Vernacular Sociality and Regional Iconicity in Step Dance

Colin Quigley

Both in Ireland and regions of North America vernacular traditional dance includes the percussive use of feet on the floor by individual dancers that is generally called step dancing. One of the most common ways of characterizing variation in this idiom is in terms of regional style. Popular literature and media publications generally treat step dancing in this way: as Cape Breton step dancing; Appalachian clogging; Ottawa Valley step dancing; and of course, Irish step dancing. In Newfoundland different vernacular regions, and smaller networks based on community residential and kinship patterns displayed preferences for a particular musical repertoire, rhythms and steps. Within a dance community, however, step dance style is used primarily to express sexuality and individuality. These two domains of meaning are raised to a dominant level of significance in Newfoundland due to the conditions of social life and the expressive role of dance and music with in this system. The Newfoundland example stands, I think, as illustration of the dynamics of step dancing which existed throughout North America apart from the self-conscious regionalism engendered by changing social conditions that challenge traditional patterns of life.

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