It was at a Fleadh Ceoil down in Listowel in the late 80’s that the real power of traditional dancing was revealed to Michael Tubridy. He went in, flute in hand, to teach a class, but finished the session sweating and with the soles of his shoes warm from the dancing.
“A lot of the musicians don’t take any bit of notice at all of the dancing, they just want to play in their session – and I enjoy that as well. And of course a lot of the dancers wouldn’t know much about the music either, except that there are eight bars in a piece and they just keep repeating that. They’d know the band alright but their knowledge of the music wouldn’t be great,” he says.
“They are almost two separate camps, if you like. I guess I’m in a lucky position that I can swap between the two and I enjoy them both equally. Many, many years ago, there wasn’t a great divide between the two – many people who were able to play were able to dance as well. They were able to do both and to appreciate both.
“I think that it is important to try and bring them back together again. I remember doing a workshop down in Listowel in the late ‘80s for the All-Ireland Fleadh. It was a flute class but at some part of it I got them up to do a bit of a step.
“I went with one of the lads from the class just last year down in Miltown and he reminded me of the dancing that we were doing in the flute class. He said to me ‘I don’t remember what tunes you taught that year but I’ll never forget the dance’. And that’s great. It is very hard to get young people, lads in particular, to get up and do a bit of dancing – they just don’t want to do it.
“The thing is that once they give it a go at all, they get hooked on it. It’s very easy to get hooked on it. I didn’t any bit of step dancing myself until the 1980s. My wife enjoyed it but I looked at it as something that I wouldn’t be able to do. It wasn’t until I met Dan Furey back in 1987 that I got started.
“It was gradual in the beginning, mind you, but I got more and more interested as the years went by and I’m still very interested in it. We’ve found over the years that a lot of people are getting more interested in the other styles of Irish dancing. They see ‘Riverdance’ and the competition style of Irish dancing alright but we’ve found that they’re getting more interested in the older type of traditional step dancing.
“There’s a lot of interest in it – only last week I was over in Paris teaching classes in the dances of Dan Furey from Labasheeda. It has something universal about it that people really enjoy. ‘Riverdance’ opened the door but a lot of people wanted to see what was behind that type of dancing.”
“It [the Willie Clancy Summer School] is a bit of a pilgrimage for me, really. I wasn’t there at the start for a good few years but, once I started going down back in 1988 or thereabouts, I haven’t missed a year since. I’ve been going strong now for more than 20 years – every single year.
“It is a very special week for traditional musicians. I suppose it’s the best week for traditional music anywhere in the country. Every year you meet all the different musicians from all over Ireland, all over the world really. We’re now even getting a good few musicians from Japan as well as the Europeans and the Americans. As well as that, we have the dancers and singers.
“I don’t see how you could fail to enjoy it if you had any interest in the Irish traditions. As a Clare musician, it’s a bit special. You meet all the local people again and it’s great to meet them. Of course, as well as that, you meet all the foreign musicians as well. It’s a real gathering.
“But, especially, being a Clare man does make it that bit more special. It means that bit more to me be able to come down to Clare again.”
This interview was first published in full in The Clare People in July of 2009. The original extended interview is available in full in the paper’s digital archive on www.clarepeople.com