St. Petersburg Annual Folk Dance Festival - Sean-Nós Dance Questionaire

1) When did you start dancing sean-nós? How did it happen?

I started dancing to Irish music as a very young child, and did so naturally and unselfconsciously, as my parents enjoyed being part of the world of traditional Irish music and dance in England where we lived until I was one and a half years of age and later in Ireland when our family returned home.  A famous Irish dancer Donnacha Ó Muineachán (RIP) danced at my Christening and some great musicians played there too. I was very fortunate to have been immersed in such a great culture as a young child, and would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents Wilf and Áine Regan, who are great dancers also, and who brought us to very many Irish cultural events as a family. Dance gave way to racquet sports for a lot of my teenage years, with music and dance happening naturally and organically, mostly free style, when and where it did. My first formal sean-nós dance lessons were in my twenties in my home place of Salthill, Galway, where Roisín Ní Mhainín was living while she attended University.  Róisín is a wonderful teacher and progress gained in her kitchen along with my enthusiasm for the dance form spurred me onward toward various festivals such as the Cóilín Sheáin Darrach Festival in Ros Muc, and the Oireachtais etc. Following this I began to seek out other dancers and dance teachers for inspiration when and where I could.  Other great dancers who've taught or inspired me include Mats Melin, Mick Mulkerrins, Maldon Meehan, Keiran Jordan, Paul Moran, Joe Neachtain, Madge O Grady and Marie Philbin.  I'm very grateful to have come in contact with these great dancers and many more too numerous to mention here, who helped shape my dancing and who passed on the skills and encouragement necessary to express myself creatively through sean-nós dance.

2) What were the biggest and most remarkable sean-nós dance events you took part in ? Why do they seem so important to you?

I’m fortunate to have taken part in lots of great sean-nós dance and Irish music events throughout my life. Some that stand out include, performing for St. Patrick’s Festival along-side Ger Devane at the National Concert Hall, in Dublin, Ireland with Frankie Gavin and band. Performing at the Cutler Emerson Majestic Theatre in Boston at Christmas time with dancers Maldon Meehan, Mats Meelin and Kieran Jordan. And performing every year at the Joe Mooney Festival in Leitrim, Ireland and at the Oireachtas for very many enjoyable years.  I’ve also enjoyed performing in Norway; Moscow; Prague; Tocane, France; Basel, Switzerland; as well as in more than twenty states in the USA as well as parts of Canada, and across much of Europe.

3) Could you name the most important of your personal achievements in dancing? Probably, you have some awards, wrote a book, developed a personal studying system?

I won the Irish Fleadh Ceoil na hÉireann, 2010, Sean-Nós Dance Competition.
Also, along with other dancers and teachers of sean-nós dance, I'm happy to say that I helped to spur on a resurgence of this traditional dance form and it is thriving today and enjoying greater popularity than ever before.

Many of my students have gone on to become wonderful dancers and to achieve fame as dancers and teachers. Amongst an illustrious list of  former students are Suzanne Leahy, Shannon Dunne, Alicia Guinn (taught in workshops in America and Ireland 2003-5); Tereza Bernardova (taught at the Prague International Summer Festival 2007); Emma O' Sullivan (taught at weekly classes in the Crane Bar, Galway 2005/6), Mary Beth Taylor (taught at Feis na nGael Festivals throughout 2011), and Alexey Popov (taught in Moscow and Drumshanbo between 2009-11).

I have developed my sean-nós dance teaching techniques, have taught all over the world and at home in Ireland and have brought out 2 tuition DVDs, Dance Sean-Nós for beginners and Dance Sean-Nós which continue to help people to learn and enjoy this wonderful form of Irish dance. Both of these tuition DVDs are available here:

4) When did you began to teach dance? Can you remember your first class? What was it? What did you feel? Was it difficult for you to prepare?

I remember the enthusiasm that both I and the students possessed. Some of my earliest and most memorable sean-nós dance classes were in the Hotel, Inis Meáin, Aran Islands; in Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick with Maldon Meehan and a few years later upstairs in the Crane Traditional Irish Music Bar in Galway.
It was perhaps difficult to break the steps down enough.  At the time, a lot of sean-nós dance was absorbed and passed on to people without formal lessons, so it was a very dynamic and fast moving art form in those days.

Yet, the formal teaching of sean-nós dance was only developing and therefore a static approach to the pedagogy of sean-nós dance existed at that time. As a result, I found it useful to develop my alphabet of steps; a way of teaching which is dynamic and fluid and which introduces and adds steps and skills gradually. This in turn allows for a greater range of creative expression and greater opportunity to introduce and develop compositional skills which is at the heart of sean-nós dance.

5) Where do you normally work as a dancing teacher? What’s the name of your school or club? How many people there are in your group? What do you teach right now?

I teach at festivals both in Ireland and around the world, where I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that people bring. These festivals are too many to mention here, but some of the upcoming events are on my website here:

6) Could you name some festivals you took part in abroad? What is the most faraway or exotic place you ever travel to teach people? What trip of you as a teacher was the most exciting and remarkable?

Friday Harbour, an island in the pacific off the coast of Washington, in America was one interesting festival venue that stands out for the beauty of the area and the enjoyable experience there. The week I spent teaching Irish traditional violin and sean-nós dancing in Prague was also an invaluable and very enjoyable experience.

7) What is your general occupation? Are you a professional teacher or it is your hobby? What hobbies do you have besides dancing?
8 )Have you ever tried any other dances but those you are specializing at? How was that? Was this experience helpful for you as a sean-nos dancer/teacher?

I am a primary school teacher, and I job share in order to raise our 13 month old son. This flexibility of schedule also gives me some time to pursue my love of dance, music and sport.

9) What do you think can help newbee dancers to succeed in folk dancing? Do you think doing some type of folk dancing exclusively is pretty much enough to become a good folk dancer or are other types of activities required? Some extra physical exercises or other types of dancing for example? What is vital in particular for sean-nos?

Becoming immersed in the music and dance culture of Ireland is probably the most important thing. In doing so you gain an almost intuitive understanding of the rhythms and techniques needed to become a good sean-nós dancer and can apply your creativity and joy to sean-nós dance. As dance is a language of its own it’d be helpful to do some set dancing or take part in other dance forms also, but this is not essential. Any sporting, fitness, flexibility or core strengthening activities such as pilates or yoga that you enjoy will also be beneficial, but again is not a prerequisite.

10) What would you say or recommend to future attendees of your classes at our Folk Dance Festival?

It’s going to be a great week, a great opportunity for you to learn great technique, great rhythm and phrasing and to incorporate wonderful style and life into your sean-nós dancing. It’s going to be a fun week and I look forward to seeing you there!