Irish society to kick up heels

If you're inspired by "Riverdance" but daunted by the thought of attempting such fast, tricky Irish step dancing, the Yampa Valley Ceili Society has a solution that will teach almost anyone to jig, sidestep and promenade.

Starting with its first public dance session at Northwest Ballet tonight, the Yampa Valley Ceili (pronounced kay-lee) Society is teaching traditional soft-shoed Irish folk dances, called ceili, to anyone interested. Dance teacher Nora Parker said no experience is required -- and she promises the Irish folk dances will be far easier and less frustrating than the complicated, high-kicking step dances people recognize from the popular "Riverdance" show.

"Ceili stuff is the opposite. You can just run out and have fun," Parker said.

Ceili dances are similar to square dances. The patterned dances can be done in lines, circles, contras and squares, with a caller who helps the dancers through the movements.

Some even call it "Irish aerobics," Parker said.

"It can be a bit of a workout.You can get your heart rate up a bit if you like," she said.

And you don't need a partner.

"There are traditions where the boys did this, and the girls did that, but now even in Ireland it's not a couple's dance any more," Parker said. She said all dancers need to do is show up in comfortable clothes with ballet shoes, soft dance shoes or bare feet.

The Ceili Society plans to host dance classes on the last Friday of each month, starting today, in hopes of creating a core of people who know the dances. A couple of musicians from Gaeltacht, a local Irish band, will provide live accompaniment along with some taped music. Dancers might even be fortunate enough to hear musician Gary Burman play the Irish bagpipes, known as "uilleann pipes," or "elbow pipes."

The Irish band is looking for more musicians with a folk tradition who want to play for dancers.

Yampa Valley Ceili Society is a new, nonprofit affiliate of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council. Participants can pay $10 for tonight's class or join the society for $30, which includes all monthly classes and several festive Ceili dances throughout the year. The next social dance is being scheduled for August, and dancers can look forward to possible ceilis around Christmas and St. Patrick's Day during the upcoming year.

"When people who enjoy Irish music get together to dance, these are the dances they do," Parker said.

-- To reach Jennie Lay call 871-4210

or e-mail jlay@steamboatpilot.com

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