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River-Dancing Through History: The History of Ireland as Told Through Dance

written by: Sarah Degnan Moje • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 9/17/2014

Pop in a DVD and enjoy watching "Riverdance" with your students. This movie gives a glimpse into Irish culture and history through dance.

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    Riverdance What teacher, on a Friday afternoon in mid-March, has not been tempted to put on a DVD for his or her students? Well, sometimes watching a DVD as a class can actually be educational. The film Riverdance can provide students with a better understanding of the rich history and culture of Ireland. The DVD is available on Netflix and clips of the dances are also readily accessible through Your Tube. This allows teachers the freedom to teach the entire lesson in one period, or spread out the clips through the month of March as part of a long lesson on Ireland for Saint Patrick’s Day.

    Teaching Irish History Through Dance

    Using Irish music, song, and traditional dance, the moving story opens in the Ireland of the ancients. The dancing in the first act, along with some vocal solos recounts the story of the Irish from their earliest Druid and Celtic ancestors, mixing in myths of the Sun Goddess and the legend of Mad Sweeny. Using the worksheet, power point and clips, teachers and students can get a real sense of Irish history steeped in this living cultural display.

    The second part of the story concerns itself with the Irish migration to America and the harshness they felt at having to leave their homeland. It incorporates their disjointed look at the cities of the East Coast and how they, as a culture, had to learn to adapt. As it moves on, and more immigrants come to America’s shores, the Irish see glimpses of their culture in the music, dance, and traditions of other European cultures and also manage to influence American ways of life as well. The finale is a gleeful celebration of what can only be termed America’s melting pot as seen through the eyes of the Irish, as they assimilate into the United States while retaining their own unique heritage.

    This lesson is a wonderful opportunity to teach history, myth, and culture without using a textbook. It is also an excellent tool to use to develop students analytical thinking skills and what they are able to infer when they can visualize a story. Ask your schools’s music teachers, drama teachers and even art teachers to get on board with this lesson and soon your entire student body will be ready to do the Irish Jig.



Exploring the Myths of Ireland

Just in time for St. Patrick's Day, March is a great time to explore myths and folktales of Ireland with your students!
  1. Irish Myths & Legends: Lesson Plan
  2. River-Dancing Through History: The History of Ireland as Told Through Dance
  3. In the Land of the Ever Young: An Irish Myth
  4. Wit and Wisdom From Ireland: Gaelic Quotes as Writing Prompts
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