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Last updated
February 16, 2009

Connie Ryan - Dance Master
The folk music revival in Ireland in the 1960s was followed by a rapidly expanding interest in dancing, particularly in the set dances which had almost died out. One of those whose name had become synonymous with the set dance revival was Connie Ryan, teacher and friend to thousands of set dancers in Ireland and abroad.
A native of Clonoulty, Cashel, Co Tipperary, some of Connie's earliest memories were of watching his father Paud doing his steps at the house dances and "gambols" in Clonoulty. His father died when he was 12 and when the gambols were resumed in the house after a proper period, he assumed his father's role, becoming a “Fear a’ Tí” at home and at local venues, when the routine was a ceili, a set and an old time waltz. He also taught dancing locally.
He trained as a telephonist and moved to Dublin in 1967. Two years later he gave his first workshop in Churchtown. Also in Dublin he regularly went to the Bridge Street Club - known as Mrs Crotty's and frequented by Clare exiles. There he met up with musicians Michael Tubridy, John Kelly and members of the Castle Ceili Band and enjoyed the Caledonian and Plain Sets. Connie would come also for the teaching of Josie Murphy and an introduction to a wider range of sets.
According to a 1990 article in the Irish Arts Centre Magazine in New York: "As proof of his ability to observe and master other styles, he was invited to take part in demonstrating Clare sets with such great Clare dancers as the late Paddy Curry and Brendan McMahon in a workshop in Birr, Co Offaly. Ryan reckoned that this CCE (Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann) workshop in 1969 may have been the first actual workshop devoted to set dancing in Ireland in recent times." He continued working for CCE's Coiste Ceili Committee for 13 years playing a leading role in their activities.
Connie's vibrant personality and wit contributed as much to the success of his classes - regularly drawing 120 people per session - as did his dance teaching ability. He might shout out to the shy novice - "will ya face her."
His interest extended beyond teaching the sets. Along with Betty McCoy, he travelled to remote parts of the country to discover almost forgotten old sets which varied, even from parish to parish.
His enthusiasm is illustrated in a 1995 interview: “I am very excited about a set of quadrilles I recently discovered near Belleek in Fermanagh which hadn’t been danced for 40 years. I visited an old man last week in Glencree who showed me steps from thirty years back. I make a record of all these so they won’t be lost forever.”
But for Connie, set dancing was also meant to be enjoyable. “Set dancing is a social business and meant to be fun. Many of the bands now play too quickly, but in my book the best for dancing are the Kilfenora and the Tulla ceili bands.”
Connie travelled and taught widely in Europe and the United States. He said he had lost count of the number of workshops he had given in America, from the Catskill Mountains to the West Coast. In 1988 he led the Slievenamon Set Dancing Club, a party of 56 dancers and musicians, on a ground-breaking two week trip to New York and Washington CD, entertaining as they went along
Being from Tipperary, hurling was another of Connie's passions. But at age 24 hesuffered an accidental blow to the head from a hurley stick. As a result the nerves in his eyes were damaged and he was handicapped for the rest of his life by short-sightedness. He trained as a telephonist and worked at the Bank of Ireland HQ in Dublin.
Connie Ryan died in a Dublin hospital after a courageous struggle against cancer on May 7, 1997. He was survived by his wife Peggy and daughters Sinead and Aoife.

Dance, dance, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the Dance, said He
I'll live in you if you'll live in Me
And I'll lead you all in the dance, said He.

 

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