The ‘Are You Dancing?’ project focused on the lively “dance hall” movement in Limerick City from the 1940s to the 1970s, the history of dance in the city and how it brought people from all areas of Limerick together in central locations.
This project was born out of a series of conversations amongst community groups both within and outside of Creative Communities. The group discussed a number of different thematic areas which are topical in Limerick City such as:
- The limited identification of Limerick people with the City (outside of sporting events etc)
- The limited use of the city as a meeting place for people and groups, exacerbated by the proliferation of shopping centres, cinemas etc. on the outskirts of the city
- The changing demographic of housing estates in Limerick City brought about by people moving to the suburbs, other parts of the city etc.
- The loss of anecdotal and personal histories, set against the backdrop of Limerick city
- The vibrant but fringe dance scene operating in the City over the last number of years.
Whenever the topic of dance halls in Limerick city is discussed it engenders wonderful discussions with many people eager to share their memories of the dance halls in Limerick city. Dance halls were such a strong presence in the city and provoke very beautiful and evocative memories from those who attended. There were many areas of Limerick which were hubs of social activity and expressive arts through dance in this time period and were the main avenue of social interactions for young people between the ages of 15 and 20. These halls drew people from all socio economic backgrounds and were reflective of the social context in Limerick City at the time.
We attempted to document the social history of the era, capturing the personal memories of those that attended. This was achieved by holding public conversations in local communities throughout the city in late 2013 and early 2014. These ‘Dance Hall Conversations’ invited people to share their memories and stories of dance halls. We tried to track the changes through the years and pinpoint the locations used as dance spaces. Many of the locations are still in existence today, albeit used for other purposes. As part of these conversations, we encouraged participants to gather any old photos or memorabilia of dance hall days to be displayed as part of our exhibition.
The next stage saw dance lessons happening in one of the historical dance venues, St. John’s Pavilion, and in a series of other venues around the city (Milk Market, Southill Area Centre, Ballynanty).
The project culminated in an exhibition held in the former Stella dance hall (nowadays a bingo hall) that was open between the 14th and the 28th of June 2014, and an intergenerational ‘big dance’ hold in St. John’s Square on the 22nd of June 2014. The exhibition included visual and audio elements, as well as photographs and memorabilia of the time period in question.
The exhibition and the big dance were a major event for City of Culture, being enjoyed by old and young.