World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


San Francisco Celtic Dance Ensemble

GENRE: Dance Drama
First Appearance in SF EDF: 1994

Nicknamed the “Emerald Isle” for its lush green vegetation, Ireland consists of low plains surrounded by coastal mountains, which produce a mild climate and soft but frequent rainfall. Although inhabited for nearly 9,000 years, the Celts are thought to have colonized Ireland as early as the 8th century BCE. The priestly class of ancient Celtic society was known as the Druids who had both religious and social influence. Not only priests, they were the philosophers, teachers, scientists, lore-masters and counselors to the kings, and linked the polytheistic Celtic people to their many deities and lunar calendar. With the advent of Christianity, many traditional practices, such as Halloween, were given Christian interpretations. Celts and Druids left an indelible mark on Irish customs, music, language and dance.

Ireland also has a history of nomadic people called Irish Travelers, who are distinguished from settled communities by their language of Shelta and their unique customs. Writers trace these disputed people’s history back as early as 600 BCE when metal workers traveled the countryside with their families and were later joined by traveling musicians and Druid priests displaced by Christianity. They were noted tinkers, tinsmiths, and flower vendors, and considered great musicians and storytellers. Marriage was coveted, thus the match making process was central to their customs.

This piece, choreographed by company artistic director, Brian Cleary, won the National Dance Drama Award at the 2005 Irish Open Dance Championships in Dublin, Ireland. The San Francisco Celtic Dance Ensemble was formed in 1988 to emphasize training adults in the Irish dance traditions. In 1998, master Cleary’s troupe was the first company outside of Ireland, and the first American company, to win the Irish Open Dance Championship.


TITLE OF PIECE: The Travelers Match
DANCERS: Coleen Dowling, Oscar J. Erickson, Marisa Farias, Ruth Goldfine, Stephanie R. Graham, Ted Hildum, Elise Holland, Mary M. Mc Donagh, Frank Mc Donagh, Maureen Murphy, Marian O’Dowd, Michael Riemer, Terry E. Ritts, Beth Schlueter

The San Francisco Celtic Dance Ensemble presents a dance drama inspired by the lore of the Irish Travelers. The Travelers Match depicts Traveler women just returning from market having sold their ribbons and flowers to find a matchmaker about to introduce a bride to a groom. The bargain is set in the traditional Shelta language, represented by the dancers’ percussive actions. The groom is sent to meet the priest, while the women attend to the bride. Part of traditional dress, the women’s’ shawl, is a practical garment with symbolic meaning. At the dance’s conclusion, the groom embraces his bride for the first time, and they set off on their life’s journey together as a couple.

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