together. Schroeder explains, “We drill the teams in different formations depending on what we are working on. There are times where dancers will just stand in a straight line facing the mirror so they can see themselves and other times when it’s important to stay in their group.” Moore echoes this, saying, “We do plenty of drills on footwork, hands and arms in lines, and then follow through in the team formation.”

Ayres points out the importance of drills in helping to put teams together. “We start with drills early in the year, to not only make sure everyone is on the same page with footwork and arm work, but also monitor who’s working well together, then after we put the teams together we work in formations.” When it comes to drilling though, Schroeder has the final word, saying, “More important than drilling is the desire of the team members to want to work on and fix what they are doing. If the dancers on the team don’t want it bad enough they will not correct their feet and stay in a straight line no matter how much the teacher drills. Making the dancers understand that it’s up to them to fix corrections is the first thing that needs to be drilled!” Truer words were never spoken.

Do you teach teams? Are you a team dancer? What do you like about dancing on a team? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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How to train winning ceili teams – part 1

While there is a lot of time and effort devoted to solo dancing, ceili dancing is an integral part of not just competition, but the heritage and culture of Irish dance. Not every school sends ceili teams to competitions, but anyone who has ever danced on or taught a team knows how much work and dedication they require. For this two part series, we talked to three of the leading ceili teachers to learn from them what it takes to train top teams.

What makes a good team?

If you’ve ever watched a ceili competition, you can always identify the really good teams. There’s something about their lines, their arms, or the way they move that just makes you say ‘wow’. According to Marie Moore, ADCRG, from the Marie Moore School, “A good team is a team that dances as one unit, meaning that each movement flows into each other and that no one dancer stands out. A good team has excellent lines, good spacing, good footwork, and a team that is aware of every other member in the team and where they are in relation to each other.” Putting together a good team is no easy feat though. Colleen Schroeder, ADCRG, from the Lynn O’Grady Quinlan Connick Academy explains that “In order to make a good team you need 8 dedicated members who are willing to work hard and work together! If you have one dancer that does not want to be there, then the whole team will be thrown off. It’s very hard to find, but when you get these 8 dancers together, the sky’s the limit!”. Conor Ayres, ADCRG, from the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing, adds that, “A good team is made up of a lot of essential factors such as dedication to training, the ability to work together, the ability to communicate effectively to other team members and their teachers, and willingness to take criticism on board.”

Solo vs Team

There’s a common saying amongst teachers that not all good solo dancers make good team dancers, and vice versa. But is this true? Moore thinks so, saying, “Not all good solo dancers make good team dancers – it is a totally different ballgame. Good team dancers are aware of the other members in the team and sometimes great solo dancers don’t have that ability. But there are some great solo dancers that make great team dancers.” Schroeder agrees, pointing out, “A good team dancer does not try to stand out. Their dancing is equal to everyone else on the team and they don’t try to out dance the others. A good solo dancer would do the opposite and do their best to shine on stage and stand out.” On the flip side, Ayres doesn’t necessarily believe the old adage to be true, stating, “I don’t think there is a difference. Good dancers, whether solo or teams dancers, care about dancing, and embrace every opportunity to do well. They also have good school spirit, as well as support their fellow team mates. The best part about team dancing is that it gives an opportunity for some dancers who may not do so well in solo to do well in teams.”

Putting a team together

When it comes to putting a team together, you want to fit in to stand out. In a perfect world, dancers are the same height, skill, and style, where no one dancer draws the attention to them. Some schools go as far as putting all the dancers in the same color wig for uniformity. But is matching really important? Moore explains, “Heights do play an important part when putting teams together – but not having heights exact does not necessarily mean the team cannot be a winning team if they don’t quite match up. Teamwork is number one. Usually we place the taller students in the boys position and sometimes we have to adjust wig heights to match them up.” An easy solution when you don’t have eight dancers who are all magically the same height. Schroeder has another solution when it comes to matching sizes, adding, “When a dancer is significantly taller or shorter than the others it throws off the overall look of the team and is harder to keep the same height when catching hands in a chain or performing a lead around. In the past, I have moved taller dancers up an age group in order to keep them in a team with dancers of similar height.” Sometimes though, you just work with what you have. Ayres describes, “Heights are very important. The whole objective with teams is blending them together and having a group of people dancing as one. No one should stand out at all. Having said that, obviously this doesn’t happen all the time, especially in younger teams where kids are growing at all sorts of different rates! That’s why ensuring hand and footwork is seamlessly executed, so that height issues could be forgiven!”

Do you teach ceili or regularly dance on a ceili team? Do you agree that good solo dancers don’t always make good team dancers? Are heights really that important? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. Be sure to check back in two weeks for part two of our ceili story when our experts talk about lines, footwork, and drilling (everyone’s favorite).

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