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Learn Set Dancing at iBAM! With the Francis O'Neill Club Saturday Oct 28 6pm


iBAM! features dance lessons for ages 16 to 90! (lie about it if you are older!)

Come try Ceili and Set Dancing with the Francis O'Neill Club! Saturday, 6pm in the 5th Province Hall

The Old Kitchen Carries on Family Tradition at the IAHC

By Katie Mahoney

“Let’s keep the show on the road. There is a lot of dancing to be done today, folks!” Instructor Maureen Culleton peps up the group during a Saturday afternoon session at the Francis O’Neill Chicago Set Dance Weekend at the Irish American Heritage Center (IAHC).

Set Dance has been a part of Culleton’s life for the past 35 years. An only child of a dancer and a musician, set dance was a natural fit for this former schoolteacher.  It has been her hope to spread dancing around the world. She recently taught for her third time at the annual Chicago Set Dance Weekend. Culleton said, “If I had my way, I’d have everyone doing set dancing.”

Culleton and her family honored the legacy of her parents by turning her family home in Ballyfin, Co. Laois into a cultural center that thrives on dance, music, poetry, and Irish culture. The center’s name, An Sean Chistin, or The Old Kitchen, recognizes that the kitchen is the hub of a home where people gather and celebrate.

Her story is similar to that of the IAHC, which started in an old school as a place to gather and carry on Irish traditions and arts. What made this year’s set dance workshop special for dancers was the opportunity to learn “The Old Kitchen”, a set she wrote at her mother’s old stove to honor her childhood home.

“The Old Kitchen” is a set of four figures including polkas, jigs, and hornpipes, which commemorate her dad who played these on his melodeon, and reels, for her love of the spirited beat. Her heart’s wish was to teach it to people and spread it around the world. She has done just that, traveling with the set to France, Germany, Switzerland, and now Chicago.

“To be invited to all types of places is most exciting,” Culleton said. She enjoys traveling and experiencing diverse cultures and ways of life. Chicago is no exception. She believes the IAHC is a place that is totally alive with passion and enthusiasm of members and guests. What she enjoys most about the IAHC is meeting others with Irish backgrounds and hearing people talk about home in Ireland.

Culleton also enjoys the inclusion of Irish names on the signs around the center. She thought the name of the pub, the Fifth Province, was excellent. What impressed her most was the multitude of classes available at the IAHC.

“To have this place available for people with an Irish background to come and be together to talk about their homeland and to not feel alone and miss home too much gives a sense of togetherness,” said Culleton.

She is honored and excited that people think of her as a teacher who can bring Irish culture to dance groups around the world. In Chicago, Culleton succeeded as she whisked around room 111 at the IAHC, encouraging all levels of dancers. She said the most interesting part of the weekend was sharing “The Old Kitchen.” She enjoyed telling the set’s story, smiling, and sharing its steps and rhythms. People enjoy her style and communication skills as an instructor. She was often heard over the microphone cheering on the dancers with her engaging and bright tone.

According to Culleton, watching, listening, and encouragement are needed to achieve set dancing. To the Chicago group she said, “We’ll try it. Trial and error.” Additionally, it is an inclusive, non-competitive dance. “We are not looking for total perfection, we are looking for people to manage to dance with seven other persons, to get from A to B with the movements.” She added that set dancing also establishes friendships, good company, and a sense of celebration. For new dancers, Culleton said, “Have a go at it!” They can learn more at weekly sessions and workshops like those offered at the IAHC.

Since the Chicago Set Dance Weekend, Culleton has returned home to Ireland to a life of dance, music, singing, friends, and family. She had a great sense of satisfaction in meeting her friends again at the IAHC and knowing that set dancing is alive and well.

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