How did irish step dancing originate

A Brief History of Traditional Irish Step Dancing

Traditional Irish Step Dancing is considered to be one of the parent dance forms of Appalachian Clogging. The corpus of Irish Dance contains both soft shoe dances (the reel, the light-jig, and the slip-jig) as well as hard shoe dances which are percussive (the hornpipe, the treble-jig, and the traditional set dances). A major contributing factor to the evolution of step dancing in the American South was the in-migration of the Ulster-Scots from Ireland in the late 1700s and early 1800s. After migrating to North America, the Ulster-Scots became particularly concentrated in the Appalachian foothills. A composite population, the Ulster-Scots, also known as Scotch-Irish, consisted of people with English and Scottish backgrounds who settled in the Ulster region of Ireland. The dance forms from this part of Ireland most likely bore cultural trademarks from Irish, English, and Scottish traditional dances. In the 18th century, dance teachers known as the “Traveling Dancing Masters” journeyed around Ireland, teaching students Irish dance steps and technique. These Dancing Masters are thought to have taught their pupils the “traditional set dances.” The St. Patrick’s Day dance is one of these traditional dances.

As the footwork of the Ulster-Scots intermingled with the dance styles from the early Native American and African American communities, the technique went through an adaptation process which ultimately led to a blending of stylized percussive footwork, which is exhibited in clogging, and has evolved from casual dancing patterns to sophisticated performance contexts. A common event where dancing was taught and performed was the cèilidh. Cèilidhs were casual, community events where friends and neighbors would gather in someone’s home, barn, or church hall and participate in the local expressive culture. Cèilidhs usually featured cooking, music-making, story-telling, and of course dancing. The early cèilidhs were similar in nature to a “hoe-down” and revolved around the family, neighbors, and the home. They were a primary activity that brought the community members together to celebrate their heritage, their culture, and their traditions.

Prior to formal dance classes, children often learned to dance from their parents or their friends. Dancing was ordinary and commonplace, and the home played an integral part in dance transmission. Though it is most likely that the entire family participated in dancing to some degree in its initial stages, currently female dancers make up a large constituent of the contemporary Irish Dance field. Many Irish Dance schools in the United States are owned and operated by female teachers. Jean Butler, who was the lead female dancer in the original Riverdance show with Michael Flatley, has exemplified how successful an Irish-American woman can be in the Step Dance arena. Appalachian percussive dance has evolved from informal dancing to highly stylized footwork and will continue to adapt to keep up with modern performance trends. Whether it is simply tapping your feet under the kitchen table or competing at the Irish Dance World Championships, there is something for everyone to enjoy!

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Everything you Need to Know about Irish Dancing – Claddagh Design

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Ireland is know throughout the world for its dancing. Here at Claddagh Design we are much better with hammers rather than hornpipes. And the only Irish dancing we do these days is the occasional 'Siege of Ennis' at a wedding. So we thought it would be a good idea to share everything you need to know about Irish dancing!

Irish dancing is a very important part of the heritage and culture of Ireland; just like the Irish language, native sports like Gaelic Football or Hurling, and traditional Irish music. In the past few decades Irish dancing has seen a huge revival, partly because of the worldwide success of Riverdance. However, it was around long before Michael Flatley and Riverdance. Learning Irish dancing is a regular extra curricular activity of many Irish children, and it always features prominently at Irish themed events like St. Patrick's Day. It's not exactly comparable to modern dancing, but that's what makes it so special. Here is a complete guide to everything you could ever want to know about this wonderful part of Irish life.


The roots of Irish dancing come from the Celts and the druids who roamed the island before the onset of Christianity and outside influences came along. Many of the druids' religious rituals involved dancing, usually in a circular fashion around sacred trees. The Celts had their own folk dances with similar formations. This type of dancing was common around much of the European mainland at the time, and although it wasn't really anything like what traditional Irish dancing became, remnants of the formations and patterns can be seen.

Naturally, the dancing was accompanied by music or singing and usually took place at religious celebrations or other special occasions. The 'feis' was a big local celebration held by Celtic communities. It was all about their art, culture and music as well as an opportunity for discussing politics, trading, playing sports and storytelling. Dancing was an integral part of the feis. At the Hill of Tara, then the seat of the High King of Ireland and the epicentre of Celtic life, a huge feis known as the 'Aonach' (great festival), was held once year, apparently beginning over a thousand years ago. Feiseanna are still held today in many communities, but these days they are usually just a showcase for Irish dancing and music, where dancers compete for medals and trophies.

When the Normans invaded Ireland in the twelfth century, they settled in the country and brought with them their native customs, dance being one of them. The 'Carol' was a popular Norman dance that was soon performed in conquered Irish towns and villages. The Carol dance involved one singer placed in the centre of a circle of dancers who then followed his singing and danced accordingly. It is the first historically recorded dance in Ireland. For the next few centuries dancing naturally evolved. Three types of dance emerged; the Irish Hey, the Rinnce Fada (long dance) and the Trenchmore. Instead of circular formations, line formations became common. These in turn became more complicated with female dancers weaving between males, or interchanging couples. Bagpipes and harps became the most common musical accompaniment. The tradition of dancing at religious ceremonies still continued however – it was not unusual to dance in a circle around a coffin at a wake!

It wasn't until the 18th century when Irish dancing became more disciplined and the styles and formations we know today came about. This was all down to the emergence of the Dancing Master, a teacher who travelled between villages and towns holding lessons for peasants. This is how group dances came to the fore; it was a simple way to have all pupils in a class involved in one dance. The best dancers from each community where given the status of 'soloists', i.e they were given special sections of the song to show off their talents and dance alone in the spotlight. When this happened, doors would be placed on the floor to give the dancer a makeshift stage and a solid platform to perform on. There was stiff rivalry between dancing masters from different territories, which is what gave rise to the modern dance competitions that take place today.

In 1893 the Gaelic League was founded as an organisation to promote and encourage all aspects of Irish culture in Ireland. It organised formal competitions, lessons and rules for Irish dancing, and this further developed into the launch of the Irish Dancing Commission in 1930 to regulate the now immensely popular past-time. Irish dancing really took off once it had its own governing body, and over the following decades it spread to the vast Irish diaspora around the world.

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There are three main types of Irish dancing routines; set dancing routines, social or céilí routines and sean nós or step routines. In all cases, the style is relatively formal and regimented, with little upper body movement, precise and quick foot movement and a strict number of steps to be completed. This was mostly because of the limited space performers would have had in the 18th and 19th centuries; small rural pubs or barn dances crowded with locals didn't afford much room for arm movement or for dancing around the floor.

Céilí routines were the most popular form of Irish dancing, and a standard component of any social occasion. They're performed with a minimum of two and a maximum of sixteen people (or sometimes an unlimited number of people!). Set dance routines are based on the French quadrille dances, i. e 'squares' of four couples who complete several different figures of the routine which are repeated throughout the song. Among other steps, dancers swap sides and swap partners – it can get extremely chaotic if you don't know what you're doing!

You may also be interested in reading our article on the Meaning of The Celtic Knot

Step routines descend from the old-style sean nós dancing, and are what the Irish Dancing Commission has adopted as the flagship Irish dancing style. Each step is danced twice, once with each foot, with arms slightly less rigid than other styles. Percussive sounds are made with the feet to add to the rhythm of the music. In the 18th and 19th centuries these dances were often performed on top of barrels or tables.

Each type of dance falls into one of two categories; soft shoe or hard shoe. Soft shoe dances include reels, slips, light jigs and single jigs; these are all classified by the time signature of the music and the steps taken in each dance. Hard shoe dances include the hornpipe, treble jig, and treble reel. Some of the more popular sets have been given names, like the St. Patrick's Day set, the King of the Fairies Set, or the Tree Sea Captains set.


Historically the traditional accompaniment for Irish dancing was a harp, bagpipe, or just singing. As the dances got more complex however, so did the music. Nowadays, Irish dancing and traditional Irish music go hand in hand, and in the same way that there are a variety of different dances and routines, there is a variety of music and instruments to go with it. Some typical Irish instruments include the fiddle (pretty much a violin, just played differently), the bodhran (a hand held drum made of goatskin and played with a special wooden beater called a tipper), the tin whistle, the concertina (similar to an accordion), and the uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes). When solo dancers take to stage, a solo instrument will also generally play with them.

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Ornate and sometimes ostentatious costumes can be common in overseas Irish dancing competitions and showcases, but in both historic and modern Irish dancing, more modest and flexible costumes are used. Soft or hard shoes are used depending on the style of dance; hard shoes have tips and heels of fiberglass to add percussion noises and rhythm, while soft shoes are leather lace ups, also known as ghillies. Boys have their own version of the soft shoe, known as 'reel shoes', which still have a hard heel and produce noises, but not to the same extent as the hard shoes do.

Male dancers generally just wear a shirt, vest and tie with dark trousers, while female dancers wear specially made dresses. Each Irish dancing school has their own specific dress uniform. The dresses are just above the knee and pleated, with long sleeves and more often than not some sort of Celtic-inspired design or embellishment on the chest and back. In the past girls were required to curl their hair into ringlets or wear wigs, but this is slowly becoming less common. Dresses have become more and more flexible and breathable compared to decades past, when tough material and elaborate decoration was the name of the game. Outside of competitions you're more likely to see dancers in simple, plain dresses with straight hair, so that the footwork and movement of the dance is given complete focus.


Outside of performances, the best way to see some Irish dancing is by attending a competition or feis. In Ireland there are several levels of competition divided by age and location, ranging from county to regional and national competitions. The annual regional championship is known as the Oireachtas, which also happens to be the name given to the Irish government! Dancers are scored on technique, timing, and sounds made from their shoes. All contests have very rigid regulations and criteria for qualifications, and the whole process is very competitive between both dancers and teachers.

The Irish Dancing Commisson began holding an annual World Championship in 1970, and they still take place each year in a different corner of the globe. They feature over 6,000 dancers from 30 countries all over the world.


No article about Irish dancing would be complete without mentioning Riverdance, the theatrical show which brought the art to a worldwide audience and boosted its popularity around the world. Riverdance is twenty years old this year, having made its debut at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. It started out as just a seven-minute long interval act featuring Irish dancing champions Jean Butler and Michael Flately, who choreographed much of the show. The accompanying music was played by the RTE Concert Orchestra.

The interval act was so well received that the BBC commissioned a repeat performance at the Royal Variety Show that year and the audio recording stayed at number one on the Irish singles chart for 18 consecutive weeks. The next natural step was to create a full length stage show expanding on the original interval act. The production team did just that and debuted the show in Dublin in November 1994, just six months after the Eurovision performance. It sold over 120,000 tickets and immediately went further afield to the UK, Europe, an New York.

The original show went on to play all over the world for fifteen years, before a final farewell tour in 2011. There are still several smaller productions touring all over the world and a number of spin off shows, ensuring that Irish dancing has a place on the world stage for years to come.



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Origins of Irish Dance | IRIDAN Academy Perm

There are different opinions about the origin of Irish dancing. The only thing that is certain is that they have existed in one form or another for centuries, although their early forms are very far from modern Irish dance. Irish dances have evolved and absorbed influences from new cultures over a long period of time to create a variety of styles that have evolved into the three main forms of Irish dance today. These include: social dances, including kaylee (irl. C ?il? and solo step dance (eng. Irish Step dance) in the form that has become most widespread in recent years.

Ancient history

The ancient history of Irish dance reflects the constant movement of the Celtic peoples as a result of migrations and wars. Each of the peoples brought their own preferences to dances and music. There are very vague references to the pagan history of the Irish dance, but there is good reason to believe that among the first performers were the Druids, who danced in religious rituals in honor of the Oak and the Sun. The legacy of these whirling dances has been preserved in the form of a circular formation of dances to this day.

The history of Irish dance around 400 AD, after the adoption of Christianity, changed greatly, the new Catholic priests retained the ancient pagan style of ornamentation in the design of their manuscripts, while the peasants preserved the Celtic traditions in their music and dances.

The Anglo-Norman conquest in the twelfth (XII) century brought Norman customs and culture to Ireland. Carol (French Carol - Round dance) was a popular Norman dance in which the leader went first and sang, the rest of the dancers followed in a circle and sang the chorus. This dance began to be performed mainly in the conquered Irish cities.

First Irish dance records

Three major Irish dances are mentioned in sixteenth (XVI) century written sources: Irish Hey , Rinnce Fada (long dance) and Trenchmore . One of the first mentions of dance is in a letter written by Sir Henry Sydney ( Sir Henry Sydney ) to Queen Elizabeth I ( Queen Elizabeth I ) in 1569: "They are very beautiful, superbly dressed and first-class dancers." Sydney wrote that the girls he saw enthusiastically dance Irish jigs in Galway ( Galway ). Sidney went on to describe the structure of the dance, observing the dancers in two lines, suggesting that they were performing an early version of the long dance.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, dances were performed in the great halls of newly built castles. Some of the dances were adapted in the sixteenth century by English invaders and presented as Irish dances to the court of Queen Elizabeth. One of these dances was Trenchmore which was an adaptation of an old Irish peasant dance. Also, from this period, another style of dance is gaining popularity - Irish Hey , in which the dancers circle around their partners, foreshadowing today's Reel.

When the royal troops arrived in Ireland, they met young women on the shore performing native dances. It is also mentioned that when King James ( King James ) arrived at Kinsale, County Cork in 1780, he was greeted by dancers. Three people stood in a row, each holding the end of a white handkerchief. They moved to slow music and accompanied the dancing couples, each couple advancing touching the handkerchief between them. The tempo of the music increased and the dancers performed many different animated figures.

Irish dances were accompanied by bagpipe and harp music. In the homes of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, the master often joined the peasants in some of the dances. Dances were also performed during the wake. During the funeral, people followed each other around the coffin to the music of bagpipes.

Masters of Irish Dance

In the eighteenth (XVIII) century, such a remarkable phenomenon appeared in Ireland as the Master of Dances. He was an itinerant dance teacher who traveled from village to village in the region and taught dance to the peasants. The dance masters were wonderful characters who wore bright clothes and were usually accompanied by several assistants. Their young pupils were illiterate and often did not know the difference between the left and right foot. To overcome this problem, the dance teacher tied straw and hay to the left and right legs of his students and gave the commands to "raise the leg with hay" or "raise the leg with straw."

Group dances were developed by dance masters to keep the interest of their less gifted students and to enable them to enjoy dancing too. The level of these dances was very high. With the advent of teachers in Irish dancing, solo performances began to flourish. Solo dancers were highly respected and it was not uncommon for them to take the doors off their hinges and lay them on the ground so that the dancers could demonstrate their skills on them.

Each dance teacher taught in his own region, and never encroached on the territory of another master. At least, there are no known cases in the chronicles when a dance teacher would claim to teach the inhabitants of a neighboring parish. Irish dancing was at its best when the Dance Masters met at fairs, challenging each other in a public dance competition that lasted until one of them collapsed from exhaustion.

Sources used

  1. A Short History of Irish Dance
  2. The history of Irish Dance

Why Irish dancing is brain dancing?

The performance of an orchestra of bagpipes and drums from the EU countries at the Amur Waves International Military Music Festival of Brass Bands aroused great interest in everything Irish. IA "Khabarovsk Territory Today" talks about traditional Irish dances.

"Dance of the Wonderful People" is a rarity for Khabarovsk. There are only two schools in the whole region that can teach traditional Irish dance. Light jumps, gliding steps, swift throws and leg sweeps, combined with a calm body, make a mesmerizing impression. The head of the school of Irish dance Irish Wind (Irish wind) helped to understand the intricacies of the choreography Anastasia Merkurieva .

Crazy Dancing

The history of the Irish national dance reflects the events that took place with Ireland itself, starting from the 20th century BC, and ending with the 20th century of our era - the migration of peoples and the invasion of conquerors, the change of religions. Every culture that the Irish came into contact with contributed to their dance tradition. Initially, the dance had a ritual meaning: it was performed, praising the sacred trees and the sun. Coming from the mainland to Ireland, the Celts brought with them religious dances, some elements of which have survived to this day.

Due to the oppression of the culture of Ireland, which began in the 18th century, national dances were performed for a long time only under the cloak of strict secrecy. They were sharply condemned by the Christian church as "insane" and "bringing misfortune." Some historians even believe that the characteristic motionless position of the hands on the belt appeared in Irish dance just after the church declared the movements of the hands obscene.

There are few schools of this choreographic direction in the Far East. For example, there are only two of them in Khabarovsk, and one each in Vladivostok and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Irish Wind Anastasia Merkurieva created in 2008. Then she decided to change her dance direction and leave modern dance. At first, folk dances were in priority, but an accident led precisely to the “dance of the wondrous people”.

“I have been dancing since childhood. And by chance I saw Irish for the first time and my impression was - “Oh! I want to go there! And to this day I really like it. An unusual combination of pride and mischief, dignity and temperament. I like that Irish dance is a combination of ballet and tap. Even if there is no music, you can put on your shoes and make your own music,” Anastasia said.

The main composition of the "Irish Wind" is not numerous, it consists of about 20 people. They are part of the Ceilidh school and belong to the largest Irish dance commission, An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha. Dancers perform not only on various stages of Khabarovsk, but also go to all-Russian and world championships, winning medals.

Dance by the rules

To establish uniform rules for the performance of dances, competitions and refereeing, the Irish Dance Commission was founded in 1929. So, the dance technique has changed significantly. Schools were able to use large halls and a wide stage. The dancers were no longer limited in space and movement, which led to many new steps and jumps, including passages all over the stage. The rule was finally fixed to keep hands strictly along the body.

Three main types of Irish dance: solo, ceili and set. Solo mainly acts as a spectacle prepared by masters, or as a competitive form. It requires professionalism and many years of experience. Kaylie is a long dance in a line and in a circle. Kaylee is characterized by jumping and hands tightly pressed to the body - “hands at the seams”.

Set dances appeared a little later after the Irish soldiers who participated in the wars with Napoleon brought with them quadrille “from the mainland” - four pairs opposite each other, forming a square. A quadrille with an increased tempo and actually Irish movements became known as a set. Sets consist of figures - movements performed in a certain sequence. There are no jumps in the set that are typical for step dances, but due to the many varieties of steps, it looks very diverse.

Initially, Irish dances were performed only by men. When the step appeared, women were not trusted with it either. Now everything is mixed up. It is important that a dancer of any level can take part in the championships, be it a beginner amateur or a high-class professional.

As for the musical accompaniment, according to Anastasia Merkurieva, this dance can be performed not only to Irish music, but also to modern music.

“Figure dancing helps develop team spirit. There are no clear distinctions in staged dances, you can invent anything you like. Everyone finds his own. In sports, in competitions, it is important to observe lines, figures, the position of each dancer in space relative to the other partner. Irish dancing is brain dancing. First you need to think a lot, and then do it with your feet. Kind of math. Because it is necessary that the final figure turned out to be even, ”the interlocutor noted.

Rhinestone tie and curly wig

The usual men's clothing for dancing at the beginning of the 20th century was breeches or trousers, a wide belt, high stockings, and a shirt. The pants took root and became a truly national clothing in popularity. The wide belt of dancers was transformed into a trophy - special award belts were the pride of male dancers. Until the end of the last century, when men still danced in kilts, a common item of men's and women's dance wardrobe was a shawl or "cloak" (brath). Previously, it was a functional element of clothing, a rectangular piece of fabric, which was fastened on both or on one shoulder with a brooch. In the last century, male dancers wore a cloak attached to their jackets, but now this fashion is a thing of the past along with kilts.

Now at the competitions, dark trousers, a colored shirt and a vest have become standard clothing for men, some wear a tie. Fashion for bright and shiny outfits has reached men's wardrobes only in recent years. Shiny vests and dazzling ties in rhinestones are not at all a sign of bad taste, but a tribute to the need to stand out from the crowd.

Women's dresses were first decorated with a modest pattern around the neck, shawls were embroidered in the corners. Capes with hoods came into fashion for a short time, but over time, in dance costumes, they were shortened and began to be fastened only on one shoulder in a masculine manner. A short jacket was worn over a dress with a pleated skirt. Then they went out of fashion, and were replaced by overhead collars and cuffs on dresses.

Patterns on dresses appeared in the 20s of the XX century, but their painting cannot be compared with what can be seen now. The traditional colors were green, saffron and white. They tried to avoid red, as reminiscent of the red caftans of the British. Now all the preferences of the beginning of the last century are forgotten and there are no restrictions in the palette.

However, the Irish Dancing Commission has a separate division that enforces the rules regarding costumes. Specialists make sure that dances are demonstrated in the best possible way at competitions. For example, girls dance not only in brightly embroidered dresses, but also in rather modest ones, beginners dance in school dresses and skirts, more advanced dancers order solo dresses in rhinestones and beads. An important point is always a long sleeve and closed collarbones, and the skirt should not be shorter than the distance of the palm from the knee.

The dancer's hair must be strongly curled. This is a long-standing tradition that all dancers unquestioningly observe. Since the performers of Irish dances are deprived of the opportunity to express their emotions (the movement of the hands is prohibited, the head and body are motionless), it is believed that the curls soaring up allow at least a little to enliven the dance and add coquetry. Dancers at lower levels have the choice of wearing a wig or curling their hair.

Irish dancers wear white socks under their shoes, and this is not at all accidental, because the fine work of the feet, movements that can be missed if the foot is in black, are much more distinguishable.

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