Irish Dance in the San Francisco Peninsula Area

There’s a lot of it to do in the area! (I haven’t been at it for a while, though, so this list has gone out of date. If you know of schools or venues that aren’t listed here, please contact me, so I can update the page.)

Types of Irish Dance

This is a quick summary. For more detail, see Types of Irish Dance.

Ceili Dancing
Social dancing. Fairly simple movements with a high degree of repetition. Most dances are “mixers” where you dance in one place for a while and then move as a couple and dance with the couple in the next line. You usually wind up dancing with everyone, at some point in the evening.
Set Dancing
Like square dancing, but with more complicated formations. You start and end the dance with the same set of people (generally 4 couples in a square). Includes polkas. In some dances you trade partners, so meet others. Can be done with simple steps, or you can add “battering” — percussive footwork that individuals add on their own to add flair and enhance the rhythm of the music. Like sean-nos dancing (below), it’s hard to find someone that teaches battering. But it’s battering that puts set dancing into a class by itself. (Good batterers add plasitc taps to their shoes for a lounder sound.)
Step Dancing
Either in soft shoes or “hard shoes” (shoes with fiberglass taps, so they don’t mar the floor). Solo dances (even if many people are dancing at one time). This is the no-hands style of dancing where people cover a lot of ground. The most complicated footwork in the world!
Sean-nós (“shay-nohs”) Dancing
Old style step dancing. Uses shoes with extra leather for the dull, muted “thud” of the Irish drum (bodhran –“bau-rahn”) instead of the ringing “taps” of fiberglass or metal. Some styles emphasize use of arms. There isn’t much movement in this style. The dancer tends to stay in one place, and movements are smaller. The point of it is the quality of the sound, like someone playing a drum, rather than how high they lift their leg or how much ground they cover. It’s hard to find someone who teaches this style outside of Ireland, but it’s one that deserves a resurgence.

The listing below covers the dances I know about. For a more complete list, go to

Ceili Dancing

  • Second Sunday: Irish Cultural Center, across from the San Francisco zoo, just up the hill from Sloat. Beginner lessons at 6:00. Dancing starts at 7:00. $5 or so.
  • Third Saturday: Trinity Cathedral, San Jose. 81 North 2nd Street. On the corner of 2nd and St. Johns, across from the park. Beginner’s lessons at 7:30. Dancing starts at 8:00. $10.

Set Dancing

  • Tuesdays: Lilly Mac’s Pub, Sunnyvale, Murphy Ave. Starts around 8:30. $5 donation requested for the muscians.
  • Third Tuesday: O’Neill’s Pub, San Mateo. B Street, just up from 2nd. 8:30 to 11:00.

Sean-nós Dancing

What a treat to live in the bay area. This form of dancing is really hard to find, and is absolutely lovely. (It’s like Step Dancing, without having to be ramrod stiff. It’s all about the rhymic percussion!)

  • First and Third Monday: Ashkenaz. 1317 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA. 7:30-9:30 pm
    Learn Sean-nós dancing, swap steps, and play tunes!

Irish Dance Instruction

  • Ceili Dancing
    • Tuesdays, St. Stephens Green, Los Altos. 169 Main Street.
      Lessons at 7:00 PM Dancing from 9 to 11:00.
  • Step Dancing and Ceili Dancing
    • Kineally School of Dance. Los Gatos Community Center (not in Summer months).
    • McGrath School of Dance, Danville/Dublin/Livermore.
    • Kineally School of Dance. San Francisco.
  • Set Dancing
    • Thursdays (except the first Thursday): Sunset Recreation Center, on Lawton St., between 19th and Sunset Blvd. (Its big enough that its marked on S.F. maps.) Starts around 7:30 or 8:00. Free.
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