One of the world’s top Irish dance teachers has explained how she has turned to technology to stay in contact with her students during the global pandemic.
Emma O’Sullivan is an All Ireland Champion Irish dancer and specialises in the specific genre of the dance known as sean-nós.
It involves percussive steps with the feet staying close to the ground, which makes it a great choice for dancers whatever their athletic ability. In fact, one of Emma’s regular students of sean-nós is actually well into her 90s.
In March 2020, Emma faced the same problem as millions of others around the world – how can I keep working if I cannot meet or see my students?
Like many others, she turned to technology and created a 30-minute introduction into sean-nós Irish dancing and uploaded it onto YouTube.
The response was so positive that she decided to try and continue to conduct her Irish dance lessons using the online meeting program Zoom.
Emma explained to Celtic Canada about the process. She said: “My dance instruction DVD ‘Step by Step’ is quite popular abroad, but I was nervous of the technology involved in online live tuition. It was something I found needed more time to research and I was always dashing from gigs to classes!”
Indeed, in normal circumstances Emma is used to dancing in gigs, street performances, and teaching her classes as well as running workshops in schools to help encourage the next generation to take up Irish dancing.
However, she has shown her resourcefulness and adaptability during the past twelve months.
She continued: “So this lockdown gave me the time to explore it and get through the learning curve.
“There’s so much more to consider with zoom classes. Lighting and audio was a bit difficult, because while Zoom is fine for just chatting, suddenly I needed to talk and play music too.”
Following a little bit of tweaking and fine tuning, Emma is now teaching live online classes in Irish dancing to enthusiasts from all corners of the world. She has four different skill groups, and also creates homework videos for her students to watch and practice in their own time throughout the week.
She said: “Teaching to an empty room has taken some getting used to and I miss the connection with the students. I suppose everyone is feeling that loss now. I would always have had lots of hugs with my students or a clap on the back to say well done and of course the little ones love to hold your hand as they dance along- in Zoom we now have 15 minutes’ free time after class to check in with each other and have some social time to recreate that sense of comradery you find in person.”
She also revealed that because of the global popularity of the online classes, it has kept her busy morning ‘til night.
She laughed: “I am an early bird so it suits me to hop out of bed and kick off a class with the Hiroshima group but staying up late to teach the Argentinean students requires a bit more stamina!”
The online classes have been a big hit and the students have begun to affectionately refer to them as “zoom-nós”.
Sean nós is a particular strand of Irish dancing that originates from the West of Ireland. Emma has always tried to educate her students in the history and culture of the dance as well as the physical and technical aspects.
She explained: “I always tell my students; as a sean-nós dancer you are a custodian of the heritage of the Gaeltacht areas. It’s important to connect with Connemara and its people. Many students and Facebook fans have told me they feel really connected to the area through my social channels. I hope it’s help beat the loneliness and isolation people are experiencing right now. We have theme classes and get creative with our steps.
“Dancing is one of the best forms of activities because it keeps the mind alert and the body active. The chats after class and sharing videos and music in our what’s app groups has created a brilliant sense of togetherness for my students around the world.”
As lockdowns around the world ease, Emma is looking forward to getting back into the dance studio and sharing some real-life interaction with her students.
However, with travel restrictions highly likely in the coming months, it may not be the end of the Zoom classes just yet.
Emma said: “I’m not sure when air travel will get back to normal. Many of my students are taking the class in the absence of their annual trip to music festivals and dance workshops here. I will continue the Zoom classes for those who want it and I really look forward to the day when I can welcome them in person to Connemara and show them all the pretty places and the wonderful characters who feature on my social channels.”
If you would like to find out more about Emma’s online classes then visit www.emmaosullivan.com.