How to irish river dance

Learn to Riverdance in two weeks? No sweat – The Irish Times

Sweating and cursing, I slump to the floor and stare longingly at my handbag, which I know contains a bottle of ice-cold water and a bar of chocolate. The blisters on my feet are aching, but I know I have to dig deep and summon the energy to pick myself up and start again. As I struggle to my feet, Bill Whelan’s familiar music blares through the speakers. I lift my head, stand tall, and for what feels like the 100th time, begin dancing.

When asked if I'd be interested in learning the steps for Riverdance, I agreed without question. I'm not a dancer. As a child I used to traipse to the school hall once a week to learn my h-aon, dó, trís with the rest of my runner-wearing classmates. None of us was destined for dancing fame, but from the enthusiastic girls in the front of the class to the grumpy boys shuffling at the back, we all jumped around and stretched our limbs.

Years of primary-school dancing lessons may not have sent me straight to the stage, but it did instil rhythm. During my teen years I developed these skills by dancing the familiar Ballaí Luimní in school halls in the west, desperate to impress those strapping young Irish College lads.

Sorcha Pollak and Pádraic Moyles. Photograph: Alan Betson

That I'm not a dancer becomes quite apparent from the moment I meet Pádraic Moyles, associate director and principle dancer of Riverdance and my trainer for this experiment. He is exactly how I imagine a professional dancer to be: he's fit, lean and moves in a way my body refuses to imitate.

As a small boy, Moyles would watch and take part in the set-dancing sessions his parents held in the family home every Friday. When he was nine his family moved from Dublin to New York, where he began dancing with the teacher Donny Golden.

Sorcha Pollak has 2 weeks to transform herself into a Riverdance dancer ...can she do it? Video: Darragh Bambrick / Daniel O'Connor

“I didn’t like dancing at all,” he says. “It was getting in the way of football and basketball and all those American sports that I was starting to get into.

However, at 17 he skipped school to travel to Boston for an audition with a new Irish dancing show. Within a few months he was finished high school, and in November 1997 he began dancing with Riverdance.

“In one sense it’s an addiction for me now,” he says. “I absolutely love it and there is nothing like feeling the applause and the appreciation of a crowd at the end of the night.”

Twenty years later

Riverdance is celebrating its 20th anniversary since it was first performed as the interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. Two decades later the show has been seen by more than 25 million people in 46 countries across the globe.

I have often wondered what dancing in front of an international audience would feel like. As I turn up for my first class, my enthusiasm to learn masks my panic.

I imagine my new teacher is expecting a dancer more like the attractive colleagues who accompany him on stage, dancing the steps with make-up and hair perfectly intact. Sadly that’s not how I look as I grapple with the ridiculously high-speed choreography. Each step is demonstrated with mesmerising speed and dexterity. I, on the other hand, trip and sweat my way through each afternoon.

However, despite the countless falls and inability to pick up seemingly simple steps, I emerge from each rehearsal invigorated. Dancing has the ability to clear your mind of all worries and fears. It requires that you focus 100 per cent on the movement of your body, leaving no time to stress over picking up the shopping or meeting a deadline.

One hour rehearsing also leaves you with an indescribable hunger. As I imagine the giant plate of pasta I will prepare post-rehearsal, Moyles tells me he tends to eat high levels of protein to maintain his strength.

“Most mornings when I wake up it’s oatmeal and egg whites with some honey. For lunch I try and eat bigger because I like to feel light going on stage and have two chicken breasts with some broccoli.”

Suddenly I can no longer justify that metre-long baguette I hoped to buy on the way home. “Don’t worry”, he adds, “I love a chocolate bar every now and then.” I breathe a sigh of relief.

Dancers lose an average of 5lb of water weight during every performance of Riverdance. "In China we lost about 15lb," says my lean but not mean trainer. "We couldn't find the right foods and none of us were properly prepared for the culture shock."

I empathise with those dancers, not the pounds but the water weight. I don’t think my skin has ever excreted as much fluid as during the intense rehearsals.

After 17 years dancing, Moyles says that eight shows a week, often for 52 weeks a year, is exhausting. He tells me about the challenges of being on the road for months, living out of a suitcase and searching for a launderette in China.

"There are certain territories that are easy to tour, like the United States and Europe, but then there are other places that are extremely difficult, like Asia, and China in particular."

However, it’s not all sweat and blood on tour. When 18-year-olds begin dancing with the show straight out of school, they soon learn that their pay cheques won’t fly straight out the window.

“We have no rent and no bills. Nowadays the most people have is a mobile phone bill,” says Moyles.

Retirement age

As my bones begin to ache after an hour of rehearsing, I ask him what the retirement age is for dancers. Michael Flatley (55) is still dancing, he tells me, as is Donny Golden (61).

“You’re never too old to dance,” he says, as I strap on my black, hard-soled dance shoes for the first time. “You grow old because you don’t dance. The day I don’t dance is probably the day I’m going to become old.”

Relearning to dance reawakens the 10-year-old inside me. Somehow, in the space of two weeks I am transformed from a very self conscious novice into a toe-tapping Riverdancer.

Sadly, the sweaty hours I have spent in the studio on the banks of the Liffey may not, as I secretly dream, lead to a career in performance. However, they remind me of the importance of embracing my creative inner child.

Bring on those west of Ireland céilís: the boys will be only dazzled by my dance skills in the halla.

Riverdance returns to Dublin for a summer season at the Gaiety Theatre from June 23 to August 31

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 – slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th

Mairéad – rhymes with parade

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Ulyanovsk "Irish" staged a jig in Moscow and took prizes "in a minute"

Irish dance fascinates everyone who has ever seen a live performance of a patrick, jig or hornpipe. But few people know that Ulyanovsk residents aged 11 to 45 can also master steps that are breathtaking in complexity and beauty and subsequently become the best in their performance. The other day, our dancers became winners of the Russian National Championships and Feis 2017 in Moscow in Irish dancing. nine0004

The opening of the first school of Irish dance in our city is the merit of Oksana Sergeeva, a dancer of ballroom and oriental dances from Siberia.

“When I arrived in Ulyanovsk in the late 90s, I continued to do my favorite dances,” recalls Oksana Sergeeva. One day, about eight years later, I was looking on the Internet for novelties for working moments and came across an Irish show by Michael Flatley. After watching it, I realized what I should do in life. It turned out that these dances are not taught in Ulyanovsk. nine0005

But this did not stop our interlocutor. She was so imbued with the Irish theme that she began attending master classes in Samara, adopting the experience of metropolitan professionals. In 2010, Oksana recruited her first ten students and the work began to boil. Together they learned the basics of an exciting dance. Soon they were waiting for an exam for professional skills in the capital from eminent experts from Ireland itself. The task was completed successfully.

- When I received my education certificate, I began to put up ads around the city for admission to Irish dance groups, but no one paid attention to us, - says Oksana. - We talked about this dance, but everyone imagined the Scottish dance - with bagpipes and skirts. But how can these two dances be confused? Scottish dance is more like Russian folk than Irish. As a result, they proved the uniqueness of the Irish, performing at concerts every week. nine0016

Game of Thrones is getting closer

Today, two training bases for Irish dance of the Iridan federal network have been opened in Ulyanovsk: in the Favorit sports complex on Dimitrova, 10a and in the third building of the Ulyanovsk State University on the Sviyaga River Embankment. In the first, 15 people are involved, in the second - ten. At the same time, the age of the Ulyanovsk "Irish" ranges from 11 to 45 years.

So what's so great about Irish jig? First of all, the music of the 18th century, which is found in the films "Game of Thrones" and "Vikings", will captivate. You will also meet fans of these film masterpieces in the ranks of the Ulyanovsk "Iridan". We, the audience, can see their skills at the main concert venues of the city. Among them are soft dances, where the dancers literally fly around the dance floor, and hard dances, when the artists masterfully beat the rhythm. nine0005

Colorful costumes for the artists are sewn by Ulyanovsk dressmaker Irina Zlobina, who has become a professional in tailoring Irish outfits for five years of work with the Iridan school.

Every year the Ulyanovsk "Irish" prove their skills at the annual competition "Russian National Championships and Feis". About 500 - 600 dancers from Russia and other countries take part in them. This year, eight Ulyanovsk talents headed by their mentor Oksana Sergeeva went to the capital and returned with awards. nine0005

- We performed in each of our age categories and difficulty levels: beginner, prime marie, interlude - Sergeyeva explained. – The contestants dance simultaneously in twos on three stages to the live music of a guest musician from London (rhythms: reel, light jig, etc. ) And so they demonstrate seven basic rhythms. Each dance lasts one minute. This is how much the maximum sports endurance of the body is. Then, within seven minutes, there is a rebuilding for another dance, after which a new rhythm sounds. nine0005

The dancers of "Iridan-Ulyanovsk" returned with awards:

Semichaevskaya Veronika (interlude: slip jig - 1st place, reel - 2nd place; primary: horn pipe - 3rd place;

Tsukanova Daria (Primary: Reel - 3rd place),

Egorov Daniel (beginner: reel - 3rd place, treble jig - 1st place),

Kvekveskiri Varvara (beginner: light jig - 2nd place, single jig - 4th place, treble jig - 4th place),

Arzamastseva Ivetta (beginner: treble jig - 2nd place, single jig - 4th place, light jig - 6th place, patrick - 5th place),

Olibash Alisa (beginner: single jig - 5th place, reel - 4th place),

Sergeeva Oksana (interlude: ril - 3rd place, treble jig - 3rd place).

On December 2, our guys will go to the Irish dance competition in Samara. We wish them good luck!


Irish dances are a group of traditional dances that formed in Ireland in the 18th and 20th centuries and became very popular around the world after being staged in the 19'94 dance show Riverdance.

All types of Irish dances are performed exclusively to traditional Irish dance melodies: reels, jigs and hornpipes.

Jig - depending on the musical size of the melody in which the dance is performed, light (double) jig, slip jig, single jig and treble jig are distinguished. The usual time signature for these types of jigs is 6/8.

Reel - the usual time signature of reel is 4/4. Reel is danced in soft shoes - easy-reel and hard - then it's treble-reel. Men's "soft" reel is performed in special shoes - with a heel, but without heels on the toe. nine0005

Hornpipe - performed to 2/4 or 4/4 music. Performed in hard shoes.


The international Irish dance competition "Russian Open Championships and Feis" is organized by the Iridan Foundation with the support of the Embassy of the Republic of Ireland in Russia. The competitions are registered with the Irish Dance Commission, an international organization that coordinates the activities of dancers and teachers around the world. The results of these competitions will be taken into account when compiling the world ranking of dancers, in addition, judges from Ireland certified by the Irish Dance Commission were invited to the competition. nine0005

Ekaterina Rossoshanskaya

Photo and video: personal archive of Oksana Sergeeva

how to dance Irish dances, video lessons

Ireland is an unusual and mysterious country, the unique charm of which is given by evergreen hills, ancient castles, and of course amazing dances. National dances are performed only to Irish music and look very beautiful and spectacular, thanks to the speed of movement and rhythm. Currently, this dance direction is extremely popular in many countries. There are many schools and studios that teach jig, reel or hornpipe, but you can learn how to dance Irish dances on your own. Depending on the technique of performance and the number of participants, the following varieties are distinguished:

  1. Solo, represents rhythmic and clear movements of the legs, while the body and arms are motionless, one person is dancing.
  2. Group, performed by a group of up to 16 people, and include elements of solo dances with rebuilding in a circle, line or column and the inclusion of hands.
  3. Folk or social, characterized by simple quadrille-like movements, danced in pairs.

For those who decide to learn how to dance Irish dances on their own, video lessons for beginners will be an excellent tool. It is better to start with a solo direction, which includes: jig, reel, hornpipe and solo sets. nine0005


Performed to the music of the violin. Fun and cheerful jig, consists of traditional jumps and special steps. The jumps are quite high, which makes a lasting impression, but at the initial stage, you should not jump high. First you need to learn how to properly hold the body and press your hands, and most importantly, land softly. Dynamic and spectacular Irish dances can be a serious challenge for beginners.


Reel is believed to be of Scottish origin, but has been heavily modified to include true Irish elements. Great for beginners and is usually the starting point for learning how to dance Irish dance properly. May be fast or slow. nine0005

Fast paced reels have a set of simple movements, while slow reels are characterized by a more complex set of figures, including high jumps. The technique of execution, depending on the type of footwear, can be soft or hard.


Includes jumps and tap dance elements, touching the floor alternately with the heel and toe, creates a drumming effect. Hands are usually located on the belt or extended at the seams, and swings are made with a leg bent at the knee. It is performed only in hard shoes and is the most difficult to master. Somewhat similar to the reel, the hornpipe is notable for its particular dotted rhythm and emphasis on the first count. It can also be slow and fast. nine0005

Set solo dances

A distinctive feature is a special set melody, which can be traditional or author's, and differs in its structure from ordinary Irish music. Under such melodies, unique dance compositions are developed, intended for participation in competitions, which will include complex steps and non-traditional elements. From generation to generation in Ireland, the music and steps of solo sets created in the distant past and called traditional are transmitted. nine0005

Irish dancing is not only an amazing charge of positive energy and energy, but also a great way to increase stamina and improve physical fitness. Having mastered the basic elements, you can continue to use lessons for beginners to learn Irish dances, or contact a special studio.

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