August Artist of the Month, Rebecca McGowan, interviewed by Andrea Read
What about traditional Irish dance inspires you most? Tell us about some of your most influential teachers.
I’ve always loved the music. The steps are meant to keep time and express the rhythm and melody of the music. There are so many things that make dance enjoyable and inspiring – a big roomful of people ceili dancing together, the feeling of learning challenging steps, expressing music through physical shapes and movement. Different steps come from specific people, or they make me remember certain occasions, and so dancing them recalls those memories and gives them meaning. I started dancing as a child with Clare Sullivan locally, then returned to dance as a young adult with Kieran Jordan who is doing very interesting work here in Boston, and later lived in Washington DC where I danced with the Culkin School. And many other teachers and peers along the way who share steps and ask questions about how we engage with the tradition. Each of these teachers inspires me to continue to learn and their classes infuse the dancing with joy and community.
For you and your practice, what is the relationship between traditional and contemporary dance?
Traditional is in the way we learn and pass on the technique and community setting of the form. There are movements, styles, and values that we are taught or shown, and that we learn to embody and share within a community. I think what we are doing is contemporary in the sense that it is happening now, with our current ideas and sensibilities informing it. There is a questioning and exploration that happens, sometimes on a very subtle level, and sometimes in a louder way, that keeps reinventing what we do in a way that makes it meaningful here and now, while still being part of a form that is stewarded by more than individuals.
What are some of your favorite things/places in the city?
There are so many places to walk around and explore. Our group Rising Step danced informally in parks around Somerville this year, and finding new spaces that way was a delight. For example I didn’t know there’s an entire public garden full of crocuses and daffodils tucked away!
How has pandemic-related technology like Zoom affected or enhanced your dance life, especially given the close relationship between musicians and dancers and the communal nature of traditional dance?
It’s made it possible to be able to continue teaching and gathering together remotely. We missed the energy of moving and playing music together of course, because there’s no substitute, but to still come together each week as a group was wonderful. There’s also been more opportunities for connecting with other dancers from around the country and world. But yes, we’re looking forward to being able to really make music together and dance with people again!
Are there any myths about traditional Irish dance you’d like to bust?
Irish dance is often a competitive sport for kids, and though I enjoyed doing that (not too competitively though!), it’s also an art form that’s practiced by people of all ages. It can be solo or social, performative or for fun.
Tell us about your practice routine.
I wish I had a daily routine! But practice comes in cycles for me. Sometimes it’s a high energy chance to work out some difficult technique or steps; or a deep dive to enjoy getting to know some particular music by improvising to it. Other times I start by writing a few thoughts and doing a long warmup, before seeing where that takes me. Sometimes I don’t find much time for practice but still try to bring the same spirit of inquiry into my teaching. Starting is usually pretty hard, but once I get going, usually a there’s a direction that opens.
What are some of your favorite foods? Any favorite restaurants in Somerville?
I’ve always enjoyed the takeout from Guru over past Teele Sq. And of course the Burren for great live music.
From the Floor (visual album): www.fromthefloordance.com
Rising Step: www.risingstepdance.com