A very brief overview of Irish Dance


Irish music is an essential basis for Irish dancing. Fiddle, flute, tin whistle and bodhrán are in the line-up of many contemporary Irish bands. The rhythms of dance music are commonly jig (divided into double jig, slip jig and single jig), reel, and hornpipe, but more rarely also polka, slide, and fling. In dance, special attention is given to the accuracy of the footwork. Proper carriage - rarely seen in other dance styles - is a must, feet should be turned out and crossed, arms are to be kept straight and still. The soft-shoe dances are performed high on toes and include airy jumps, beats, and twists. Hard-shoe dances have percussive power, and strong tap-like beats and definite clicks are performed with specially designed shoes.

Solo set dances are performed in hard shoes and the traditional dances are tightly choreographed. These sets include the Blackbird, St Patrick's Day, the Garden of Daisies, and the Job of Journeywork, to mention a few. Other solo dances are either hard- or soft-shoe, and particularly in top competitions and shows very elaborate and highly technical footwork are seen.

Céilís are tightly choreographed and performed by teams. There are round
dances, long line dances and long column dances - thirty of them are formalized, and appear with only very slight local variations. Examples include the Fairy Reel, the Bonfire Dance, and the Bridge of Athlone.

Choreographed figure dances are performed by teams and can be, within limits of style, freely created and often quite spectacular.

Social group set dances are danced in couples facing each other in squares.
These dances derive from quadrille, and their style and steps are also found in many other folk dances.

Feis (Feisenna in plural) means an Irish dancing competition. They range all the way from local events to World Championships. Competition is a major
component of the Irish dance world today. Their rules are standardized throughout the world, and they date back to the establishment of the Irish Dancing Commission.

The colors, materials and ornaments used in Irish Dancing costumes today are not much related to the old tradition. It has been assumed that the early dancers wore ordinary clothes or their "Sunday best." The foundation of the Gaelic League (1893) led to a Gaelic cultural revival - including the creation of a defined Irish Dance costume - at that time mostly green or white. Costume embroidery has since then increased enormously and intricate designs have often been based on traditional ornamentation from the Book of Kells. Today the designs are mostly modern. The kilt was formalized as part of male costume at the 1920s but today trousers are preferred. Female dancers' hairstyle is important for the image. Tight ringlets are a must and for practical reasons most dancers wear a wig. To complete the outfit, female dancers wear white calf-length "poodle" socks. The book "Irish Dancing Costumes" by John Cullinane is worth of reading if you are interested in Irish dancing costumes and their history.

Irish Dance shoes vary according to the type of dance. Female dancers wear pumps (ghillies) for light dances and hard shoes (jig shoes) for heavy dances. Male dancers wear plain leather shoes instead of pumps. The tips of the hard shoe used to be made of multiple layers of leather. Sometimes nails were hammered into the tip to improve the sound. Today tips and heels are made of fibreglass or more durable materials, and the shoes may have some extra features, such as bubble heels (for easier clicks) and flexie soles (for easier toestands).