Samba Jig Productions

I’m excited to announce that I am co-founding a small business called Samba Jig Productions with partner Pablo de Oliveira! The company will offer music/dance related mobile apps and will do event bookings and promotion in the Washington, DC metro area.

Our first app, called SambApp, is currently in development and will be available soon. SambApp is a Brazilian rhythms metronome that include samba, choro, forró, and capoeira rhythms in a variety of percussion instruments, including pandeiro (Brazilian tambourine), shaker, triangle, and berimbau (the stringed bow instrument used in capoeira). You choose the tempo and rhythm to use the app as a music or dance practice tool.

The event production side of the Samba Jig Productions business will focus on a variety of music and dance forms and intercultural collaborations, focusing especially on Brazilian and Irish genres (given the performance backgrounds of SJP’s co-founders). We work with a variety of signature artists and we are always looking to connect with more local talent.

Eventually we foresee offering workshops that combine technology with arts and performance in order to promote team-building and community integration.

Subscribe to our blog and watch this space!

Word Calculator available in App Store

The Word Calculator app is now available in the App Store!

Word Calculator includes all the features you need to calculate the value of any word in games like Scrabble and Words with Friends. This app is the iPhone version of web-based Scrabble word score calculator widget that has been offered on this site since 2008.

Includes options for double and triple word scores and 7-letter bonus scores.
A separate screen allows for double and triple letter scores with an easy tap of the letter tile.

Languages include: English, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Spanish. Words With Friends values are also included.

Not sure if you want to cough up 99 cents for this great tool? Check out our demo video:


Word Calculator Version 1.2 was released to the App Store on June 22.

What’s new in Version 1.2:

  • Bug fixes
  • Added values for letters with diacritical marks in Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese
  • Added an Info page about the app

Travel updates

Check out my Montserrat travel blog for updates on my fieldwork trip to research the music, dance, and performance culture on the island! I am posting photos and videos of the things I see and hear, and I am also writing about the workshops in Irish dance and West African drumming that I have been involved in on Montserrat.

Aoibhell at Local Old Style Concert

Aoibhell performed by Kate Spanos at the Local Old Style Concert at the Institute of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park, MD, April 14, 2013.

Local Old Style – Sean Nós Dance Intensive

Local Old Style is an intensive to jump-start a study of Irish sean nós (old style) dance and related forms including classes in Irish set dance and battering, old style solo set dances, Northern Ireland Festival Style, and sean nós for improvisation and musicality, featuring local Irish dance teachers Shannon Dunne, Megan Downes, Kate Spanos, Kelly Smit, and Rebecca McGowan. Students are given the opportunity to perform in an Institute of Musical Traditions-produced instructor showcase/concert Sunday evening April 14th in choreography arranged by Matthew Olwell and Emily Oleson of Good Foot Dance Company. Billy McComiskey, Graham DeZarn, and Dan Isaacson comprises the band for the Local Old Style Concert at 7:30 Sunday April 14th at the Takoma Park Community Center – NOT to be missed!


Tickets available at

Workshop schedule:
Saturday, April 13th
3:00-4:15 Kate Spanos, Festival Style, Northern Ireland
4:30-6:00 Shannon Dunne, Sean Nós Steps and Technique
6:30-7:45 Megan Downes, Set Dance Figures and Battering
8:00-9:00 Emily Oleson, Begin choreography for group piece (concert participation optional)

Sunday, April 14th
9:00-10:15 Rebecca McGowan, Old Style Solo Sets
10:30-12:00 Kelly Smit, Improvisation with Musicality & “Making it Your Own”
1:15-3:15pm Concert Rehearsal led by Good Foot
7:30pm IMT concert at Takoma Park Community Center

Workshop descriptions:

Festival Style – Saturday 3pm – Kate Spanos teaches a very slow jig and says: “Festival style is from the Belfast area of Northern Ireland and was developed by Patricia Mulholland (or “Miss Mulholland”) in the 1950s to draw the focus of Irish dance away from the “pageantry” of feis style and more towards individuality. Festivals last 4-5 days and never fall on Sundays due to religious observance. The costumes are simpler and dancers do not wear wigs; their slip jigs and set dances are much slower than their feis style counterparts, and dancers pay particular attention to the “light/shade” parts of their music. Grace, elegance, and control are key features of Festival style; one of their distinctive motifs is the “burl” or turn/spin. I learned the style from Ruth Long of the Royal Tara Dance Academy in Carrickfergus and Larne while studying at the University of Limerick in their MA program in Traditional Irish Dance Performance; the tune we used in class is called “Aoibhell, the Fairy Queen” and was composed by pianist and dancer Francis Ward.”

Sean Nos – Saturday 4:30pm – Shannon Dunne teaches patterns that are shorter than 8 bar steps, and three repeating patterns from Padraig oHoibicin, as well as 8 bar steps with out and in steps and a heel and toe pattern from Roísín Ní Mhainín.

Set Dance – Saturday 6:30pm – Megan Downes teaches a battering pattern in an advance and retire, emphasizing the social and improvisational context of the dance. The class is more about getting into a group groove or group flow than getting every sound exactly every time. In fact, one of the take homes is that you have a basic pattern and can throw in louder more complicated stuff as seasoning (but not all the time).

Old Style Step Dance – Sunday 9am – Rebecca McGowan teaches a hornpipe set dance called Job of Journeywork from Michael Tubridy.

Improvisation and Musicality – Sunday 10:30am – Kelly Smit leads exercises including changing the phrasing and emphasis of steps from the downbeat to the upbeat, taking a phrase in the music and interpreting it closely, finding an ending landmark that you know you’re going to end with, passing ideas back and forth in small groups, and really exchanging with musicians.

About the instructors:
Kate Spanos is a PhD student at UMD College Park.

Shannon Dunne teaches classes and camps almost constantly, performs, organizes and runs Shannon Dunne Dance.

Megan Downes teaches in NYC and calls sets at the Second Sunday Ceili at Liam Flynn’s Ale House

Rebecca McGowan runs Dance House – a community house concert and social dance series featuring local traditional step dancers and musicians.

Kelly Smit performs regularly with Dan Isaacson, teaches dance in Baltimore, and helps with the Second Sunday Ceili at Liam Flynn’s Ale House.

Matthew Olwell and Emily Oleson are Good Foot Dance Company and will soon be at Davis & Elkins College to kickstart a new Dance major.

A Reel of Primary Colors

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t just about the green!

I’m excited to be featured on Psychology Today in an article by Maureen Seaberg about my “colored movement” synesthesia in Irish dance. A Reel of Primary Colors talks about my bright reels, pastel slip jigs, and earthy hornpipes, and my plans for St. Patrick’s Day this year.

Rebecca McGowan and I performed a cute little 2-hand reel during the break at a rockin’ evening of contra, square, and Irish set and céili dances for St. Patrick’s Day. The music was provided by the Sligo Creek Stompers, and a good time was had by all!

Percussive Dance Project 2012

Joy of Motion‘s Percussive Dance Project is coming up on Saturday, January 28, 2012!

The show features local tappers, flamenco dancers, flatfooters, and Irish dancers. I’m resurrecting my “Waiting for Conrad” choreography (originally performed at Keeping Dance Alive! 2010 in Chico, CA) for the occasion, and I will be joined by my friends and fellow dancers Emily Oleson, Matthew Olwell, Catherine Marafino, and Rebecca McGowan.

Get your tickets now!

Beat Retreat

This week I had the pleasure of attending BEAT RETREAT in Afton, VA and Charlottesville, VA. A group of percussive dancers got together for an intensive week of dancing: teaching, swapping steps, partying, and inspiring one another. There were tappers, flatfooters, cloggers, Cape Breton step dancers, Irish step dancers (that would be me!), and body percussionists. There was a serious amount of talent packed into that rehearsal room, and I was pretty blown away by everyone.

We rehearsed some choreographed pieces by each of our special guest choreographers and, at the end of the week, we had two performances to show off the fruits of our labor; the first was Friday night at the Hamner Theater in Afton, and the second was Saturday night at Live Arts in Charlottesville. It was a tiring and exhausting week, but totally exhilarating.

Matthew Olwell came up with the brilliant idea and hosted and organized the event. He envisioned the Beat Retreat as fulfilling three main goals:

1. Class for those who give class. Those of us who primarily teach these days don’t get much of an opportunity to be really challenged. The retreat enabled us to challenge each other and push ourselves, both in terms of technique and material.

2. Shared repertoire. By learning new choreography together, we could expand our repertoire to include original pieces that could be used in future performances, and would be a refreshing break from our usual formulaic performance steps.

3. A concentrated shot of creative juice. Inspiration for all involved!

I know I personally had an incredible time, and for me all those goals were fulfilled. I needed a little jolt after a year of not taking or even teaching an Irish dance class, and since we focused on tap, clogging, Cape Breton, and other percussive styles besides Irish dance, I was definitely challenged and very humbled.

I cannot wait for next year!

Greenflea at Auctiva

My co-worker Steve Swim has written a blog about Greenflea Niche Marketplace, a marketplace developed by Steve, Dave Bierbaum and myself for Auctiva’s internal developer contest. This idea for a “green” marketplace powered by the Auctiva Marketplace Platform (AMP) got us a 2nd place trophy in the contest!


Video: Waiting for Conrad

“Waiting for Conrad” video is finally here! Performed at Keeping Dance Alive! 2010 in Chico, CA.

Choreography by Kate Spanos
Music: “Waiting for Conrad” by Shooglenifty (Venus in Tweeds, 1995)
Performers: Maria Oliver, Kate Spanos, Shannon Sullivan, Rose Trulin, Kelsey Wilson, Abby Zuppan

View all of my videos on YouTube