I was told by a teacher who is a seriously traditional player that this is because contemporary set dancers can not do the footwork one sees on "come west along the road." and they want the hyper-speed to keep them moving and in the air. . . .oh, and it's "exciting." it has "drive."
I don't believe that to be generally true. I posted a number of clips earlier that will show you people who have their steps. I have played many times for people like Aidan Vaughan and the West Clare sets, and they're not looking for drive or speed to mask poor footwork.
Well, he also said:
I live in a region where the beat-the-life-out-of-it style is considered the ne plus ultra of whether one is good.
I.e., he's not claiming that it's the same everywhere, and it sounds like his taste is closer to yours than to that of "his" locals, about whom he complains.
But I'm wondering why only "the sets" are being mentioned. Back in my New York City days, when I was involved -- although only peripherally -- in the local Irish communities, there were plenty of "ceilidh" dances (I remember the first time I was dragged through an 8-hand reel), as well as step dancing, including "set dances" (which are something quite different from "the sets"). In fact, it was several years before I first encountered the sets, though they gradually became more widespread/common. Yet another kind: there were two separate occasions when I was doing a bit of Appalachian clogging in the background of an Irish session and old men approached me to ask where I had learned to dance "in the old style". (The one said, "I haven't seen dancing like that since the dances at the crossroads when I was a child.")
So when we talk about "playing for dancing", I think we should clarify what kinds of dancing. And not just a name, but a description, since it seems the sets are danced differently in Peter's locale than in ceemonster's.