Mary Beth began learning sean-nós dancing after moving to Ireland in 2002. Sean-nós, a free-form, traditional style of Irish dancing, has enjoyed an upsurge in popularity in recent years, and Mary Beth has been lucky enough to receive expert tuition in sean-nós dancing from a variety of learned performers and teachers from across Ireland, including Máire Áine Ní Iarnáin, Sibéal Davitt, Mairéad Casey, Rónán Reagan, Paul Moran, Emma O’Sullivan, Róisín Ní Mhainín, Bronach O’Neill, and Gerard Butler.
Mary Beth has gone on to teach and perform sean-nós dancing at various clubs, organisations and festivals across Ireland, the USA, continental Europe, Russia, and the South Pacific. Her style is a mixture of traditional and contemporary movements, and as a teacher, she is praised for her patience and her ability to break down rhythms into ‘learnable’ pieces.
Differences between sean-nós dancing and Irish dancing
Irish dancing and sean-nós dancing are two very different styles of dancing. Irish dancing (also referred to as “step dancing") is the style of dancing made famous by Riverdance. Within the step tradition, there are two types of dancing, “light” or “soft-shoe” dancing and “heavy” or “hard-shoe” dancing. Light dances, which include the reel and slip jig, are characterized by balletic movements, pointed, turned-out feet, straight knees, high kicks and leaps. Heavy dances, such as the hornpipe, double jig and heavy reel, combine high kicks and pointed, turned-out feet with intricate rhythms, heel clicks and modern movements such as toe walks. Additionally, traditional step dancers dance with an straight upper body, keeping the shoulders back and the arms at the sides.
Sean-nós dancing, on the other hand, is a free-form, battering style of dancing, commonly danced in hard-sole shoes. In contrast to step dancing, sean-nós dancing is “close to the floor”; here, dancers create intricate rhythms but avoid high kicks, leaps and toe walks. Sean-nós dances include reels, jigs and hornpipes, but unlike the highly choreographed pieces performed by step dancers, sean-nós dancing is largely spontaneous, and works closely with the rhythms of traditional Irish music. Another major difference in the two traditions is that sean-nós dancers are encouraged to relax the upper body. Hips may be twisted, knees can be bent, and arms can do what they like!