How irish dancing started

Everything you Need to Know about Irish Dancing – Claddagh Design

Image from Madison Daley

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.

Visit our Online store Claddagh Design Handmade Fine Irish jewelry & Irish gifts where we celebrate all things Irish

Image from Shelly Hathaway Photography


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.

Image from Irish Dance Diva


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.



Interested in Irish Dancing? Leave a comment below We'd love to hear from you!

Back to blog

The History and Origins of Irish Dance

The history of Irish dance, one of the most distinctive parts of Irish culture, is intriguing. You may be familiar with events where girls in curly wigs and beautiful costumes with special shoes take to the stage to perform coordinated traditional dances at Irish heritage festivals, dance shows, or competitions.

The Origins of Irish Dancing

If you’ve ever seen this sort of thing, you might be asking yourself, how did all of this begin? Is Irish dance popular? What distinguishes Irish dance?

You might be surprised how big a part of Irish culture it has always been. This is why we celebrate Irish music and dance as a significant part of Irish American heritage.

Irish dancing is a traditional dance form that originated amongst the Celtic and Gaelic people of Ireland.

Table of Contents

  • How it All Began
  • The Normans’ Influence on Irish Dance
  • Evolution of More Formal Dance Steps and Routines
  • Modern Roots
  • Dancing Masters In Days Gone By
  • The Gaelic League
  • Dancing at the Crossroads
  • Riverdance’s Influence
  • Irish Dance in the United States

How it All Began

Back in 500 BC, there was a group of people called the druids who had first moved to Ireland.

They were an educated class of Celts who were religious figures and leaders in the earliest Irish culture. Dance was a very significant part of their religion. These Celtic dances would happen at religious celebrations, like dancing around sacred trees such as oak trees in circular formations, or other special occasions, like weddings.

The druids created something called a feis (pronounced fesh, and feiseanna plural which is pronounced as fesh-enna), which is a showcase for Irish dancing and music.

This was the very beginning of a rich history and the development of Irish dance as we know it today. Feiseanna are still held today wherever Irish dance and music are taught and celebrated, even in the United States.

The druids and Irish dance were deeply interconnected and their influence on Celtic culture continues to this very day.

A High Kick in Irish Dancing

The Normans’ Influence on Irish Dance

Changes came to Irish dancing in the 12th century. After the arrival of The Normans in 1169, they brought their own dances and culture to Ireland.

The Normans became more Irish than the Irish themselves, as the old saying goes. Their favorite dance was called Carol. A singer was surrounded by a circle of dancers who performed to the melodic notes of the caroller.

The Normans performed this dance in Irish villages and towns especially all around the province of Leinster, their stronghold.

The assimilation of these two cultures melded the druids’ and Normans’ dances together into brand new forms of dance that the world had never seen before. Irish step dancing was evolving.

Hard shoes for Irish dancing

Evolution of More Formal Dance Steps and Routines

Over the centuries more formal dances started to emerge in Ireland. By the 16th century there were three definitive dances that were often practiced by Irish people.

The Irish Hey or the Irish Hay involved people joining hands in a chain and moving in circles, passing under the arms of others at different points in the chain. This dance evolved into the reels we know today.

The Rinnce Fada (phonetically pronounced as rink-ah fad-ah) is said to have been created in honor of James II of England and Scotland. Remember, he arrived in Ireland with his armies. The people hoped he would restore the rights of Catholics all over Ireland. Unfortunately he lost the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and the rest is history.

The Rinnce Fada literally means the long dance. A row of men faced a row of women, who joined together one by one as couples starting at one end of the two lines. The couple danced together up and down the length of the rows of people, and then the next couple danced.

Was this dance named because the rows of people were very long? Or did it take a long time for all the couples to dance? Probably both reasons are true.

What makes the Rinnce Fada special is that all social classes joined in, when this dance was performed at a social gathering.

The Trenchmore evolved from an old Irish peasant dance.

These dances were still a pretty loose concept at this time, but the dances had started to be categorized, and line dances were gaining traction, forming a basis for future, more evolved versions, like the dances we’d see today.

Céilí dancing in County Donegal

Modern Roots

These original dances started to get a bit more formalized in the 18th century. That’s when the dances we are familiar with in modern times such as set dancing, céilí (social dancing), and sean nós (old style, less formal step dancing) came into the frame.

Here’s a list of the different Irish dance styles:

  • Traditional Irish Step Dancing – only the legs and feet are used to move as the dancer maintains a stiff upper body.
  • Modern Irish Step Dancing – this modern take on Irish dancing allows full body movement and is similar to ballet.
  • Irish Set Dancing – is sometimes called country dancing where couples dance together. This can also be called Irish Two Hand Dancing. It was influenced by the quadrille dance of Europe.
  • Irish Céilí Dancing – this is the traditional form of group dancing in Ireland.
  • Irish Sean Nós Dancing – is an old style of solo Irish dance that is more casual in form that traditional Irish step dancing.

Of course, all of these were performed with different types of traditional Irish music, which featured the fiddle, pipes, and other instruments that made the entire performance distinct from those of other cultures. There was a type of dance to suit everyone in an Irish community.

Soft shoes for Irish dancing

Dancing Masters In Days Gone By

In 1750, a position called the Dancing Master was created. A Dancing Master was a person who was extremely good at all of the dances, and they would go around to all the villages and towns in their area to teach traditional Irish dance lessons.

As dancemasters came to the fore in different regions, this culture of formalized training instilled a feeling of competition among Irish dancers. From village to village the desire to be the best spread.

Each Irish Dancing Master wanted to prove themself the most skilled teacher in the nation. Irish dancing was practiced all over Ireland.

In a previous post we traced the origins of the phrase hay foot, straw foot to these dancing masters who needed to help their students learn the difference between right and left.

Irish dancing flourished in the 18th century and spread to all parts of Ireland.

Shamrocks and Shoes

The Gaelic League

In 1893, the Gaelic League was established to try to revive knowledge of and excitement for Irish language and culture in Ireland, as the Irish language was threatened to die out.

The Irish suffered greatly during the years of the Great Irish Famine. Many who practiced Irish dancing either died or immigrated in this national calamity.

After the Famine, people turned their backs on some Irish traditions, including the language. They believed that learning to speak English, and adopting English ways was a vital step for survival in a cruel world.

By 1893 some Irish scholars recognized that we were losing our culture. The Gaelic League created specific rules to judge Irish dance and created formal competitions. They later handed off that responsibility to the Irish Dance Commission.

This is how Irish dance competitions began as we know them today. The world championships attract competitors from all over the world, to celebrate this unique dance style with deep roots in Ireland.

Dancing an Irish jig

Dancing at the Crossroads

In the early part of the 20th century, dancing at the crossroads was a summertime activity all over Ireland.

Young people would meet at a country crossroads, lay planks on the road, and dance their heart away. This was a wonderful time for young people to enjoy themselves on mild summer evenings when Irish days are long. Musicians would play Irish music, and dancers would rock those boards to the rhythmic beats of that traditional music.

Unfortunately the government of the day grew afraid of too much carousing and they banned the activitiy through the Public Dance Halls Act of 1935, moving all dancing indoors, where the activity could be supervised.

Sculpture in County Cork Remembering Dancing at the Crossroads

Riverdance’s Influence

In 1994, a group of Irish-American dancers featuring Jean Butler and Michael Flatley performed in the Eurovision Song Contest, a talent competition on TV. They had created a 7-minute routine to Irish music by composer Bill Whelan that they called Riverdance.

The audience was enthralled, not only the live audience at the venue, but people all over the world. Irish dancing captured the attention and imaginations of people from many varied backgrounds. Interest grew, and Irish dancing spread to many corners of the globe.

In 1995, a husband and wife duo named John McColgan and Moya Doherty expanded this performance into a stage show that took the world by storm.

Riverdance has since been performed at over 450 venues and viewed by over 25 million people, meaning it is one of the most popular dance productions in the world.

This phenomenon, although it began in Dublin, Ireland, is what sparked an interest in Irish dance among people in the United States ever since it opened in New York in 1996.

Lord of the Dance is an Irish dance production that has been a star attraction on the Las Vegas strip. It was created by Michael Flatley, one of the original performers of Riverdance.

Irish Dancing Today

Irish Dance in the United States

Today, there are plenty of options if you’d like to participate in or simply see Irish dance. Many dance studios in the United States offer Irish dance classes, and it’s still possible to find some local productions of Irish dance performances at concert halls and Irish culture festivals or events.

Most large cities in the USA have at least one school of Irish dance, and in cities such as Chicago and New York, with large Irish American poplulations there are many Irish dance schools to be found.

In the United States and Ireland there are many different Irish Dance Championships, some of which are known as Feiseanna (pronounced fesh-anna with the singular being Feis which is pronounced as fesh).

These competitions are designed to encourage students of Irish dance to improve their techniques and skills, with awards being bestowed upon the best championship dancers.

Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne (pronounced irr-ock-thus ring-ka nah krinn-ah) is the Irish name for the World Irish Dancing Championships. This is an annual Irish stepdance competition, which is held in diffferent locations around Irieland.

It is organized by An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (pronounced phonetically as on kum-mish-oon leh ring-kee gale-ock-ah) which is the Irish Dancing Commission.

These competitions are organized by gender and age for solo dancers. There are also competitions for céilí dances. This competition is like the Olympics of Irish dancing. Each dancer must qualify to participate by winning at major Irish stepdance competitions held across the world.

If you would like to see it for yourself, I’d highly recommend going to see it live. You can also view a Riverdance DVD so you can experience the magic of Irish dance without even leaving your house.

Irish dance is a very significant part of our Irish cultural tradition. It’s held dear by Irish people all over the world. We see it as a symbol of our culture, one that has evolved, developed and survived over the centuries. 

Irish dancing communities in cities all over the world are keeping our age old traditions alive, and passing our heritage on to the next generations.

Let’s hope we continue to share the joy and importance of Irish dancing for many generations to come.

Slán agus beannacht,

(Goodbye and blessings)

Mairéad –Irish American Mom

Pronunciation – rhymes with parade

Share my recipes and ramblings with the world

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.

The school of Irish dance Irish Wind together with Anastasia Merkuryeva became participants in the international festival of military brass bands in Khabarovsk. They performed together with a Celtic bagpipe and drum orchestra from the European Union. The head of the musical group, one of the most famous pipers in Europe, David Johnston, liked the work of the dancers so much that he suggested that they try to make a joint number next year at the Spasskaya Tower festival in Moscow.

History of Irish Dance ⋆ Kelteria Dance School | Irish Dances

Viking raids destroyed most of the books from this period, as well as written records of any dances. However, the fact that one of the elements of the exquisite Gaelic culture was music and dance is undeniable.

Viking raids on Ireland ended in 1014 after the victory of King Brian Boru of Ireland at Clontarf. Irish dancing competitions originate from this period.

Brian Boru at Clontarf in 1014, painted in 1914
by James Ward. Photograph: courtesy of Dublin City Council

It was both a trade fair and political gatherings and cultural events with music, sports competitions, storytelling and craftsmanship. Over time, the cultural aspect has become central to Irish dance competitions. These events continue to this day. Although politics has faded into the background, they still have music, dance, crafts and trade.

Decline of Celtic culture

The Celtic tradition in Ireland quickly faded into oblivion during the twelfth century. The increase in foreign influence weakened the traditional arts, and in 1170 the conquest of Ireland by the Anglo-Norman knights took place. However, for the next two hundred years, the conquerors firmly entered the traditional Irish culture.

To prevent this merger, the Anglo-Irish Parliament passed the Rite of Kilkenny in 1366, which prescribed excommunication and severe penalties against all those who followed or were associated with native Irish customs. Another 128 years elapsed before the charter was enforced.

History records many dances performed by the Irish in the mid-1500s. These include the Rinnce Fada or Fading, where two rows of partners are opposite each other, the Irish Hey (figure dance), the jig (probably a group dance), the trenchmore (described as a large folk national dance (country dance) with free movements), and dances with a sword. It is not clear which dances among Irish, English and French influenced which, but it is characteristic that Irish dances had a faster tempo and side steps were present.

The British suppression of Irish culture continued, with the ban on bagpipes and the arrest of bagpipers exemplifying this. However, Queen Elizabeth I was "extremely pleased" with Irish songs and folk dances. The struggle for power between the Irish and the British continued throughout the 1600s. Penal laws passed in the late 1600s destroyed Irish commerce and industry.

Complete ban and the appearance of secret schools

The education of Catholic children was also prohibited by law, which led to the emergence of secret schools (open-air schools for the poor). There was a degree of secrecy in traditional Irish culture. This period of brutal repression lasted over a hundred years, explaining the initial secrecy of the teaching of Irish dance.

National folk dances continued, one description says that on Sundays “a violin was played in every field and the girls danced to it until they were foaming at the mouth”; another states that "the youth danced until the cows were brought home. " The dancing continued throughout the 1700s, often during holidays, weddings, baptisms, and memorial rites. However, the Church sometimes condemned dancing.

An Irish Jig before royalty 18710074

The main influence on Irish dance and Irish culture was the emergence of dance masters around 1750, starting a controversial tradition that continues to this day. The dance masters typically traveled around the towns, staying in the villages with hospitable families (who were honored to be chosen as hosts) for about six weeks.

Teachers taught Irish dance in kitchens, agricultural outbuildings, crossroads, or open-air schools for the poor. Students primarily studied jig and reel. Sometimes the teacher would tie a rope around the student's leg to distinguish the right leg from the left.

The presence of an outstanding dance master in the village was a matter of pride for the community. Each dance master had a set of dance steps and over time created new ones. (Eight measures in music are called "step", hence the term "step dance". )

irish dancecing lesson

Sometimes the masters participated in competitions in Irish dancing, the winner was not the one who danced better, but the one who knew the most steps. The loser had to cede the territory of the city to the winner.

These masters have created many staged dances and Caylees, and they carefully guarded the art of creating dance steps. Dance masters created the first dance schools, the most famous being in County Kerry, Cork and Limerick. One dance master described himself as an "artificial rhythm walker" and "an instructor in the art of dance for youth".

The villagers paid the dance masters at the end of the third week of teaching, in "benefit performance". They paid the accompanying musician a week later. Sometimes a dance master was both a musician and a dancer at the same time! Obviously, the level of pay for dance masters was relatively high for Ireland, and room and board were included.

McCarthy and Wife Additional title Champion Irish jig dancers posed in Irish dress 1873

The suppression of Catholics continued during this time, but ways were found to avoid control. One story says that the Catholics sent a child to watch the meetings or masses they held in the cellars of the eateries. The child danced at a certain pace and with a special tact to warn the Catholics of the approaching soldiers.

During the 1800s, the pie dance was especially popular. The pie was placed on a stand in the center of the field, it was a prize for the best dancer. After the competition, the winner took the cake for himself. Attempts by parish priests to ban dancing were not uncommon, but proved to be largely ineffective.

Gaelic League Ard Fheis and Oireachtas 1913

Establishment of the Irish Dance Commission

This period dates back to 1893 when the Gaelic League (Conradh na Gaeilge) was founded. This group contributed to the revival of Irish culture, which for centuries was suppressed by England. In 1929 the "Commission for Irish Dancing" (Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha) was founded in order to lay down rules regarding teaching, judging and competition.

Up to 19For 29 years, there have been many types of local dances, music, costumes and rules for Irish dancing competitions. This led to the development of standards to be followed in competition. Throughout the 20th century, Irish dance has changed dance techniques, costumes and venues.

For example, during the period of the dance masters, stages were much smaller, including tabletops, door leaves, and sometimes the "stage" was just a crossroads. (An old poem called the dance of "light walking on the floor"). The dance ability test included dancing on top of a barrel or on a soap table!

As the stage grew in size, there were at least two changes to the dance. The range of motion of the dancers on the various stages was greatly increased (the judge now deducted points if the dancer did not "use the stage"), and dance steps that required a significant amount of space (such as the running jump) became possible.

The venue has also changed over time, from barns or open areas where flat trucks were used as a stage (and still are) to rooms in hotels, schools or fairgrounds. areas in general. (Note that the fairgrounds hosted ancient Irish dance competitions and their use is especially appropriate in a historical context.)

During the 20th century Irish dance developed in different ways. Education began at a younger age. Among the students, girls began to predominate, not boys (the turning point occurred before 1930).

Girls performing a solo dance in a competition were very rare until the 1920s. The dance styles also changed; for example, hands and palms did not always have to be in exactly the same position during solo dances. Previously, in some cases, they were more relaxed and even placed on the hips.

Apparently, the influence of parish priests led to keeping the hands in one position; some argue that it was not all that provocative, others are convinced that the Church was trying to increase the self-control of the dancers. Hand movements are still present in figure (group) dances.

The ability to dance was useful to many immigrants from Ireland in the 19th century. They could rarely find suitable work in the USA (the east of the country was full of ads that said they were not hiring Irish people) and therefore began a career in show business.

On Broadway, tap dance became popular, which appeared due to the fusion of the African-American "shoe dance" and the Irish "tap dance". In the early 1900s Irish show groups traveled around the USA, entertaining the audience with national songs and dances. Becoming a show for the public, Irish dance began to differ from the original national one.

In the 30s 20th century there was a keili (another name is a figured dance). In the 50s. 20th century Irish dances made their way into the show grounds, they were shown on the Sullivan Show and other television programs, and competitions among masters resumed.

In 1969 Dublin hosted the World Irish Dancing Championships and since then they have gained momentum around the world.

The culmination and turning point, after which the whole world learned about Irish dance, was the performance of the Irish dance show Riverdance at the Eurovision Song Contest on April 30, 1994, which was held in Ireland.

Learn more