Gold Rush dancing and great news


Saturday night the fiddler had a gig in Columbia State Historic Park playing tunes for the annual Lamplight Tours. Docents dressed like they stepped out of 1849 give tours of Columbia, and players perform skits so that you can see what it might have been like when the West was still wild. Afterwards in Angelo’s Hall there was dancing, cake, and merriment. And beautiful costumes.

Waiting to Dance
Waiting to be asked

I am always amazed at the time and effort the docents take in creating their costumes. Corsets and collars, tucks and pleats, hand-crocheted lace and yards of trim: All the details are researched and historically accurate, I’m told. Right down to what’s under the crinolines. The ladies looked like flowers spinning on the dance floor.

I always covet these dresses. Someday, when I learn to sew…

Of course I had to sketch the dance (when I wasn’t playing tunes).

couple dancing
The Sailor’s Dance

I was off my game, though, thanks to the miracle of modern medicine. The previous day I’d had a procedure that would have been unimaginable during the Gold Rush. Thankfully the doctor gave me a two-year pass until the next time I need the test. I’m certified cancer-free! Yippeee! No wasting sickness for me. If I’d had a long dress, I’d have been spinning with the other girls.

But the drugs block the signal between my brain and hand. I could remember tunes, but my fingers wouldn’t play them. While drawing, I fumbled and erased a lot. But it was still fun to  capture an older entertainment with an even older technology.

Dance Teacher
Dance teacher

Really, more people should get out and dance. It’s a lot of fun.



Irish set dancing

Playing for set dancers  Graphite
This is a drawing from my sketchbook, made up from memories of all the dances for which I've played, and all the dances at which I've danced. It's just a sketch, but it captures how it feels to be in the band, making music that lifts the feet of the dancers. Graphite on paper

Last night we played for the set dancing at the Brittania Arms in Cupertino. Irish sets are usually danced with four couples, like American square dance, but they are more elegant, the dancers moving more smoothly and closer to the floor. There’s less bounce. But a lot of energy. I love to play for dancers. I also love to dance the sets.

I’ve wanted to paint the dancing of the sets ever since I first saw a huge céilí mór (a big dance party) at Cois na hAbhna, the Irish regional resource center in Ennis, County Clare, 11 years ago. The energy was incredible; the hall was filled with the wheeling sets, the young men battering out percussion, the women smoothly stepping. The music was brilliant, of course (it’s County Clare!), with so much lift and urgency that I imagined the trees outside would pull their roots and start dancing.