CHAMPION sean-nós dancer and You Tube sensation Emma O’Sullivan is sharing her talents with students across the world while in lockdown.
The Galway native, best known for her street performance videos – which have been shared by over 20 million viewers worldwide, teaches the old style, traditional Irish step dance at schools and through weekend workshops.
So, when the first Covid-19 lockdown kicked in in 2020 she found her livelihood severely impacted.
The All Ireland Champion has a passion for the sean-nós style - a percussive discipline where steps are danced close to the floor, making it ideal for dancers of all ages.
Her students range from school age to a pupil well into her 90s.
When her regular classes were cancelled, the Connemara native decided to try something completely new.
She set up weekly solo step dancing classes, conducted via Zoom, which her students fondly call “zoom-nós”.
“My dance instruction DVD Step by Step is quite popular abroad, but I was nervous of the technology involved in online live tuition,” O’Sullivan explained of the new venture.
“It was something I found needed more time to research and I was always dashing from gigs to classes.
"So this [lockdown] kind of gave me the time to explore it and get through the learning curve," she explained.
O’Sullivan put together a 30-minute introductory sean-nós dancing tutorial video and uploaded it to YouTube.
The feedback encouraged her to set up Zoom classes.
“There’s so much more to consider with zoom classes,” she admits.
“Lighting and audio was a bit difficult, because while Zoom is fine for just chatting, suddenly I needed to talk and play music too."
After taking advice from fellow dance teachers she was soon ready to put students through their paces three evenings a week across four different skill levels, complete with 'homework' videos for them to study between lessons.
“Teaching to an empty room has taken some getting used to and I miss the connection with the students,” she admits.
“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.”
The classes have been hugely successful, bringing O’Sullivan’s talents to a new global audience.
She now teaches dance enthusiasts from Ireland and beyond – including participants from the US, Germany, France, Spain, England, Portugal, Sydney, Moscow and Brazil.
As well as dancing, O’Sullivan’s classes also feature a strong focus on the history and heritage of Connemara.
“I always tell my students; as a sean-nós dancer you are a custodian of the heritage of the Gaeltacht areas,” she explains.
“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.”
The sean-nós workout is also well timed for those trying to keep active while in lockdown, the tutor explains.
“Dancing is one of the best forms of activities because it keeps the mind alert and the body active," she says.
For further information of the full Zoom class schedule click here.