Local restaurant shares dance culture

Being from Ireland, Michael Minihane knows all about Irish set dancing. Events held at the Redwood Cafe bring him great joy as he has the opportunity to show newcomers how acceptable it can be to grab a stranger by the hand and swing them around. Irish set dancing continues to be vastly popular in Ireland, and spread across America through classes and gatherings.

“Irish set dancing is a social folk dance where no previous skills are required,” said Minihane. “It’s an upbeat style of dance similar to square dancing. The footwork can be very basic as one adapts to the dance. The whole point is just to be social and have fun.”

The Redwood Cafe, in downtown Cotati, held Irish set dancing Nov. 26. Two dance instructors, Minihane and Mary McDonagh, taught volunteers within the cafe how to do beginner-level Irish set dancing for free. The tables in the front of the cafe were all pushed back to make a large dance floor where strangers could come together and experience Irish dancing.

There was a group of Sonoma State University students at the cafe who filmed the Irish set dancing for a business documentary as a project for their communication & media studies 320 course, Selected Topics in COMS (Video Making Doc, Advoc & Bus).

“Our group chose the Redwood Cafe for our film project because we like how community-oriented it is.” said Jennifer Gonzalez, a student working on the documentary. “We also like that the owners and staff are really friendly, allowing us to do the project in the first place and encouraging more students to come experience the workplace that they call home.”

Owners Michael McCullaugh and Mustapha “Moose” Jamal created an environment that could serve as a hub for the community. The Redwood Cafe holds many different kinds of events and dance nights, as locals of all ages join in the communal affairs.

Rotating artwork from local artists on the walls of the cafe, local authors have a shelf of autographed books by the stone fireplace that can be purchased. There’s a large cork bulletin board where all upcoming events are posted for the Redwood Cafe, advertising information for the themed nights.

The cafe holds holiday, birthday and private parties, as well as business celebrations. There’s even an outside beer garden that can be reserved for outside gatherings. Both indoors and outdoors there are stages with spotlights surrounded by tables and chairs for people to sit, eat, drink and enjoy the scene.

With beer on tap, a wide wine selection and a special part of the menu dedicated to health and protein-building, the cafe caters to several different crowds.

As people volunteered to swing themselves in circles in the hands of strangers during the Irish set dancing, there was spinning, jumping and smiles. The Redwood Cafe is a spot for students to come unwind, bring their family or just hangout. There were adults, children and young adults all doing their own thing or participating in the group activity being provided that night.

The Redwood Cafe owners and the Irish set dance instructors felt honored to have students interested in discovering their establishment and work, hoping more will check out what they have to offer.