Dancing throughout this play is influenced by the festival also known as the Irish ceremony, this links into the crucial role that ceremony plays in Dancing at Lughnasa, Dancing is the play’s central image for a contravention and violation of ‘normal’ reality. It is Friel’s new expression of the secret life which before he had represented verbally but which we know in reality never formulates itself in words, even in the mind.The dancing is the play’s opening activity; it represents a break and interruption within the usual routine, a ritualised suspension of everyday law and order.
In the repressive climate of the 1930s, dancing was regarded with some suspicion as representing a species of moral decadence and a threat to the morals of the nation’s youth. These attitudes were reflected in The Public Dance halls’ Act of 1953 which required licensing of dance-halls. This pleased rural businessmen and the clergy for it did away with open-air dancing at crossroads and dances held in private houses. But it was a measure which contributed to the dying out of many traditional customs, though ironically the government which enacted it was officially pledged to a renewal of Irish folklore and Irish traditional music and dancing.Throughout the play, the audience witness Jack struggling to remember words to express his feelings, the fact that Maggie encourages Jack to dance implies that there is a deeper expression through dance rather than words “Flings her arms above his head, begins singing ‘Abyssinia’ and does the first steps”. The stage directions given for Kate’s dancing are important to her character and the emotions Friel aims to express through her dancing.
The fact that it is portrayed as private sees her using dance as a way of escaping; this is a shared action between all of the sisters. The closeness of dancing portrayed to the audience expresses the sexual frustration between the sisters “they have their arms tightly around one another’s neck” also reveals the impact that the absence of men has on their lives.The dancing in the play is associated not only with the pagan festival of Lughnasa but also with African tribal rituals. The Celtic and Ugandan worlds are both small, neglected communities on the fringes of civilisation; both are ex-colonies; both are cultures rich in dance and ritual. Jack admires the Ryangan capacity for fun, for laughing, for practical jokes. In some respect they’re not unlike the Irish’. And so, like the Sweeney boy, Jack has ‘gone native’, attracted by ancient ritual and wordless ceremony.
Jack’s fall from Christian orthodoxy is synonymous with his loss of language “my vocabulary has deserted me”, In Uganda ‘women are eager to have love children’, Jack informs a horrified Kate, this emphasises how different the two cultures are as in Ireland this is highly frowned upon.Ceremony plays a crucial part in the play, it effectively enables the audience to relate to the characters in the mundy household and also portrays how enclosed they are in their own beliefs it also creates sympathy for Father Jack as he is lost in translation. The ceremony in Uganda and the Lughnasa Festival emphasise how different the Irish and African cultures are and how they live in a relatively isolated rural community. Furthermore it also highlights the role that dancing plays in their lives and how it in other words can take over when language fails. The ceremony in fact involves the audience in ‘two juxtaposed worlds: that of tribal Uganda with its own rhythms and ceremonies and rural Ireland clinging in folk memory to the vestiges of the pagan rites which are being stifled by the conventions of the 1930’s catholic society.