manx celtic music and dance

Research by Cinzia Curtis (2006) and Carol Hayes (2008) has helped to define the origins and development of Manx dance as we know it today.

The early 20th century collector Mona Douglas is a very important figure in the history of Manx traditional dance, both as collector and revivalist. Her personal papers form a sizeable bequest in the archives of the Manx National Heritage Library. Mona Douglas began collecting folklore, music and dance as a young girl before the First World War, and in amongst her notebooks there are details of dances and games. These include descriptions, observations of demonstrations and fragments of information referring to dance traditions. She was taught to dance by her grandmother and was given a notebook of dances written by her grandfather – this notebook was unfortunately lost.

In 1929 Mona Douglas joined forces with Philip Leighton Stowell and his country dancing team from Albert Road School in Ramsey to demonstrate some Manx dances to the English Folk Dance Society. This launched a reawakening of interest in Manx dances with further performances at the All England Festival and brought about the first publication in 1936. Both Leighton Stowell and Douglas went on to collect and reconstruct other traditional dances from fragments and oral sources.

In 1951 the Manx Folk Dance Society was formed with regional chapters and a national team, and a national costume was developed. This group continued to add to the standard repertoire of Manx dances.

In the 1970s folk revival a new group called Bock Yuan Fannee was created especially to perform some of the male dances. The group later invited women to join them and they consulted Mona Douglas and her early notes to find more dances that had not been performed since the 1930s. In 1983 they published the collected dances of Mona Douglas in a book entitled Rinkaghyn Vannin. This publication followed the appearance of a book in 1981 of dances created by Leighton Stowell and published by the Manx Folk Dance Society. Two groups emerged from Bock Yuan Fannee: Perree Bane and Ny Fennee and each have developed their own style. The 1990s saw Perree T break away from Perree Bane, to create an all-girl group which abandoned traditional costume and adopted new choreography techniques. Other dance groups, often drawing on members of more than one group, are put together for festival appearances when necessary. In more recent times, a new family-based dance group called Skeddan Jiarg (Gaelic for Red Herring) has been formed in Peel, led by Grainne Joughin, and southern dance group, Perree Bane, have expanded to include children's and teenage teams.

Manx dancers have been successful in competition on and off the Island. Members of Ny Fennee were runners-up in 2009 IOM Arts Council Young Dancer of Mann competition. Groups regularly represent the Isle of Man internationally at festivals such as Cwlwm Celtaidd in Wales, Lowender Peran in Cornwall  and Festival Interceltique de Lorient in Brittany. Closer to home, the Manx Folk Awards, Yn Chruinnaght Celtic Gathering and Shennaghys Jiu offer opportunities to perform, compete and take part in ceili dancing.

History of Manx dance: 

‘…while the others did some capers’: the Manx Traditional Dance revival 1929 to 1960 - MA thesis by Cinzia Curtis 2006

There is a growing online resource for dance instructions produced by Culture Vannin.