Irish dance group from South Belfast inspiring adults to discover a new passion for an old tradition


Meet the South Belfast Dance School determined to promote the love of Irish dance for adults of all ages and skill levels.

The South Belfast Irish Dance for Adults was launched in 2016 with the aim of removing dance from its competitive connotations and creating a space for the skill to be appreciated and to have fun doing it.

Co-founder Ethan Loughrey, originally from Omagh, came from a long line of Irish dance teachers and decided he wanted to bring his passion for Irish dance to South Belfast.

Speaking to Be, he said: “I wanted to get back into it a bit uncompetitively and try to open it up a bit more, so I decided to start a band with my friend Donna Muldoon because we were both qualified dance teachers.

Ethan Loughrey

“You find that when you mention Irish dancing people are going to be like oh I would love to do that or say they did it when they were kids.

“Irish dancing when you are younger can be surprisingly intense with all the competitions and we really wanted to focus on the culture, fun and skills involved in dancing.”

What started out as a handful of people showing up for first class has now grown into a full community of passionate dancers who were able to get nearly 1,000 people kicking their feet at Culture Night in 2019.

Ethan and the team are particularly interested in sharing their love of Ceili dances which add a real social element to traditional Irish dance.

“From there he organically and gradually grew into the great little group that we have now.

“Our unofficial motto is ‘bring back the Ceili’ because I think they’re amazing and they’re so infrequent these days and the courses focus on them in the first place.

“The first time the group really got bigger was when a group of scientists from Queen’s came in and then they brought in five or six of their colleagues and they all kind of stayed, a lot of them. they are still there now, ”he explained.

Before the pandemic hit, SBIDA reportedly held a Ceili every four months to raise money for charity and allow members to perform in front of an audience while enjoying a crazy good night’s sleep.

For the past five years, their dancers have performed at St. Patrick’s Day events in Malta, during the Pope’s visit to Dublin, and have even appeared in music videos.

Ethan continued, “We had some really classy and weird experiences and it all came from word of mouth.

“The group we have are really lovely people and there is also a very good social side to it.

“Irish dancing is something you see or hear about, but not many people can try it, especially when they are adults. “

Ethan described how the dance school is open to people of all abilities and backgrounds and talked about how happy it is to watch someone who had never danced Irish before picking it up like it’s was second nature.

“Sometimes newbies come in and they start right away and sometimes they come in and it takes a while, but we always say Irish dancing is about muscle memory.

SBIDA at the Night of Culture 2019

“From our perspective, I love that people who have never danced Irish in their life now dance regularly at events and shows,” he said.

“I would say one of the men in the science group is a better dancer than I am now – he started with us five years ago and was just natural and just adopted it.

“People come and maybe it doesn’t come naturally, but they still like to learn the skills and end up impressing their friends which is great.”

Due to the close contact nature of the SBIDA classes and the large number of people involved in their Ceili dances, the group stopped meeting in January 2020 just before covid-19 began to take effect in Northern Ireland.

Ethan explained, “The Ceili’s are a big part of the fun for our members and it’s probably the greatest way for people to meet in the classroom as they hold hands and sway and you kind of have to talk. to people.

“We did stuff online when we were all back in our homes, but it’s incredibly hard to teach on zoom because you’re not there to check the beat and the music is off, so it’s was really difficult. “

Their classes were able to restart with smaller groups to allow for more distancing and despite blockages stopping their flow, interest increased during the pandemic and the group now numbers around 60 dancers.

He added: “It’s really tricky, but we try to do as much as possible under the circumstances. I can’t wait to start doing everything we really love again.”

SBIDA Ceili before the pandemic

Looking to the future, Ethan hopes they can continue to educate and inspire people to learn more about traditional Irish dance while creating a pleasant environment for all.

“We just want to keep growing – we want more people to know about Irish dancing and more people to learn something that we think is important and a great skill to have.

“It also opens up a whole social dynamic. “

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