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What is Irish Dance?

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By Samantha Bellerose, B.Ed, Dip.Dance (Performing Arts)

Irish dancing was born from the rituals and folk dances of the celts and druids. Irish dancing was also influenced by the Norman culture when they invaded and settled in Ireland in the 12th century. It was around the 18th century that Irish dance became more formalized and it was common for a dance master to travel from town to town holding lessons for peasants.

When the Gaelic League was developed in 1893 to promote Irish Culture formal competitions, lessons, and rules for Irish dancing were developed. With the creation of the Irish Dancing Commission in 1930, the genre evolved into the style we see danced today

Irish dance is popularly known for the restriction of arm and upper body movement whilst employing quick precise footwork with steps such as cuts, overs, lifts, and sevens. Irish dance is commonly called a step dance because when you put enough of these steps together you get a ‘step dance’ or ‘sean nos’.

Two other common Irish dances are set routine and social or ceili. Based on the French Quadrille, or couples dancing in squares, Ceili dances can get quite complicated with different step patterns being danced whilst swapping sides or partners.

Irish dance is also compared to tap and ballet pointe dance. This is because Irish dancers learn to dance on their toes in fiberglass-covered hard shoes or heavies. The fiberglass helps to create that familiar tapping sound that Irish dancers make with their feet.

Irish dance is generally taught at a school that specializes only in that genre. Teaching is fairly regulated with global rules such as no pointe work for under 12’s being followed in competition and exam work. That being said step vocabulary can differ from region to region especially as the style evolves.

This page is just one of hundreds of definitions of the many styles and genres of dance. This library is being continually added to by the writers and contributors of Dance Parent 101!