IRISH STEPDANCE is a style of performance dance with its roots in
Riverdance , an Irish stepdancing interval act in the 1994 Eurovision
Song Contest that later became a hugely successful theatrical
production, greatly contributed to its popularity. Once Riverdance
became a large production, it changed the way that
Two types of shoes are worn in Irish stepdance; hard shoes, which make sounds similar to tap shoes , and soft shoes (called Ghillies ), which are similar to ballet slippers . The dances for soft shoe and hard shoe are generally different and go by different names. Different music with varying beats are played based on the dance, though they all share basic moves and rhythms. Most competitive stepdances are solo dances, though many stepdancers also perform and compete in traditional set and céilí dances. Competition is organized by several organizations, and there are competitions from the local level to world championships.
* 1 History
* 2 Dances
* 3 Costume
* 3.1 Competitive costumes * 3.2 Festival costumes
* 4 Shoes
* 4.1 Hard shoes * 4.2 Soft shoes
* 5 Competitive step dance
* 5.1 Organisations * 5.2 Accreditation * 5.3 Events
* 6 In performance * 7 In the media * 8 See also * 9 References * 10 Bibliography
* 11 External links
* 11.1 Male Irish Step Dancing costumes
The dancing traditions of Ireland are likely to have grown in tandem
with Irish traditional music . Its first roots may have been in
Pre-Christian Ireland, but
Although informal competitions were held between towns and students
of different dance masters, the first organised feis was held in 1897
In 1927, the
In the 19th century, the
According to the BBC's A Short History of Irish Dance, "The nature of
One explanation for the unique habit of keeping the hands and upper body stiff relates to the stage. To get a hard surface to dance on, people would often unhinge doors and lay them on the ground. Since this was clearly a very small "stage," there was no room for arm movement. The solo dances are characterised by quick, intricate movements of the feet.
Sometime in that decade or the one following, a dance teacher had his students compete with arms held firmly down to their sides, hands in fists, to call more attention to the intricacy of the steps. The adjudicator approved by placing the students well. Other teachers and dancers quickly followed the new trend. Movement of the arms is sometimes incorporated into modern Irish stepdance, although this is generally seen as a hybrid and non-traditional addition and is only done in shows and performances, not competitions.
The success of Riverdance and other dance shows in the late 20th century influenced the choreography and presentation of stepdance in both competitive and public performance environments. This included the use of simpler costumes and hairstyles for public performance in imitation of the Riverdance styles, and the development of new dance styles, such as hard shoe dances performed to music typically associated with soft shoes. In competitive dance, movements from flamenco and figure skating began to be incorporated into traditional steps, although such developments were criticised by elements of the competitive dancing community.
Irish stepdances can be placed into two categories. Solo stepdances, which are danced by a single dancer, and group stepdances, which are coordinated with 2 or more dancers.
Irish stepdancers performing in school costumes and hard shoes
Reel , slip jig , hornpipe , and jig are all types of Irish stepdances and are also types of Irish traditional music . These fall into two broad categories based on the shoes worn: HARD SHOE and SOFT SHOE dances. Reels, which are in 2 4 or 4 4 time, and slip jigs, which are in 9 8 time and considered to be the lightest and most graceful of the dances, are soft shoe dances. Hornpipes, which can be in 2 4 or 4 4 time, are danced in hard shoes. Three jigs are danced in competition; the light jig, the single jig,which is also called the Hop jig, and the treble jig, which is also called double jig. Light and single jigs are in 6 8 time, and are soft shoes dances, while the treble jig is hard shoe, danced in a slow 6 8. The last type of jig is the slip jig, which is danced in 9 8 time. There are many dances, which steps vary between schools. The traditional set dances (danced in hardshoe) like St. Patrick's Day and the Blackbird, among others, are the only dances that all schools have the same steps.
The actual steps in
Each step is a sequence of foot movements, leg movements and leaps, which lasts for 8 bars of music, starting on the right foot. This is then repeated on the left foot to complete the step. Hard shoe dancing includes clicking (striking the heels of the shoes against each other), trebles (the toe of the shoe striking the floor), stamps (the entire foot striking the floor), and an increasing number of complicated combinations of taps from the toes and heels.
There are two types of hard shoe dance, the solo dances, which are the hornpipe and treble jig, and the traditional set dances, also called set dances, which are also solo dances, despite having the same name as the social dances. Traditional set dances use the same choreography regardless of the school whereas contemporary sets are choreographed by the teachers. The music and steps for each traditional set was set down by past dance masters and passed down under An Coimisiún auspices as part of the rich history of stepdancing, hence the "traditional."
There are about 30 traditional sets used in modern stepdance, but the traditional sets performed in most levels of competition are St. Patrick's Day, the Blackbird, Job of Journeywork, Garden of Daisies, King of the Fairies, and Jockey to the Fair. The remaining traditional set dances are primarily danced at championship levels. These tunes vary in tempo to allow for more difficult steps for higher level dancers. An unusual feature of the set dance tune is that many are "crooked ", with some of the parts, or sections, of the tunes departing from the common 8 bar formula. The crooked tune may have a part consisting of 7½ bars, fourteen bars, etc. For example, the "St. Patrick's Day" traditional set music consists of an eight-bar "step," followed by a fourteen-bar "set."
The group dances are called céilí dances or, in the less formal but common case, figure dances. Competitive céilís are more precise versions of the festive group dances traditionally experienced in social gatherings.
There is a list of 30 céilí dances that have been standardised and published in An Coimisiun's Ar Rince Ceili (which replaced Ár Rinncidhe Foirne in 2015) as examples of traditional Irish folk dances. Standardized dances for 4, 6 or 8 dancers are also often found in competition. Most traditional céilí dances in competition are significantly shortened in the interests of time. Many stepdancers never learn the entire dance, as they will never dance the later parts of the dance in competition.
Other céilí dances are not standardised. In local competition, figure dances may consist of two or three dancers. These are not traditional book dances and are choreographed as a blend of both traditional céilí dancing and solo dancing. Standardized book dances for 16 dancers are also rarely offered. Figure Choreography competitions held at major oireachtasi (championships) involve more than 8 dancers and are a chance for dance schools to show off novel and intricate group choreography.
Some dance schools recognised by An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha place as much emphasis on céilí dancing as on solo dancing, meticulously rehearsing the dances as written in the book and striving for perfect interpretation. In competition, figure dancers are expected to dance their routine in perfect unison, forming seamless yet intricate figures based on their positions relative to each other.
In public performances, dancers wear costumes appropriate to the show. The costumes are frequently modern interpretations of traditional Irish styles of dress. In competitions, there are various rules and traditions which govern the choice of a dancer's costume.
A boy's costume. It may vary from a simple shirt and tie to waistjackets.
Judges at competitions critique the dancers primarily on their
performance, but they also take into account presentation. In every
level of competition the dancers must wear either hard shoes or soft
shoes. Boys and girls wear very distinctive costumes. Girls must wear
white poodle socks or black tights. Competition dresses have changed
in many ways since Irish
Costumes can be simple for the beginning female dancer; they often wear a simple dance skirt and plain blouse or their dancing school's costume. The certain colours and emblem that are used on the dresses represents the dance school to differentiate it from other dance schools. These are similar to a solo dress, but are simple with only a few colours, while are still more pounds, depending on the fabric, and may require some getting used to. School costumes are not decorated with crystals.
At advanced levels where dancers can qualify for Major competitions, solo costumes help each dancer show their sense of style, and enable them to stand out among a crowd. The dancers can have a new solo dress specially tailored for them with their choice of colours, fabrics, and designs. Popular designers include Gavin Doherty, Siopa Rince, and Elevations. Some dancers will even design the dress themselves. The dancer can also buy second hand from another dancer. Since the dresses are handmade with pricey materials, unique designs, and are measured to each dancer's body type, the dresses can cost between $600 and $4,000.
Along with having the handcrafted dresses, championship commission dancers have wigs and crowns or decorative headbands. In commission schools female dancers have the choice to wear either a wig or curl their hair, but usually in championship levels, girls choose to wear a wig, as wigs are more convenient and popular. Dancers get synthetic ringlet wigs that match their hair color or go with an extremely different shade (a blonde dancer wearing a black wig or vice versa). The wigs can range from $20.00 to $150. Usually the crowns match the colours and materials of the dresses, but some dancers choose to wear tiaras , or tiaras with a fabric crown. The championship competitions are usually danced on stages with a lot of lighting. To prevent looking washed out, dancers often wear stage makeup and tan their legs. A rule was put in place in January 2005 for Under 10 dancers forbidding them to wear fake tan , and in October 2005 it was decided that Under 12 dancers who were in the Beginner and Primary levels would not be allowed to wear fake tan or make up.
The boys used to wear jackets and kilts , but now more commonly perform in black trousers with a colorful vest and tie and, more frequently, a vest with embroidery and crystals.
The festival style differs, styling more towards a simple unified
design, not using much detail or diamonds.
Three types of shoes are worn in competitive step dancing: hard shoes and two kinds of soft shoe.
Hard shoes with fiberglass tips
Hard shoes, also known as the heavy shoes or jig shoes, are leather shoes in the style of an Oxford shoe but with a toe piece similar to the cleat on a tap shoe as well an extended heel, both of which enable the production of rhythmic sounds.
Early 20th century dancers used a variety of shoes, including both those made of cowhide , which minimised sound production, and hobnail boots , which produced loud percussive sounds. At this time, it was common for women to perform jigs and hornpipes in ordinary lightweight shoes, because their dances did not involve rhythmic percussion, but from the 1930s onward both men and women began to wear heavy leather shoes. Although in Ireland, hard shoes were used only for heavy jigs and hornpipes, in Australia until the 1950s it was common practice to perform all dances in such heavy shoes.
After An Coimisiún Le Rince Gaelacha banned the use of metal heel or toe pieces in the 1940s, ordinary shoes were modified with nails, coins or gravel in order to improve the clarity of sound and to emphasise the rhythms of the heavy dances.
From the 1980s, toe pieces and heels were developed made from fibreglass or plastics, in response to lighter shoe leather with inferior sound production qualities, and with the aim of minimising damage caused to floors by nails. The lightweight nature of such materials allowed dancers to achieve more elevation in their steps, and furthermore enabled entirely new movements to be incorporated into dances, such as pointe work in the balletic style on the very tip of the toe piece. A further innovation, the "bubble heel", which added an inwards protrusion to the hollow plastic heel, created a far louder sound when clicking the heels together than was possible in tradtional leather-heeled shoes. An Coimisiún later outlawed bubble heels in competition, but plastic heels continued to enable "click" movements. Dancing en pointe was popularised further by the introduction of shoes with modified, more flexible soles.
Soft shoes, often called "ghillies " fit more like ballet slippers and are made of black leather, with a leather sole and a very flexible body. They lace from toe to ankle and do not make sounds against the dance surface. They are worn by female dancers for the light jig , the reel , the single jig , the slip jig , and group dances with two or more people. They are also worn for competitive céilí dancing, though social céilí dance doesn't have rules about the shoes that can be worn.
The second kind of soft shoe is worn by male dancers; these are called "reel shoes" and are similar to Oxford or jazz shoes in black leather. While beginners and novices may wear these shoes with just the soft sole, more advanced male dancers wear shoes with fiberglass heels that the dancers can click together. The men's steps may be choreographed in a different style to girls' to take advantage of the heels and to avoid feminine movements in steps.
COMPETITIVE STEP DANCE
From the late 1800s, when the
Several organisations, many of which at various stages separated from
the Gaelic League's An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, independently
organise Irish dancing competitions, both in Ireland and elsewhere. In
addition to An Coimisiún, Irish step dance is regulated by An
Comhdháil Múinteoirí Na Rincí Gaelacha , Cumann Rince Náisiúnta
World Irish Dance Association
A number of smaller organisations are described as "open platform", meaning that dancers and teachers may affiliate with and compete under other open platform organisations. Open platform organisations also adhere to broad mission statements rather than strict hierarchy, in an attempt to appeal to dance teachers wishing to remain independent. An Coimisiún and An Comhdháil are primarily closed to competitors from other organisations, but operate open platform competitions in areas with fewer members.
Irish step dance organisations generally require their teachers and adjudicators to be qualified by the governing body. Most follow the structure set by An Coimisiún, the most important qualifications of which are the TCRG (qualification to teach) and the ADCRG (qualification to adjudicate). These qualifications are awarded by examinations which test practical and theoretical knowledge of traditional and original steps for both step dance and ceili dancing. An Comhdháil and some other organisations recognise the qualifications awarded by An Coimisiún, but An Coimisiún only recognises teachers and adjudicators qualified under their own examinations.
A feis (/ˈfɛʃ/ , plural feiseanna) is a competitive step dance event. The word "feis" means "festival" in Irish , and traditionally consists of dancing competitions as well as competition in music and traditional crafts. Many modern feiseanna, however, are solely Irish dancing events. At a feis, several grades of competition are typically offered, in accordance with regional practice and the rules of the governing organisation. These grades may be based on a dancer's level of experience or their previous results in feiseanna. A feis competition is generally judged by between one and three adjudicators, depending on the size of the event and local organisation rules. Dancers compete in sections of one solo dance at a time, and feiseanna may also include competitions for ceili dances.
An oireachtas (plural oireachtais or oireachtasi) or championship
competition is a larger and usually annual Irish dancing competition.
The first oireachtas, established by the Gaelic League, was inspired
by the Welsh eisteddfod and was conceived as an Irish national
festival. An oireachtas is often the highest-level competition for a
region or country, such as
Many of the larger organisations operate an annual World
Championships for their organisation's dancers. The largest and
oldest of these is An Coimisiún's
At the 1897 general meeting of the Gaelic League, displays of dancing
were observed to be more popular than the speeches and debates . The
public performance of step dance, therefore, evolved with the
organisation of social dances as a means for the
Riverdance was the interval act in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest
which contributed to the popularity of Irish stepdance, and is still
considered a significant watershed in Irish culture. Its roots are in
a three-part suite of baroque-influenced traditional music called
"Timedance" composed, recorded and performed for the 1994 contest ,
which was hosted in Ireland. This first performance featured
American-born Irish dancing champions
Jean Butler and Michael Flatley
RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Celtic choral group
After Flatley left Riverdance, he created other
IN THE MEDIA
Sue Bourne documentary film
TLC acquired the rights to the documentary in preparation for a new
television show about the competitive
* ^ Brennan 2001 , p. 15–18.
* ^ A B Don Haurin & Ann Richens (February 1996). "Irish Step
Dancing – A Brief History". Archived from the original on 20
November 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2012.
* ^ Scanlan, Margaret (2006). Culture and Customs of Ireland.
Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 162. ISBN 9780313331626 . Retrieved 2
* ^ Long, Lucy. "Irish Dance" in The American Midwest: an
interpretive encyclopedia: p. 389
* ^ "A Short History of Irish Dance." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 25
Feb 2013. .
* ^ Mollenhauer, Jeanette (2015). "Competitive Irish Dancing in
Sydney 1994–2013". Australasian Journal of Irish Studies. 15:
35–54. ISSN 1837-1094 . access-date= requires url= (help )
* ^ Masero, Angelika (2010). The Changes in Irish