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Great ‘News’ for Set Dancers

IN 1992, a young man visited Miltown Malbay during “Willie Week” and caught the set dancing bug big time.

His vision and unique talents would make him into one of the central characters in the worldwide set dancing scene that celebrates the quadrille traditions of rural Ireland from Ibiza to Japan. 

That carryon is brilliantly chronicled in full color in The Set Dancing News, the bi-monthly magazine launched by a Yank from Delaware whose name is Bill Lynch. It is a must read for anyone looking to dance a figure of a set seemingly anywhere at any time, on holiday or in their home place. 

Bill Lynch was reared in Wilmington, Delaware where he was not exposed to Irish music or dance.

The University of Delaware sent him abroad to London to do computer-training courses and after a number of years there he experienced some ceili and fiddle classes around the time of the fateful journey to the Mecca of traditional music, Miltown Malbay.

Seized with a new passion, this computer geek met English dancing teachers Jeff Holland and Joe O’Hara and found a way to twin his computer skills with his newly acquired enthusiasm for set dancing. He first built a website entitled “The London Set Dancing News,” to disseminate info about dance classes in England. He later put out a newsletter distributed to 150 names, started by O’Hara, in December of 1997 when the eight page desktop edition of “Set Dancing News” was born. 

The idea of a publication both extolling and detailing the amount of dancing activity in England and now Ireland was accepted from the start by dancing aficionados. It sold well with a circulation base of 1,200 by 1999 when Lynch pulled up London stakes and moved to Ireland.

Settling in a vital center of the traditional music and dance scene in Kilfenora, County Clare, thanks to the patronage of Mary Doorty (who has assisted Lynch in his one-man publishing endeavor), Lynch was determined to expand the operation full time as editor, publisher and photographer.

On scene coverage by Lynch and a slew of volunteer correspondents shrunk the world and brought reader and dancer vividly into local or exotic scenes that they might one day visit or at least dream about. Numerous photographs even in black and white were a principal attraction as readers “scanned the pictures as soon as the copy arrived to view their friends or themselves,” Lynch confessed to me last month at the Nevele Grande in New York.

When full color photos and ads were introduced at the end of last year, it had signaled that the publication had gone from a personal desktop caper to a full-fledged magazine with a circulation of 2,000 and print run of 2,600 from a Killarney-based printer.

If the magazine has been an extraordinary work in progress, the website (www.setdancingnews.net ) is even more valuable as a repository of all kinds of information and reference material on the world of set dancing.

It is the principal place to find people involved in teaching, organizing, promoting and documenting that aspect of Irish social life in a very professional manner, meticulously maintained by Lynch himself.

Lynch was the right man at the right time to capture this phenomenon but, modestly, he professes to be the beneficiary when he told me recently, “As a dancer, set dancing is my main interest and I am fortunate to be doing what I love to do while promoting what I love to do and bringing people together from so many different places. There is a special bond amongst set dancers and now we have friends around the world.”

Based on the reception that the Delaware Yank received recently at the CCE Convention in Parsippany and at the Nevele Weekend, Bill Lynch has indeed made himself many friends. And he has done so by creating a virtual and actual global “crossroads dancing” scene whose cultural impact is more sizeable than numbers could ever adequately portray as it depicts a truly vibrant art form that has survived for centuries.

“SWEET” SUSAN: Singer Susan McKeown will appear on John Schaefer’s “New Sounds” on WNYC (May 17 at 11 p.m. at 93.9 FM and also available on the web at www.wnyc.org ) where her new CD Sweet Liberty and her music will be explored beyond the Irish music scene.

The sultry chanteuse has produced another winner here with a recording that challenges your sensibility and image of traditional singing because McKeown’s style is very personal and intuitive, based on a range of experience and exposure to different music genres.

Since moving from her native Dublin fourteen years ago and situating herself in the East Village of Manhattan, she has become a powerful musical force in that artistic community and beyond New York City as an interpreter of the human experience through songs old and new. Either by changing titles or melody she has breathed new life into two hardy perennials in “Verdant Braes of Screen (The Wee Birds All Have Come and Gone)” and “Curragh of Kildare (The Winter It Has Past).” 

Also appearing on the CD are two songs (“Shamrock Green” and “Sweet Liberty”) she successfully debuted last October at the West Along the Road series at a Washington Square Church, accompanied by Dana Lyn and Eamonn O’Leary.

You can order the new CD and catch up with Susan at her website ( www.susanmckeown.com ) and her next New York appearance will be as part South Street Seaport Concerts In the Melville Gallery (209 Water Street) on Tuesday, June 8 at 6 p.m. She is returning for an Irish tour including a stop at Mother Redcaps in Dublin on July 9.

Contact at fromthehob@aol.com .


 © IrishAbroad.com 2009