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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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Training winning ceili teams