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THE RELUCTANT NOVICE IRISH DANCING : Reel Good Time : Irish dancing can sweep you off your feet before you've even had time to learn "sevens."

November 15, 1990|KATHLEEN WILLIAMS

You're convinced some folks got rhythm. They're born with it--like math genes.

You, on the other hand, have learned coping skills. You know that when the band strikes up at a social gathering, it's time to head for the soda fountain, order a ginger ale and stay out of reach of the first type of person--the kind who feels compelled to maneuver you onto the dance floor.

This strategy has served you well, until you draw the Irish Dance Class assignment. And you know that you will reveal yourself to be a klutz.

But the public must be served, and Monday night finds you ransacking your wardrobe in a vain hope that you'll at least look the part. You settle on a casual full skirt and matching sweater and head for the Bombay Club in Ventura.

FOR THE RECORD - A Note to Readers
Los Angeles Times Thursday November 15, 1990 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 4 Column 1 Zones Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
The artist renderings that should have appeared with the Earthwatch and Reluctant Novice features on J12 and J13 in today's Ventura County Life section were mistakenly switched in some editions.

On arrival, you are directed to the back room--a place with the ambience of a Sioux City, Iowa, poolroom, circa 1960. You check out the crowd.

They range in age from 20 to fifty-something, and appear ready for an athletic contest. Each is wearing a T-shirt and shorts and has a towel over his or her shoulder.

You learn the outfits are worn because this is more like circuit training than any dancing you ever remember doing, and the towels--you wish you could put it more delicately--are to mop up sweat.

Instructor Maire O'Connell, a blond, athletic woman with a law degree who does this, you assume, so she doesn't have to dress for court, tells you that beginners are to line up with everyone else--they'll get help when they need it.

The tape recorder unleashes a jig or a reel or something decidedly Irish, and the class is off on the promenade or "threes." This is a double skip, with a sort of kickback maneuver, done by the rest of the group in precision, with nothing moving above the hips. You recall seeing the California Raisins perform something like this.

In 10 minutes you can get across the floor without tripping, and for this you are praised. O'Connell says this is half the battle. All that remains is to learn to move sideways.

This proves trickier. It is done with the "sevens," in which one moves to the side, leaps up, switches feet in midair to come back to where one had just been standing.

The tolerance of the group is extraordinary. When you fail to accomplish the sevens, one of them, Steve Morris of Ventura, takes you aside to try it in slow motion.

While you are still struggling for mastery, the first dance is called. It is rather aggressively called the Siege of Carrickk. One of the gentlemen--as they are referred to throughout the evening--asks you to perform it with him.

Much of this dance is done while holding hands, and you are carried in the right direction and back again almost without your volition. Actually, entirely without your volition. It gives you the courage to try again.

But the next dance is the 16-hand reel--which refers to the number of people it takes to remember the figures. In her perfect brogue, O'Connell calls out stuff like, "Gentlemen of leading and opposite tops and leading and opposite sides, advance and take right arm of the respective contrary gentlemen."

You aren't certain if they really do that--but they end up in their original places, so it must be OK.

During these breathtaking maneuvers some of the Bombay's Monday night regulars peer at the dancers. They seem to be wondering whether they've stepped into another century.

Later, O'Connell tells you she's captured many a recruit for the lessons in just this manner. She confides that in fact there isn't a drop of Irish blood in half of her group of regulars.

She says this is the only adult class she conducts in the caille , or Irish social dance, as most of her students take up the discipline at a much younger age. She also teaches an adult class in step dancing, which is what most people think of as doing a jig.

After a break, dancing resumes and keeps its momentum. The evening finishes with the haymaker's jig, in which the class keeps time while couples in turn fling themselves from one end of a gantlet of dancers to the other and back.

When it's your turn, you do these things using the wrong hands and feet and going in the wrong direction. But at the end of the line you are cheered wildly.

Heady stuff. You lean back next to the mural of a mermaid and celebrate with a ginger ale.

THE PREMISE

There are plenty of things you have never tried. Fun things, dangerous things, character building things. The Reluctant Novice tries them for you and reports the results. After all, the Novice gets paid to do them--and has no choice in the matter. If you want to tell the Novice where to go, please call us at 658-5547. If we use your idea, we'll send you a present. This week's Reluctant Novice is free-lance writer Kathleen Williams.

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