"THIS has really gone better than I was expecting" admits Irish dancing teacher Annette Collins of how she's managed to keep on sharing her dance expertise via online means during lockdown.
Having become a self-employed dance and music teacher back in 2017, former administrator Annette (55) from Lurgan is one of the many people in our creative and performing arts sector whose livelihood has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Annette shows off her skills in the garden. Picture by Hugh Russell
The Co Armagh woman teaches piano, whistle, concertina, traditional set dancing and solo step dancing. She has a particular passion for the latter, a percussive discipline related to sean nós dancing where choreographed steps are danced close to the floor, making it ideal for dancers of all ages – indeed, her eldest pupil is in her 90s.
When Annette's regular “Step with Annette” classes were cancelled when lockdown began back in March, she decided to try something completely new by setting up weekly solo step dancing classes conducted via Zoom: thus, “Zoom with Annette” was born.
"A couple of people had actually asked me about doing it before, but I just didn't have the time to try and figure out the technology involved," she tells me of her usual busy schedule, which involves teaching weekly classes at Lurgan's Town Hall, Belfast's Skainos Centre and at the Camphill Community for adults with learning difficulties in Seapatrick, work with a Parkinson’s Group as well as occasional weekend workshops and open floor events.
"So this [lockdown] kind of gave me the time to explore it and get through the learning curve."
Annette soon put together a 30 minute introductory solo step dancing tutorial video and uploaded it to YouTube. Although the video was free, she included a Paypal link for voluntary donations – it promptly generated £200.
"I was shocked," admits Annette. "That probably spurred me on to set up the Zoom classes."
However, it's one thing to teach jigs, reels, hornpipes and slip-jigs on a face-to-face basis in a space designed for such encounters – taking things online from home while attempting to keep her faithful dog Buddy from joining in added a few unfamiliar steps to the process, as Annette soon discovered.
"I had many dry runs and people from my dance classes and the dance scene were very helpful with that," she explains.
"Probably the hardest thing was just finding a suitable space, but luckily enough the house has wooden floors and I took down a wall last year so that the whole ground floor is open plan. So I was able to rearrange the furniture and now I have almost a little dance studio which I leave set up."
"Lighting and audio was a bit difficult, because while Zoom is fine for just chatting, suddenly I needed to talk and play music too."
Happily, with a little help from fellow dance teachers in Scotland and America, she was soon ready to put students through their paces three evenings a week across four different levels of competence, complete with 'homework' videos for them to study between lessons.
"The advice was great and people were really open to helping," she enthuses of the help she received in order to get her 50 minute classes up and running on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Annette has got to grips with new technology to keep her dance classes going during lockdown.
Picture by Hugh Russell
"There was a real feeling of camaraderie and pulling together."
However, it seems that teaching to an empty room has taken some getting used to.
"You learn by watching from behind, so I'm just teaching away to a white wall like I'm a mad woman," chuckles Annette, who does make a point of also chatting to her students face-to-face from at the beginning and end of each lesson, while also asking for plenty of thumbs up or down feedback along the way.
The classes have been hugely successful, helping Annette to reach an international audience. Her Zoom With Annette classes have attracted 38 dance enthusiasts from around Ireland and beyond, including participants from Oxford, Manchester, London, Paris, Britanny, Hamburg, Brussels, Belgrade, Madrid, Ukraine and both US coasts. In fact, she recently had to turn some prospective students away – a big change from the more selective appeal of her classes in Lurgan.
"Attendance has been good, but not great," says Annette of the latter, for which she specifically chose Lurgan Town Hall as a 'neutral' venue from which to share her love of step dancing.
"I picked it because it's central and I really was hoping that it might be cross-community, but I don't think that has happened really."
Annette describes solo step dancing as a "minority sport" even in Ireland. Despite having developed a love of set dancing back in the 1990s before she moved overseas for many years, Annette did not discover solo step until she returned to Ireland in 2006 and decided to attend a beginner's class.
She was hooked straight away and began taking weekly classes with BelfastTrad to hone her abilities before striking out in a search for different dances and new teachers.
"I think a big part of it's appeal was the rhythmic and percussive qualities," explains Annette, who holds a BA in music from the University of Ulster and has mastered the bassoon, piano, whistle and concertina.
"I also like to be active, so it was hitting everything that I like to do. Suddenly I was dancing to my favourite music, and I liked the challenge of it too: they're not natural movements, you have to learn to do them.
"Plus, it's a really happy environment. If you go to a solo step workshop, you don't get people who are fed up with life – you're meeting people who want to meet other people and try new things. I would look around to find any weekend festival that had step dancing workshops and I might go for the afternoon or stay overnight. I was just soaking up as much as I could."
As a teacher, Annette's enthusiasm for solo step dancing is infectious, making her Zoom classes a relaxed, fun way for folks to give this 'minority sport' a try for the first time or stop themselves getting rusty while regular classes and workshops are unavailable.
Since we're all being advised to look after our physical and mental wellbeing during the ongoing lockdown, Zoom With Annette could be ideal for ticking both of these crucial boxes, as she explains:
"I push this in all my classes and advertising, that the research is there: dancing is one of the best forms of activities because it keeps the mind alert and the body active," Annette enthuses.
With luck, lockdown measures will begin to ease over the coming months and the Lurgan woman can get back to teaching her regular Step with Annette classes. However, it seems that might not mean the end of Zoom With Annette – especially when it comes to her newly acquired foreign students.
"I can see this taking off," Annette enthuses of her online activities.
"I can see me still doing a little international class for those who want it."
See FB.com/stepwithannette for information on “Zoom with Annette” classes and how to sign up
#dance #irishdance #percussivedance #traditional #OldStyle #onlineclass #adultclass
What is Step Dancing?
Step dancing is a percussive form of dance, danced alone, with footwork close to the floor. It is danced by people of all ages - I know step dancers who are over 80 - dancing keeps you young!
Old Style Step dancing is the precursor to competitive Irish dancing and Riverdance.
Check my dance/video page to see what it is all about all about.
What to wear?
Dancers are asked to wear some hard soled shoes, sneakers are not advisable, nor shoes with a wedge heel - clear your dance space of trip hazards, so that you are ready to have fun with dance!
Info on levels
Level 1 - complete beginner, together, we will explore an easy routine – taking a little time each week to demonstrate other dance types: eg reel, jig, slip jig, hornpipe etc.
Level 2 - for those with some experience, this could be 2 or 3 terms of my beginner class, or other percussive dance forms.
Level 3 - for those who have been dancing a while and are ready to start memorising longer and more complicated routines.
Level 4 - for those with a good background in Irish step dancing or other forms of percussive dance, where many movements will already be known, or easily picked up and we will work on building repertoire.
All 4 levels are available in the shop.
Teaching online since May 2020 – join me and my growing community of dancers from all around the world.
#stepwithannette #dance #irishdance #tradition #traditional #onlineclass #irishdance #percussivedance #wellbeing
Aramco Expats Newsletter, published on 2 Feb 2022
If you lived in Dhahran (the eastern province of Saudi Arabia) in the early 2000s, you may have encountered the musical group 'Get Reel' performing a blend of Irish, country and bluegrass music at various venues around Dhahran and neighbouring island of Bahrain. Annette Collins, one of the group's founding members and a native of Ireland now returned to the Emerald Isle, has continued to pursue her love of music and Irish dance. She is currently offering a unique opportunity to learn Irish dance online. If you have an interest in Irish dance and culture, Annette invites you to join her next class beginning February 8th. We asked Annette to share more about her time in Saudi Arabia and with Get Reel.
I lived in Dahran from 1998 to 2005 and worked as a secretary, during that time I worked for a year as a PA to the assistant to the CEO and was promoted into a position in succession planning for the last year. I have a degree in music and also studied a post-graduate diploma in Secretarial Studies and Administration - with an aim to pursuing a career in the Arts.
While in Dhahran, I played folk music with a mixed bag of musicians and was one of the founding members of a group called 'Get Reel'. We performed regularly on camp, in a few other places around Dhahran, and also in Bahrain from time to time. We even self-produced 2 CDs during that time. I am still in contact with many of the members of the band, and also the people I worked with. Many are retiring back to Ireland at the moment, and we had a little reunion about a month ago, which got me thinking about the Aramco Expat community. The photos are from our recent reunion in Co Clare, Ireland. Two of the group had played with Get Reel, and a few of them danced with Pat Caulfield's Irish Dance troupe, Desert Dance, who used to perform in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The picture at the door would be Pat and me, who both played with Get Reel.
Annette & Pat
I returned to Ireland and started dancing, and then teaching in the evenings, and eventually gave up my day job. I am now a self-employed teacher of music and dance. Obviously I was teaching in person pre-covid, and most of my classes are still online, they have attracted a lot of people either Irish living abroad or people with an interest in Irish dance/culture and have no access to classes. Join me in dance - good for the mind and body.
#aramco #stepwithannette #dance #irish #tradition
Aramco reunion 2021 - Co Clare, Ireland
"smiley happy people"
Description, Listing of Repertoire and Short Film:
The Dan Furey group, led by Michael Tubridy and Noel Devery, is a group of like-minded souls who meet to preserve the dances of Dan Furey (1910-1994), a keen dancer and teacher – I have included the full listing of dances below. Dan and his close friend James Keane brought the dances to the Willie Clancy Summer School, which takes place in Miltown Malby, Co Clare each year in July. Michael Tubridy notated all the dances and has published them. The dances are taught regularly at workshops and festivals in Ireland and abroad; there are many people around the world now dancing this repertoire, not just in Europe but also Kieran Jordan’s dancers in Boston, dancers on the West Coast, Canada and as far as Comhaltas Japan.
The Irish group normally meets in different locations around Ireland 5 or 6 times a year, we meet to catch up, dance, drink tea and eat cake! We dance this repertoire in a circle, and towards the end of the session we might dance a couple of figures of a set, the emphasis of these events is to meet and share. Since Covid, the group has been meeting online, once a month on the 3rd Saturday, a free event and open to all. Drop me a line if you would like an invitation to join.
Kieran Jordan also created a short film about the group and is available to view below.
Dan Furey Repertoire
Book 1 (no longer in print)
Priest and His Boots
4 x Hornpipe Steps
Job of Journeywork
Double Jig I
St Patrick’s Day
Book 2 (this book also includes the Book 1 repertoire)
Gabairín Buí (Little Yellow Goat)
Little Dutch Dance (Mazurka)
Mont Phoebus’ Hunt
Jockey to the Fair
Celine’s Hornpipe - 5 Donegal Steps
Double Jig II
Paddy Bawn / Paidí Bán
I hope you enjoy this presentation created for our end of term graduation party on, with students from all four levels - united across the globe - in dance.
I hope you enjoy this presentation created for my anniversary party on 29 May 2021, with all my students from all four levels, 6 blocks of online classes, coming together to celebrate - united across the globe - in dance.
I am thrilled to announce that my recent application for funding to enhance my “Step with Annette” business has been approved!
Many thanks to both the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Department for Communities for their support.
Did I say I am THRILLED!!
Old Style Step Dancing is a percussive type of dance, the steps are danced close to the floor, by people of any age - I know step dancers who are over 80.
Old Style Step Dancing is the precursor to competitive Irish dancing and Riverdance.
Research has proven that dancing is one of the best forms of activity for keeping the body active and the mind alert.
I teach to people with no prior knowledge, sometimes people come to revisit steps from their childhood, some people come to get fit in a fun environment, if you are curious about Old Style step dancing then come along to class, or check the weekend workshop schedule.
The steps and dances I offer have been passed down an unbroken line from the Dancing Masters of old.
To add my favourite quote from one of my tutors, Michael Tubridy: “wearing comfortable shoes and practising your steps in a relaxed fashion for maybe a half-hour every day, will give you great enjoyment, and do wonders for your general well being, without the risk of damaging your feet”!
(I don't insist you practise a half-hour every day, just whatever you are able, or inspired to do.)
Old-style Step Dancing is a tradition related to, yet distinct from the improvisational sean-nos dancing. It is believed that old-style step dancing dates back to the middle of the 18th century, with the dances and steps being passed on by travelling Dance Masters. Modern-day masters of old-style step dancing can trace the lineage of their steps directly back to the 18th century dancers. These Dance Masters also choreographed particular steps to particular traditional tunes creating the solo set dances such as the Blackbird, St Patrick's Day, and the Job of Journey Work, which also exist in modern-day Irish step-dancing.
Old-style step dancers dance with arms loosely at their sides, the body held in its natural upright position, with the legs bent slightly at the knees, to give a bounce or spring or easy style to the step. Steps are danced twice, first with the right foot then with the left, and are danced within a limited space.
This form of dancing was not really competition orientated, it was (and is) danced informally, described by Michael Tubridy as “a self-satisfying form of art, and can give the performer a great sense of satisfaction at being able to beat out a rhythm on the floor, or get up and “dance a step” at a ceili or party or friend’s wedding, - not to mention its tremendous value as a very fulfilling form of healthy exercise".
Get dancing I say!
(Taken from various sources)
Look after your brain
A comparison of two different fitness routines shows that both can have an anti-aging effect on the brain in the elderly, but only dancing gives rise to a measurable difference in behavior. by Tania Fitzgeorge-Balfour.
Story in brief
Physical exercise has an anti-aging effect on the hippocampus region of the brain – an area that controls memory, learning and balance. A new study, comparing different forms of exercise – dancing and endurance training – undertaken by elderly volunteers for eighteen months, shows that both can have an anti-aging effect on the brain, but only dancing corresponded to a noticeable difference in behavior. This difference is attributed to the extra challenge of learning dancing routines.
As we grow older we suffer a decline in mental and physical fitness, which can be made worse by conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. A new study, published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, shows that older people who routinely partake in physical exercise can reverse the signs of aging in the brain, and dancing has the most profound effect.
“Exercise has the beneficial effect of slowing down or even counteracting age-related decline in mental and physical capacity,” says Dr Kathrin Rehfeld, lead author of the study, based at the German center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, Magdeburg, Germany. “In this study, we show that two different types of physical exercise (dancing and endurance training) both increase the area of the brain that declines with age. In comparison, it was only dancing that lead to noticeable behavioral changes in terms of improved balance.”
Elderly volunteers, with an average age of 68, were recruited to the study and assigned either an eighteen-month weekly course of learning dance routines, or endurance and flexibility training. Both groups showed an increase in the hippocampus region of the brain. This is important because this area can be prone to age-related decline and is affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also plays a key role in memory and learning, as well as keeping one’s balance.
While previous research has shown that physical exercise can combat age-related brain decline, it is not known if one type of exercise can be better than another. To assess this, the exercise routines given to the volunteers differed. The traditional fitness training program conducted mainly repetitive exercises, such as cycling or Nordic walking, but the dance group were challenged with something new each week.
Dr Rehfeld explains, ”We tried to provide our seniors in the dance group with constantly changing dance routines of different genres (Jazz, Square, Latin-American and Line Dance). Steps, arm-patterns, formations, speed and rhythms were changed every second week to keep them in a constant learning process. The most challenging aspect for them was to recall the routines under the pressure of time and without any cues from the instructor.”
These extra challenges are thought to account for the noticeable difference in balance displayed by those participants in dancing group. Dr Rehfeld and her colleagues are building on this research to trial new fitness programs that have the potential of maximizing anti-aging effects on the brain.
“Right now, we are evaluating a new system called “Jymmin” (jamming and gymnastic). This is a sensor-based system which generates sounds (melodies, rhythm) based on physical activity. We know that dementia patients react strongly when listening to music. We want to combine the promising aspects of physical activity and active music making in a feasibility study with dementia patients.”
Dr Rehfeld concludes with advice that could get us up out of our seats and dancing to our favorite beat.
“I believe that everybody would like to live an independent and healthy life, for as long as possible. Physical activity is one of the lifestyle factors that can contribute to this, counteracting several risk factors and slowing down age-related decline. I think dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”
This research is part of a Frontiers Research Topic investigating the cognitive and neural effects of physical and cognitive activity across the lifespan.
Posted on August 29, 2017 by Frontiers Communications in Neuroscience
Annette is an accomplished dancer and multi-instrumentalist.
-Irish News Article
-Warning re Dance!
-The Dan Furey Group
-Party time 0721
-Old Style Steps Abroad
-Thanks to my Funders!
-Old Style Step?
-Dancing vrs Ageing