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Scholarcast 58: Taking the Floor: Dance, Nation and Gender in the Irish Revival

Barbara O'Connor


This episode explores the process whereby dance was transformed from a practice enjoyed for its own sake into ‘a conscious symbolic act’ (Snape, 2009:298) of Irish nationhood during the Revival. Drawing on the work of dance scholars and historians, Barbara O'Connor examines the role of the Gaelic League in developing an‘authentic’ national dance canon that called for an ideal Irish dancing body. The emergent form of that body was the result of the interplay between tradition and modernity, between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, between the Irish and the foreign, and between men and women. This body, she suggests, reflected the body politic because inscribed onto it were the cherished values of the ‘old’ nation as well as those of the ‘new’ (nascent) state.  The values of the ‘old’ nation were invoked in the process of determining what constituted ‘traditional’ dance; in the collection of native ‘folk’dances; in the attempts to eliminate any foreign, and especially English, influences. The values of the aspirant state were seen in the desire for dignity and authority inscribed within the upright but relaxed dance posture; in the increasing discipline in dance practice leading to the establishment of a national standard of evaluation of competitive dance, and; in the increasing participation and visibility of women in dance.

This episode of Scholarcast is based on Chapter Two (‘The Body Politic: Dance and National Identity’) in The Irish Dancing: Cultural Politics and Identities, 1900-2000. Cork University Press, 2013.

Barbara O’Connor

Barbara O’Connor is currently an independent scholar with an academic background in sociology (PhD) and social anthropology (MA). She worked for twenty-five years in the School of Communications, Dublin City University where she lectured on aspects of popular culture and communications. Her research interests include feminist scholarship and gender studies, media studies and tourism/travel.  She has published on media representations of women, television audiences, tourism and cultural identity as well as on dance. Her most recent dance publication The Irish Dancing: Cultural Politics and Identities, 1900-2000 was published by Cork University Press in 2013.


Series edited by: Giulia Bruna and Catherine Wilsdon
General Editor: P.J. Mathews
Scholarcast original theme music by: Padhraic Egan, Michael Hussey and Sharon Hussey.
Recording, audio editing, photography, video and development by: John Matthews, Vincent Hoban, Seán O'Domhnaill, Brian Kelly & Ken Doyle at UCD Media Services.

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