Some of the ‘trad terminology’ is quite confusing. So here’s some explanations you may find helpful.
‘céilí’ vs. ‘céilí dancing’
Céilí dancing is a specific genre of Irish dance revived / invented by Irish nationalists in the early 1900s. ‘Céilí dances’ have only two to three simple steps, and are not percussive. Examples include the Walls of Limerick, the Siege of Ennis, and the Haymaker’s Jig.
A Céilí is a social gathering with Irish music and dance. A céilí might have céilí dancing only; a céilí might have set dancing only; a céilí could have a mixture of céilí dancing, set dancing, instrumentals and a few songs.
‘the Lancer’ vs. ‘a lancer’
A ‘lance’ is a weapon; it’s a long wooden stick with a pointed steel head on the top. Lances were used by a horseman while they charged at the enemy, as recently as World War I. “Lancers” is the name for the soldiers on horseback who fought with these lances. Back in 1817, the Dublin dancing master Duval created a set dance for a lancers regiment based in Dublin; this dance became known as ‘The Lancer Quadrilles’ or ‘The Lancers’. This was the first ‘set’ composed in Ireland. Since then, the term ‘a lancer’ is used to describe any other set with similar features to that first set, e.g. a line-up, grand chain and dancing in the corners. It’s also used to describe a single reel played for a lancer set.
‘Jenny tunes’ vs. tunes with the name ‘Jenny’ in the title
In West Cork there’s a particular dance called a ‘Jenny’, e.g. the Borlin Jenny, collected from Bantry Bay. Specific single reels are played for ‘Jenny’ dances. These tunes don’t have individual tune names, they’re just collectively referred to as ‘Jenny tunes’. They’re a march-like polka.
There are also approx 35 tunes in the Irish tradition with the girl’s name ‘Jenny’ in the title. So best to clarify if you’re referring to a tune type or tune title when you’re planning tune sets in West Cork! 😉 Just for fun, here are some of the tune titles with ‘Jenny’ in the title… Jenny And The Weasel, Jenny Dang The Weaver, Jenny Got A Clinking, Jenny Jumped Over The Wall, Jenny Lind Polka, Jenny Lind’s Reel, Jenny Nettle’s Fancy, Jenny Picking Cockles, Jenny Pippin, Jenny Put the Kettle On, Jenny Rocking The Cradle, Jenny, Tie The Bonnet, Jenny’s Chickens, Jenny’s Wedding, Jenny’s Welcome To Charlie
‘set dance’ vs. ‘a set dance’
Set dance / set dancing is a genre of Irish traditional dancing. The format is always four couples facing each other to make a square. It’s social dancing; there’s generally hundreds of people crammed into a hall, dancing to a live band. Each dance has three to six sections (called figures), with little breaks between each section. One ‘set’ takes between 10 and 30 minutes. Here’s a list of ‘sets’, compiled by the amazing Bill Lynch.
On the other hand, a ‘Set Dance’ or ‘traditional set dance’ is a tune with its own accompanying, pre-arranged choreography. In the context of competitive step dancing, ‘a set dance’ is usually one of these tune-and-dance combinations, not the social dance genre called ‘set dance’ / ‘set dancing’. Here’s 38 of the tune-and-dance combinations approved by An Coimisiúin Le Rincí Gaelacha for performance in their competitions. Set dances are usually ‘crooked’, i.e. have a different amount of bars in the first and second parts.
“the tune” vs. “the tune” and “the turn”
“The tune” on its own means the whole tune, the entire piece of music. But if you hear “the turn” in close proximity to “the tune”, then “the tune” means the first part of a tune, i.e. the A part, and “the turn” means the second part of the tune, or the B part.
“single reel” vs. “single reel”
In a typical Irish dance tune, each 8-bar part is usually played twice. The term for this is that the tune is ‘doubled’. However, at least 11% of all Irish tunes are exceptions to this rule, and in these tunes each part is only played once through. These exceptional tunes where each part is played just once are termed ‘played singly’ ‘played single’ or ‘a single <tune type>’, e.g. ‘a single reel’.
The most common tune types in Irish traditional music are reels and jigs. There are 2 different types of reel, which are differentiated from each other with the prefix ‘single’ and ‘double’ … but in this context, ‘single’ and ‘double’ refer to meter, not how many times the parts are repeated. A ‘double reel’ is notated in 4/4 or 2/2, a ‘single reel’ is notated in 2/4.
So a ‘single reel’ can be a conventional reel, with each part played once through … or it can be a reel with the time signature 2/4, with both parts repeated. There’s no way to figure this out except to ask your session buddies which one they mean!
“single jig” vs. “single jig”
As explained above: in a typical Irish dance tune, each 8-bar part is usually played twice. The term for this is that the tune is ‘doubled’. However, at least 11% of all Irish tunes are exceptions to this rule, and in these tunes each part is only played once through. These exceptional tunes where each part is played just once are termed ‘played singly’ ‘played single’ or ‘a single <tune type>’, e.g. ‘a single jig’.
The most common tune types in Irish traditional music are reels and jigs. There are 4 different subcategories of jig: slip jig, hop jig, single jig and double jig. In this context, ‘single’ and ‘double’ refer to meter, not how many times the parts are repeated. A ‘single jig’ and a ‘double jig’ are both conventionally notated in 6/8 – but a ‘single jig’ has a high frequency of heavy-light pairs, whereas a ‘double jig’ has a typical jig pattern of dotted quaver – semiquaver – quaver.
So a ‘single jig’ can be a ‘double jig’, with each part played once through … or it can be a jig with a high frequency of heavy-light pairs, with both parts repeated. There’s no way to figure this out except to ask your session buddies which one they mean!
… that’s my list of confusing terminology for the time being. Now I’m off to play a session in the Teach Ósta, Inis Meáin, where I aspire to communicate extremely clearly for the evening 🙂