Music and Dance

Slow airs, marches and dance music consisting of strathspeys, reels and jigs were the forms of music played. Very often fiddlers adopted pipe tunes into their own repertoires and it was not uncommon for the same individual to be a piper, a fiddler, a dancer and a singer. Musicians usually learned informally at home from friends and relatives and very often instrumental music, like the other Gaelic cultural expressions, was passed down through families. Music and dancing were always practiced in the homes and as time went on dances were held in schoolhouses and, after the turn of the 20th century, in community halls.

The Gaelic piping tradition was maintained and passed on for several generations and community pipers were to be found wherever Gaelic was spoken in Cape Breton. Similar to fiddling, there were strong lines of transmission within piping families.

Dancing could occur in many social situations but was especially prevalent at community picnics, weddings, frolics, house parties, and later at schoolhouse and parish hall dances. It also took place at crossroads, in barns, on bridges and even on tree stumps!

In solo performance, a dancer was expected to be erect in posture, with the body remaining rigid from the knees up. He was expected to be light of foot with steps performed neatly, close to the floor and within the bounds of a relatively small space, about 16 inches square. The musical bond between musician and dancer was and is paramount in importance for a truly artistic execution of the dance. In our Cape Breton Gaelic tradition, this bond still exists and has fostered the continuance of both the dancing and fiddling styles here. Each supports the other. With brushing movements and heel and toe beats, the rhythm of the music is marked by the dancer.

*YouTube clip from An Drochaid Eadarainn