The Greater Washington Ceili Club  

(last updated Sep 24, 2006)

Articles mentioning GWCC activities :

Ceili Dancing        by Matthew Graham       Sunday, January 15, 2006; Page M05   
Step Lively Now  by Mary Quattlebaum     Friday, March 4, 2005; Page WE39

[Image]     Sunday, January 15, 2006; Page M05

Ceili Dancing

By Matthew Graham
for The Washington Post

The hallway at the Cherry Hill Park Conference Center in College Park is vibrating with the rhythm of dozens of ceili dancers stomping their feet, following a complex pattern of movements. With a look of serious concentration, Brian Vant Hull is trying to keep up. But during the intricate Connemara Reel Set, he forgets to turn and heads straight into oncoming traffic, almost colliding with several other dancers. They all laugh as longtime Greater Washington Ceili Club member Edie O'Donnell spins him back around.

Vant Hull is a newcomer to ceili (pronounced "KAY-lee"), a traditional Irish dance that has little to do with bare-chested Michael Flatley's fancy "Riverdancey" footwork. Sometimes called set dancing (though not exactly the same), ceili is more akin to country line and square dancing, with sets made up of a series of individual patterns. Unlike square dancing, however, the movements are not called out -- which puts novices such as Vant Hull in jeopardy.

Be prepared to jig and reel yourself -- and your neighbors -- around the dance floor at the Greater Washington Ceili Club's monthly dance at Cherry Hill Park.

Be prepared to jig and reel yourself -- and your neighbors -- around the dance floor at the Greater Washington Ceili Club's monthly dance at Cherry Hill Park. (By Karen Carra For The Washington Post)

Undaunted by his misstep, Vant Hull continues on with the help of the more experienced members. He's now in a set that includes dozens and dozens of parts, with numerous movements repeated throughout. One step involves a man being passed off by the women dancers as he goes around in a circle. Informally, it's called "Dump the Dude." Vant Hull notes: "As soon as I get a woman, she turns around and leaves me. It all seems too familiar."

Dances are divided into parts, and some sets can have almost a hundred sections. An evening of dancing is quite the aerobic workout. Dancers should come prepared with dress shoes with hard soles.

"It keeps you on your toes both physically and mentally," says ceili dance instructor Hugh W. Conway of Fairfax. In the Clare Plain Set, for instance, the gentlemen in each couple lead the ladies around in a counterclockwise circle, followed by a waltz step. Partners then drop hands, cross through each other and take a new partner. The ladies then lead the men through a series of turns. "It's a matter of learning patterns," says Conway. "You learn one dance at a time, and if you pay attention, it comes easy."

Between sets, the four-member band pauses momentarily so the dancers can catch their breath. Dancers line up for dinner (on potluck nights, everyone brings a dish or dessert). A few folks bypass the meal and head straight for the sweets -- pies, cakes, platefuls of brownies and homemade cookies. "Some people come just for the desserts," says O'Donnell.

---  Matthew Graham  for The Washington Post

Getting started:

Blackthorn Ceili Dancers. Quarterly dances on Saturday nights (the next one is March 11) begin with a lesson at 5 p.m. and a dance from 6-10:30 p.m. $12, children younger than 16 free. McCathran Hall, 300 Grove Ave., Washington Grove. 301-990-0184. .

City of Fairfax Parks and Recreation. Offers beginner sessions on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. taught by Hugh Conway. The next five-week session, which costs $25, begins Feb. 21. Green Acres Center, 4401 Sideburn Rd., Fairfax. 703-385-7858. .

Glen Echo Park. Group lessons for beginners are Wednesdays at 7 p.m., followed by intermediate-advanced ones at 8:15 p.m. The cost is $45 for 11 weeks, and the next session begins March 15. 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. 301-294-3568. .

Greater Washington Ceili Club. For dancers of all ages -- from children, teenagers and twenty-somethings to octogenarians. Monthly Sunday dances (the next is Jan. 22) are from 5-9 p.m., with a beginner lesson at 4 p.m. $15, or $12 for members. Cherry Hill Park, Conference Center, 9800 Cherry Hill Rd., College Park. 301-294-3568. The group also offers set dance classes, taught by Paul O'Donnell, on Thursdays at 8 p.m. Group classes cost $30 for a multi-week session: The current one began Jan. 5 and runs through May 18, and students can still sign up. Frost Center, 4915 Aspen Hill Rd., Rockville. 301-649-6410. . http://

Ring of Kerry Irish Dancers. Beginner lessons are Tuesdays at 7 p.m.; those for experienced dancers start at 8:15 p.m. $35 for a five-month group session. The current session began Jan. 10 and runs through May 23, and students can still sign up. Ridgeview Middle School, 16600 Raven Rock Dr., Gaithersburg. 301-916-2872. .


[Image]       Friday, March 4, 2005; Page WE39
Saturday's Child

Step Lively Now

By Mary Quattlebaum
Special to The Washington Post

FLOATS, BANDS and green-garbed marchers galore will grace St. Patrick's Day parades Saturday in Alexandria and next weekend in Gaithersburg, Manassas and Washington. But when the Celtic music swells, the liveliest feet, by far, will belong to young Irish dancers.

The parades are one of the best places to glimpse the talented students of local Irish dance schools, many directed by former dance champions. Long before the '90s "Riverdance" craze hit America, youngsters here were learning the reels, jigs and ribbon dances of the Emerald Isle.

And learning a bit about Irish culture in the process. "The choreography for certain set and ceili dances [group dances similar to American square dances] has remained the same for centuries," says Lauren McGrath Daniel, director of the Virginia branch of the McGrath Academy of Irish Dance, founded by her mother in 1976. "Kids can learn what their great-grandparents did for enjoyment." The dance costumes, too, hearken back to hand-embroidered models worn by girls in the old country, Daniel says, though today's male dancers have largely swapped their kilts for trousers.

Does Irish dance require Irish ancestry? "All ethnicities, ages and body types are welcome," she says. The only prerequisites are lots of energy -- this dance form is quite vigorous -- and a willingness to have fun, she says.

A love of Irish dance can last a lifetime, adds Daniel, who started learning when she was 2 (she's now 30). Many area ceili (a Gaelic word pronounced "kay-lee") clubs meet regularly for workshops and dances that attract serious beginners and experienced dancers of all ages.

Of course, St. Patrick's Day calls for a jig. Dancers from the Culkin and O'Neill-James schools appear at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage on March 15, and the Old Post Office Pavilion on March 16, respectively, for free public performances. You can also catch performances throughout the year, especially at feis (pronounced "fesh," the Gaelic word for "festival" generally refers to Irish dance competitions these days).

But since the sprightly Celtic music begs for participants rather than spectators, several ceili clubs are hosting workshops and dances this month. This could be a great chance for you and your kids to don some green and try Irish dancing yourselves.


ALEXANDRIA -- 703-237-2199. (Metro: King Street). On Saturday at 12:30, the 24th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade begins at West and King streets and continues along King to Fairfax Street. Grand marshal is Martin O'Malley, mayor of Baltimore. At 10 a.m., there is a classic car show at North Pitt Street between King and Cameron streets. At 10:30 a.m., there is a fun dog show in Market Square. If parade is postponed because of inclement weather, it will be March 12. Sponsored by the Ballyshaners (Gaelic for "Old Towners"), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and preserving Irish heritage.

GAITHERSBURG -- 301-208-8833. On March 12 at 10, the fifth annual St. Patrick's Day Parade marches down Grand Corner Avenue at the Washingtonian Center (Interstate 370 and Washingtonian Boulevard). Irish pipe bands, dancers, horses and greyhounds join grand marshal Gus McLeod. Parade is organized by Harp and Shamrock Society of Gaithersburg, which hosts several Celtic-themed fundraisers throughout the year.

MANASSAS -- 703-368-1754. On March 12 at 11, the sixth annual St. Patrick's Day Parade starts at Euclid and Quarry streets and marches down Center Street in Old Town Manassas. Grand marshal Mayor Marvin Gillum joins bands, Irish dancers and other performers.

THE DISTRICT -- 202-637-2474. (Metro: Smithsonian, Federal Triangle or Archives). On March 13 at noon, the 34th annual St. Patrick's Day Parade steps off at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue NW and continues along Constitution to 17th Street NW. More than 100 units including bands, floats and antique cars join grand marshal Gen. P. X. Kelley, former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. Grandstand seats can be purchased in advance for $5 by calling 301-384-6533 (seating limited), but most spectators just line the parade route.


Irish dancing is energetic. Participants should wear comfortable clothes and sturdy shoes with laces. The fun is in the dancing so those present, including kids, should learn the steps and join in.

BLACKTHORN CEILI DANCERS INC. -- 301-990-0184. Started by Harry and Margaret Schrecengost in 1968, this local group sponsors Irish dances and workshops for serious beginners and advanced students. On March 12 from 5 to 6, a dance workshop co-sponsored with the Ring of Kerry Irish Dancers will be followed from 6 to 10:30 by a ceili with live music at the McCathran Hall, 300 Grove Ave., Washington Grove, Md. $8 adults, free for 15 and younger, $28 families.

COMHALTAS CEOLTOIRI EIREANN -- 301-622-6582. The local branch of this international Dublin-based group offers workshops and sponsors dances throughout the year at Green Acre Center, 4401 Sideburn Rd., Fairfax City. Ten-week Saturday classes are 9:45 to 11 a.m. for beginners, 11 to 12:15 for experienced dancers, and the cost is $35 for nonmembers, $25 for CCE members. Dances are the second Saturday of every month from September to May and run from 8 p.m. to midnight. $10 adults, $5 ages 6 to 15, free for under 6, $20 family. The next dance is March 12. Annual membership is $25.