TradFest 2018: Q&A with Nic Gareiss – Music from an imaginary place!

The 29th of April is International Dance Day and we had the pleasure to speak to Nic Gareiss, percussive dancer and musician of the Swedish-Irish-Canadian quartet This is How we Fly! Find out more about Nic’s passion for step dance and how the quartet started out, before making your way to the Pleasance!

What does tradition mean to you?

A dance teacher of mine reminded me once that tradition is a bunch of people. It’s difficult for me to think about tradition as a set of stylistic constraints (turn out your feet this way, play a bow triplet that way) but rather as a group of individuals. If I think about the specific way my sean-nós dance teacher articulated a jig melody with his feet, or how my Cape Breton step dance instructor snapped the footwork of a strathspey, it’s far easier for me to get a feel for how these traditions interact with my body as I create new percussive movement.

What do you think is the potency of trad music today?

Traditional music and dance are practices of everyday people in everyday culture. Fiddle tunes, pipe marches, banjo melodies, dance steps and ballads evoke memories, but can also present new ideas or perspectives that have been discarded, such as sounds, and gestures hewn by labour, perhaps by poverty, and often generated in rural space. They reflect ordinary people’s voices – how they whisper, rant or giggle! For me, traditional music and dance continue to remind me of the power of moving and sounding our pasts, presents, and futures simultaneously.

Do you take inspiration from trad percussive dance of other cultures? 

Absolutely! The movement I make reflects my engagement and, I must confess, my deep love for traditional percussive dance from many geographies: Ireland, Appalachia, Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes. I’m really interested in drawing upon these traditions, exploring their connections and differences, to imagine and present new traditional dance.

You are performing as part of International Dance Day, what impassioned you so much about step dance? 

There’s an exciting array of international percussive dance: step dance from the Scottish Hebrides, Flamenco from the south of Spain, American tap dance, First Nations Canadian Métis jigging, Mexican Zapateado, Argentinian Malambo, Indian Kathak, South African boot dance, and North England’s clog dancing, to name a few!

In the world of dance, these forms are unique in their audible rapport with the ground. These percussive dance styles collapse music-making and aesthetic movement into the same activity. It’s dance you can hear, music you can see. This forms a collaboration between movers and sound-makers that helps dancers think of themselves as musicians, and musicians to consider their own embodied presence. Percussive dance is a crossing of the visual and the aural that continues tradition, but also opens endless possibilities for creative exploration, which makes it so exciting!

Have you played TradFest before? What should the audience be ready for?

This will be my first performance at TradFest and I’m so excited to be bringing my band, This is How we Fly. We create new music and dance that bears influences from our respective backgrounds of Sweden, Ireland and the United States, and have just released our second album, ‘Foreign Fields’.

This is How we Fly began in 2010 as a one-off commission by the Dublin Fringe, with the challenge to create something no-one had ever heard before – a tall order! The project combines traditional music, percussive dance, improvisation and new composition.

We’re delighted to be sharing this music and movement at Edinburgh’s TradFest. We like to think of it as traditional music from an imaginary place!