The Info List - Irish Dance

--- Advertisement ---

Irish dance
Irish dance
or Irish dancing is a group of traditional dance forms originating from Ireland, encompassing dancing both solo and in groups, and dancing for social, competitive and performance purposes. Irish dance
Irish dance
in its current form developed from various influences such as French quadrilles and English country dancing throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Dance
was taught by "travelling dance masters" across Ireland
throughout this period, and separate dance forms developed according to regional practice and differing purposes. Irish dance became a significant part of Irish culture, particularly for Irish nationalist movements. From the early 20th century, a number of organisations promoted and codified the various forms of dance, creating competitive structures and standardised styles. Solo Irish dance
Irish dance
includes the most well-known form of Irish dance, Irish step dance, which was popularised from 1994 onwards by dance shows such as Riverdance, and which is practised competitively across the Irish diaspora. Step dance is characterised by the rigid upper body and intricate footwork of its performers. Other forms of solo Irish dance
Irish dance
include sean-nós dance, a relaxed and social dance style involving improvised steps, and festival Irish dance, a style which separated from step dance in the mid-20th century. Irish dancing in groups is made up of a number of styles and traditions, which developed from French and English dances and formations. Ceili dance, practised both competitively and socially, is performed by groups of two to sixteen people, and often uses traditional or codified dances and formations. Its footwork is simple, and emphasis is placed on the figures and formations of the dances. Set dance
Set dance
is primarily a social tradition, for groups of four dancers, and includes elements of the intricate footwork found in step dance.


1 History 2 Irish stepdance

2.1 Modern stepdance

2.1.1 Dances 2.1.2 Shoes and costume 2.1.3 Competition structure

2.2 Old-style step dancing 2.3 Festival dance

3 Sean-nós dance 4 Irish céilí dances 5 Irish set dancing 6 See also 7 References 8 Bibliography 9 External links

9.1 General information 9.2 Irish Dance

History[edit] There is very little documentary evidence of dance being practised in Ireland
prior to the 17th century. Scholars have hypothesised that this may result from the integral and consequently unremarkable nature of dance in pre-modern Irish society,[1] or from the non-literate nature of the Irish cultural tradition.[2] Indeed, the modern Irish words for "dance", rince and damhsa did not develop until the 16th century.[3] The scant evidence available is primarily that of visitors to Ireland, such as a fourteenth-century song written in the South of England, where the poet invites his listeners to "come ant daunce wyt me in Irlaunde"[1]. The first native Irish documentary evidence of dancing is an account of a Mayor of Waterford's visit to Baltimore, County Cork
County Cork
in 1413, where the attendees "took to the floor" to celebrate Christmas Eve.[3] However, the Norman invasion of Ireland
in the twelfth century is likely to have brought with it the round dance tradition, as it was contemporaneously performed in Norman strongholds.[4] Accounts of dancing in the seventeenth century suggest that dancing was by that time extremely widespread throughout Ireland.[5] A report from 1600 mentions that Irish dances were group dances similar in form to English country dances,[6] and later references mention the "rinnce fada", also known as the "long dance" or "Fading".[5] This dance, performed to a jig tune though not to any particular piece of music, became the customary conclusion to balls held in Ireland
towards the end of the seventeenth century.[7] At this time, dancing was commonly accompanied by musicians playing bagpipes or the Jew's harp.[8] By the 1760s, the distinctive hornpipe rhythm of the Irish dance tradition had developed,[9] and with the introduction of the fiddle to Ireland
from the European continent, a new class of "dancing master" began to emerge.[7] The dancing traditions of Ireland
probably grew in association with traditional Irish music. Although its origins are unclear, it was later influenced by dance forms from the Continent, especially the Quadrille. Travelling dancing masters taught across Ireland
as late as the 18th and early 19th centuries. Because local venues were usually small, dances were often demonstrated on tabletops, or even the tops of barrels. As a result, these early styles are characterized by the arms held rigidly at the sides, and a lack of lateral movement. As larger dance venues became available, styles grew to include more movement of the body and around the dance area. Irish stepdance[edit] A variety of forms of solo Irish dance
Irish dance
have developed which are described as stepdance. These include the well-known "modern" stepdance performed competitively; old-style stepdance, which is closer in style to the dance practised by 19th-century travelling dance masters; and festival dance, which separated from modern stepdance over stylistic and administrative disputes in the mid-20th century. Modern stepdance[edit] Main article: Irish stepdance

Irish step dancers from Scoil Rince na Connemara in Wilkes-Barre, PA, dance at the HUB, Penn State University.

The most predominant form of Irish stepdance
Irish stepdance
is that popularised by the Broadway show Riverdance, and other Irish dancing stage shows since the late 20th century. Characterised by a rigid torso and dances performed high on the balls of the feet, this style became distinct from the late 19th century when the Gaelic League
Gaelic League
began efforts to preserve and promote Irish dance
Irish dance
as part of a broader nationalist movement concerned with Irish culture. In 1929, the League formed An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (The Irish Dancing Commission) in order to codify and standardise stepdancing competition and education. Over the following decades, CLRG expanded globally, and promoted this particular form of stepdance by developing examinations and qualifications for teachers and competition adjudicators. Today, stepdance in the style codified by the Gaelic League
Gaelic League
is performed competitively in a number of countries, and under the auspices of a number of organisations which have at various times broken away from CLRG. Dances[edit] Irish solo stepdances fall into two broad categories based on the shoes worn: hard shoe (or heavy shoe) and soft shoe (or light shoe) dances. There are four soft shoe dance styles: the reel, slip jig, light jig and single jig (also referred to as hop jig). Reels have a 4 4 (or sometimes 2 4 or 2 2) time signature. Slip jigs are in 9 8 time. Light and single jigs are in 6 8 time, with different emphasis within the measure distinguishing the music. Hard shoe dances include the hornpipe in syncopated 2 4 or 4 4 time, the treble jig (also called the heavy jig or double jig) in a slow 6 8, the treble reel (hard shoe dance done to reel music) and traditional sets, which are a group of dances with set music and steps. Many traditional sets have irregular musical phrasing. There are also more advanced "non-traditional sets" done by advanced dancers. These have set music, but not steps. There are multiple traditional sets, including St. Patrick's Day, Blackbird, Job of Journeywork, Three Sea Captains, Garden of Daisies, and King of the Fairies. Competitive dancers generally dance two or three steps at a time, depending on their dancing level. Each step lasts sixteen bars of music. They are each danced starting with the right foot for eight bars, then repeated with the left foot for the last eight bars, doing the same movements with the opposite feet. Set dances, however, have a different format. The dancer usually dances one step, which is limited to eight bars, and is then repeated, resembling the steps of other dances. Then the dancer usually dances a "set" which is not repeated. It is a highly sought after and competitive feat to dance this "third round" — at regional, national, and world competitions, only a small percentage (typically the top half of dancers graded after the first two rounds) of dancers are invited back to perform. The céilí dances used in competitions are more precise versions of those danced in less formal settings. There is a list of 30 céilí dances which have been standardised and published in An Coimisiún's Ar Rinncidhe Foirne as examples of typical Irish folk dances; these are called the "book" dances by competitive stepdancers. Most Irish dancing competitions only ask for a short piece of any given dance, in the interests of time. Shoes and costume[edit] There are two types of shoes; soft shoes (also known as ghillies or pumps) and hard shoes. Hard shoes are similar to tap shoes, except that the tips and heels are made of fiberglass, instead of metal, and are significantly bulkier. The first hard shoes had wooden or leather taps with metal nails. Later the taps and heels were made of resin or fiberglass to reduce the weight and to make the sounds louder. The soft shoes, which are called ghillies, are black lace-up shoes. Ghillies are only worn by girls, while boys wear black leather shoes called "reel shoes", which resemble black jazz shoes with a hard heel. Boy's soft-shoe dancing features audible heel clicks. A new trend includes adding white laces to the soft shoes, and white tape to the straps of the hard shoes in order to give the illusion of elongating the legs. Several generations ago, the appropriate dress for a competition was simply "Sunday best" (clothes one would wear to church). Irish Dance schools generally have school dresses, worn by lower-level competitors and in public performances. As dancers advance in competition or are given starring roles in public performances, they may get a solo dress of their own design and colours or wear the team dress. In the 1970s and 1980s, ornately embroidered dresses became popular. Today even more ornamentation is used on girls' dresses. Solo dresses are unique to each dancer. Today most women and girls wear a wig, a bun or hairpiece for a competition, but some still curl their own hair. Costumes are heavily integrated into the Irish dance
Irish dance
culture and feature traditional elements of classic peasant wear adorned with Celtic designs[10]. Most men wear a shirt, vest, and tie paired with black trousers. Each Irish dance
Irish dance
school has its own distinctive full skirted dress, often featuring lace or an embroidered pattern copied from the medieval Irish Book of Kells.[11] Competition structure[edit] An organized dance competition is referred to as a feis (pronounced "fesh", plural feiseanna). The word feis means "festival" in Irish, and strictly speaking would also have competitions in music and crafts. Féile (/ˈfeɪlə/) is a more correct term for the dance competition, but the terms may be used interchangeably. Dance competitions are divided by age and level of expertise. The names of the levels and other organising rules vary between countries and regions. Dancers are scored based on technique (placement of the feet, turn out, off of their heels, etc.), style (grace, power, etc.) and other items such as timing, rhythm, and sounds in their hard shoe dances. An annual regional Championship competition is known as an oireachtas (/oʊˈrɒktəs/). An Coimisiún holds various "national" championship competitions. Each of the major Irish step dance
Irish step dance
organisations hosts a premier championship, going by differing titles. An Coimisiún's World Championships are the largest, with over 6,000 dancers competing from over 30 countries worldwide. The Aisling (pronounced 'Ashling', Gaelic for dream) is awarded to the highest placing dancer in each category from oversees (Mexico, Central and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia) to encourage them to continue their dream of dancing. Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, or "The World Championships" (for An Coimisiún dancers), first took place in Dublin
in 1970 at Coláiste Mhuire, a school in Parnell Square. The "Worlds" outgrew its original location and moved around the Republic of Ireland
and Northern Ireland. In 2002, for the first time, the "Worlds" left Ireland
for Glasgow. In 2009, for the first time, the World Championships were held in the United States, in Philadelphia. The 2011 championships were held once again in Dublin. The 2012 championships were held in Belfast, with the 2013–2016 Worlds scheduled for Boston, London, Montréal
and Glasgow
respectively. The BBC documentary film Jig provided an insight into championship level dancers competing in the 2010 World Championships held in Glasgow.[12] The Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne will be held in Dublin
in 2017. The Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne will be held in Glasgow
in 2018. An Coimsiún also holds the Oireachtas Rince na hÉireann, or "All Irelands" which will not take place until February 2018, as the date has been moved from October. The location for 2018 has not yet been announced. An Comhdhail's World championships take place each Easter week, with the competition being held in Killarney
in 2015. The largest NAIDF (North American Irish Dance
Federation) competition currently is The Nationals held at Lehigh University
Lehigh University
in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 2010, and at The Valley Forge Convention Center in Pennsylvania in 2012. The WIDA (World Irish Dance
Association), which is mainly dancers from European countries, also hold their own World and European Championships over the Easter week, with the competition being held in Berlin in 2011, and scheduled for Poland in 2012. Old-style step dancing[edit] Old-style step dancing is a tradition related to, yet distinct from, sean-nós dancing, though it is sometimes called "Munster-style sean-nós". Old-style step dancing evolved in the late 18th and early 19th century from the dancing of travelling Irish dance
Irish dance
masters. The dance masters slowly formalised and transformed both solo and social dances. Modern masters of old-style step dancing style can trace the lineage of their steps directly back to 18th century dancers. The Irish dance
Irish dance
masters refined and codified indigenous Irish dance traditions. Rules emerged about proper upper body, arm, and foot placement. Also, dancers were instructed to dance a step twice—first with the right foot then with the left. Old-style step dancers dance with arms loosely (but not rigidly) at their sides. They dance in a limited space. There is an emphasis on making percussive sound with the toes. The Irish dance
Irish dance
masters of this period also choreographed particular steps to particular tunes in traditional music creating the solo traditional set dances such as the Blackbird, St. Patrick's Day, and the Job of Journey Work, which also persist in modern Irish stepdancing. In this context, "set dance" signifies a separate tradition from the social dance tradition also called set dance. Festival dance[edit] Main article: Festival Irish dance Following criticism of CLRG for its emphasis on certain regional forms of stepdance to the detriment of others, dance teacher Patricia Mulholland developed a new style of stepdance, beginning in the 1950s. It was described as a form of "folk ballet" which appealed to dancers of both Catholic and Protestant religious persuasions.[13] Like other forms which share the heritage of modern stepdance but have departed from its codification, festival dance emphasises individuality and practises more relaxed style and posture.[14] Sean-nós dance[edit] Main article: Sean-nós dance Sean-nós, or "old style" dance is a form of Irish dancing which originated from western regions of Ireland. It has been described variously as a regional style of stepdancing,[15] and as an entirely separate style that was virtually unknown outside small areas until the late 20th century.[16] It is distinguished by footwork which is percussive but low to the ground in comparison to step dancing, and by its more freeform nature. Performers use a more relaxed posture, and improvise steps to fit with music. Typically, sean-nós dances are performed in small spaces, traditionally doors laid flat and table tops. Irish céilí dances[edit] Main article: Ceili dance Irish social, or céili /ˈkeɪli/ dances vary widely throughout Ireland
and the rest of the world. A céilí dance may be performed with as few as two people and as many as sixteen. Céilí dances may also be danced with an unlimited number of couples in a long line or proceeding around in a circle (such as in "The Walls of Limerick", "The Waves of Tory", "Haymakers Jig", "An Rince Mor" or "Bonfire Dance"). Céilí dances are often fast and some are quite complex ("Antrim Reel", "Morris Reel"). In a social setting, a céilí dance may be "called" – that is, the upcoming steps are announced during the dance for the benefit of newcomers. The céilí dances are typically danced to Irish instruments such as the Irish bodhrán or fiddle in addition to the concertina (and similar instruments), guitar, whistle or flute. The term céilí dance was invented in the late 19th century by the Gaelic League. Céilí as a noun differs from the adjective céilí. A céilí is a social gathering featuring Irish music
Irish music
and dance. Céilí dancing is a specific type of Irish dance. Some céilithe (plural of céilí) will only have céilí dancing, some only have set dancing, and some will have a mixture. Irish set dancing[edit] Main article: Irish set dance Irish set dancing (also referred to as "country set dancing") are dances based on French quadrilles that were adapted by the Irish by integrating their sean-nós steps and Irish music. The distinguishing characteristics of Irish set dancing is that it is danced in square sets of four couples (eight people), and consist of several "figures," each of which has a number of parts, frequently repeated throughout the set. Each part of the set dance (figure) is danced to a music tempo, mostly reels, jigs and hornpipes. The sets come from various parts of Ireland
and are often named for their place of origin; examples are the Corofin Plain Set, the South Galway Set and the Clare Lancers Set. The organisation Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
promotes and hosts many set and ceili dance events. See also[edit]

Céilidh European dances Irish cultural stereotypes


^ a b Brennan 1999, p. 15. ^ Ó hAllmhuráin 2017, p. 11. ^ a b Ó hAllmhuráin 2017, p. 16. ^ Whelan 2001, p. 9. ^ a b Brennan 1999, p. 18. ^ Brennan 1999, p. 16. ^ a b Ó hAllmhuráin 2017, p. 33. ^ Ó hAllmhuráin 2017, p. 26. ^ Brennan 1999, p. 22. ^ "The History of Irish Dancing Crystal Parade Blog". www.crystalparade.co.uk. Retrieved 2017-12-06.  ^ Margaret Scanlan (2006). "Culture and Customs of Ireland". p. 163. Greenwood Publishing Group ^ McCarthy, Todd (16 June 2011). "Jig: Film Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 4 February 2012.  ^ McGonagle, Suzanne (7 March 2015). "Irish dancing legend honoured". The Irish News. Retrieved 10 April 2017.  ^ Dorrity, Christie (28 May 2015). "Interview with a Festival Dance Teacher from Tir Na n-Og Irish Dancing School". Antonio Pacelli. Retrieved 12 April 2017.  ^ Hill, Constance Valis (2014). Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press. p. 11. ISBN 9780190225384. Retrieved 4 August 2017.  ^ Wulff, Helena (2008). Dancing at the Crossroads: Memory and Mobility in Ireland. Berghahn Books. p. 18. ISBN 9781845455903. Retrieved 4 August 2017. 


Brennan, Helen (1999). The Story of Irish Dancing. Mount Eagle. ISBN 0-86322-244-7.  An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (2003). Ár Rincí Fóirne: Thirty Popular Céilí Dances. Westside.  Cullinane, John P. (1987). Aspects of the History of Irish Dancing. Cork City: John P. Cullinane. ISBN 095279523X.  Cullinane, John (1998). Aspects of the History of Irish Céilí Dancing. Clontarf, Dublin: The Central Remedial Clinic. ISBN 0-9527952-2-1.  O'Keeffe, J. G.; O'Brien, Art (1902). A Handbook of Irish Dances (1st ed.). Dublin: O'Donochue. OL 7092184M.  Ó hAllmhuráin, Gearóid (2017). A Short History of Irish Traditional Music. The O'Brien Press. ISBN 9781847179401. Retrieved 19 September 2017.  Murphy, Pat (1995). Toss the Feathers – Irish Set Dancing. Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-115-7.  Murphy, Pat (2000). The Flowing Tide – More Irish Set Dancing. Mercier. ISBN 1-85635-308-7.  Whelan, Frank (2000). The complete guide to Irish dance. Belfast: Appletree. ISBN 0862818052. 

External links[edit]

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Irish dance.

General information[edit]

Irish Dancing & Culture Magazine Set Dancing News: portal for set dancing information Diddlyi.com: Irish Dance
and Music Social Network O'Keeffe & O'Brien – A Handbook of Irish Dance
(1902) Diochra.com: Discover Irish dance! Beginners Guide to Irish Dancing The History of Irish Dance Irish Step Dancing Set Dance World Irish Dancing Dance
instruction database

Irish Dance

An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha The Irish Dancing Commission An Comhdháil Múinteora Rince Gaelacha Congress of Irish Dance Teachers Cumann Rince Náisiúnta (CRN) National Dance

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann Gathering of Musicians of Ireland Cumman Rince Dea Mheasa An Organisation of Good Will

v t e


Did you know? Today's article Today's biography Today's picture


Solo Partner Group

Circle Line Round Square

Social context

Ceremonial Competitive Concert Erotic Fad Folk Participation Sacred Social Street War

Major present-day genres

Acro Ballet Ballroom Belly Breaking Contemporary Country-western Hip-hop Jazz Latin Modern Postmodern Swing Tap


technique Choreography Connection Dance
theory Graham Lead and follow Pole dance Moves (glossary) Musicality Pointe Sequence dance Spotting Turnout Turns

Regional traditions

Arab Africa Assyrian Cambodia China Cuba Denmark Europe Georgian India Indonesia Israel Ireland Japan Korea Kurdish Middle Eastern Netherlands Persian Philippines Poland Romani Russia Thailand Ukraine United States




and disability Dance
and health Dance
costume Dance
etiquette Dance
notation Dance
in film Dance
in mythology and religion Dance
on television Dance
research Dance
science Dance
technology Dancing mania History of dance List of dances Outline of dance Women in dance


v t e

in Europe

Sovereign states

Albania Andorra Armenia Austria Azerbaijan Belarus Belgium Bosnia and Herzegovina Bulgaria Croatia Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark Estonia Finland France Georgia Germany Greece Hungary Iceland Ireland

Italy Kazakhstan Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Macedonia Malta Moldova Monaco Montenegro Netherlands Norway Poland Portugal Romania Russia San Marino Serbia Slovakia Slovenia Spain Sweden Switzerland Turkey Ukraine United Kingdom

States with limited recognition

Abkhazia Artsakh Northern Cyprus South Ossetia Transnistria

Dependencies and other entities

Åland Faroe Islands Gibraltar Guernsey Isle of Man Jersey Svalbard

v t e

Irish dance



Step dance Sean-nós dance (in the United States) Festival dance


Ceili dance Set dance Rinnce Fada


2 2 and 4 4 dances

Reel Hornpipe

6 8 dances

Single and double jig Treble jig Haste to the Wedding

9 8 dances

Slip jig

12 8 dances


Mixed time

South Galway Set Clare Lancers Set


An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha

Conradh na Gaeilge

An Comhdháil na Múinteoirí le Rincí Gaelacha World Irish Dance
Association Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann


Crossroads dance Feis Oireachtas Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne Céilí

Shows and groups

Riverdance Lord of the Dance Dancing on Dangerous Ground Feet of Flames The Keltic Dreams

Professional dancers

Cara Butler Jean Butler Tiana Coudray Dean Crouch Joanne Doyle Colin Dunne Michael Flatley Bernadette Flynn Dan Furey Breandán de Gallaí Graham Killoughery Tony Lundon Kevin McCormack Róisín Mullins Daire Nolan Gillian Norris


Public Dance
Halls Act 1935 Soft shoes Hard shoes Jig
(2011 film)

v t e

Irish music


Céilidh Folk music of Ireland Irish dance Music of Ireland Sean-nós dance Set dance

Folk song

Sean-nós song Traditional Irish singing Lilting


Accordion Bodhrán Bones Bouzouki Concertina Fiddle Flute Hammered dulcimer Harp Lambeg Melodeon Tenor banjo Tin whistle Uilleann pipes

Tune Types

2 4 dances Polka

2 2 and 4 4 dances Barndance Fling Highland Hornpipe Reel Strathspey Schottische

3 4 dances Mazurka Waltz

6 8 dances Single and Double Jigs

9 8 dances Hop and Slip jigs

12 8 dances Slide

Non-dance tunes Marches and Airs which exist in various meters.


Aeolian mode Dorian mode Ionian mode Mixolydian mode Pentatonic scale


Cape Breton fiddling Folk music of England Folk music of Scotland F