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Two Traditional Dances Take Basel by Storm

Today it is increasingly easy to lose sight of heritage. Scottish and Irish country dancing, however, prove to be exceptions, and they continue to be popular in their respective cultures – and in Basel as well.

By Ella Revitt

Adjacent to the Musikhochschule on Leonhardsgraben, Le Centre studio can be found at Holbeinplatz 7, not far from the number 3 tram. Inside, Carol Jones teaches Scottish Highland Dancing three days a week – in German and in English. This competitive sport is more than ”a spirited boogie” – in a six-step Highland Fling, dancers complete 192 vertical jumps, requiring the same amount of energy as running one mile.

In the 11th century Scottish Highland dancing was fitness training for soldiers, as it required strength, coordination and discipline. The Sword Dance – an early example – was ritualistically performed before battle. It also served as entertainment for many, including Princess Anne of Denmark in 1589 and James VI, King of Scotland (who also became King James I of England) in 1617.

At Basel Tattoo as well
Fast-forward to 2016 and highland dancing has only risen in prominence. The renowned Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, part of the annual Edinburgh Festival, features bagpipe tunes, military bands and a variety of cultural dances including the home nation’s jig. In more recent years Basel’s own Tattoo, the world’s largest after Edinburgh, has also included Scottish Dancing. Jones credits this as a reason for her school having more Swiss attendants than expats.

Carol Jones, originally from South Africa, has been dancing since the age of 4 and, after competing for many years at championship level she attained teaching and judging accreditation. Upon arriving in Basel in 2009, she hoped to continue this passion, and was pleased to find a small group of interested dancers. Since then, her school has expanded to include both adult and children classes.

For both Expats and Swiss
Friday evenings and Saturday mornings are also exciting for locals and expats. Many regularly flock to the Gottfried Keller school building along Buchenstrasse (for children), the Linda Salsa Tanzschule at Spalenring, and Saturdays also at Semiramis Studios at Spalenring, to learn and perform Celtic Dancing. In both Basel and Zurich, the Maguire O’Shea Academy of Irish Dance London runs Celtic Jig – a school for beginners and experienced dancers run by Deirdre and Michael Maguire.

Irish step dancing, which rose to prominence in 1994 with the Riverdance show, is mostly known for the rapid leg motions while arms and body remain stationary. And as different as Celtic Dancing may be from Scottish Highland Dancing, both art forms can be recognized by their distinct “Gillie” shoes and energetic movements.

Innate aspect of Irish heritage
Deirdre and Michael Maguire’s local school aims to “promote Irish dance and culture” and provide a way of keeping fit in a social environment. Many of her mature students enjoy traditional Ceili dancing: these popular folk dances originate back hundreds of years and are an innate aspect of Irish heritage. Competition dances (both solo and group) and show dancing (performed in front of live audiences) allow dancers to build confidence as well as gain experience.

A typical class is both fun and a great way to keep fit. Some members that grew up dancing to Gaelic tunes also feel a sense of nostalgia. Such an opportunity is valued by adults and children – with entertaining games to learn choreography included for the latter. As with Highland dancing, footwork and posture requires immense concentration and strength. Maguire explains that her “passion for Irish dance stems from years of practice,” noting that her “students” are “very excited to bring knowledge of Irish dance to Switzerland.”



(Pictures courtesy of “celticjig.ch” and “School of Highland Dancing Basel”)

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