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Encyclopedia > Irish Dance
Irish dancers at St. Patrick's Day parade in Fort Collins, Colorado
Irish dancers at St. Patrick's Day parade in Fort Collins, Colorado

Irish dances can broadly be divided into social dance and performance dances. Irish social dancing can be divided further into céilí and set dancing. Irish set and céilí dances are usually danced by formations (sets) of couples, often in squares of four couples. Irish social dance is a living tradition, and variations in particular dances are found across the Irish dance community; in some places, dances are deliberately modified and new dances are choreographed. Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name. ... St. ... The City of Fort Collins, a home rule municipality situated on the Cache la Poudre River along the Colorado Front Range, is the county seat and most populous city in Larimer County, Colorado. ... Social dance is a major category or classification of danceforms or dance styles, where sociability and socializing are the primary focuses of the dancing. ... Performance dance is a major category or classification of dance forms or dance styles, where performance is the primary focus of the dancing. ... Formation ballroom dance involves anywhere from two to dozens of couples performing a choreographed ballroom dance routine. ...

Irish performance dancing is traditionally referred to as stepdance. Irish stepdance, popularized in 1994 by the world-famous show "Riverdance," is notable for its rapid leg movements, body and arms being kept largely stationary. Most competitive stepdances are solo dances, though many stepdancers also perform and compete using traditional set and céilí dances. The solo stepdance is generally characterized by a controlled but not rigid upper body, straight arms, and quick, precise movements of the feet. This article needs additional references or sources for verification. ... Irish stepdance is a type of performance dance originating in Ireland from traditional Irish dance. ... Riverdance Promotional Poster Riverdance is a theatrical show consisting of traditional Irish step dancing, notable for its rapid leg movements while body and arms are kept largely stationary. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...

The dancing traditions of Ireland probably grew in close association with Irish traditional music. Originating in Pre-Christian Ireland, Irish dance was later influenced by dance forms from the Continent, especially the Quadrille. Travelling dancing masters taught all over Ireland as late as the early 1900s. Newgrange, a famous Irish passage tomb built c3,200 BC // What little is known of pre-Christian Ireland comes from a few references in Roman writings, Irish poetry and myth, and archaeology. ... for the equestrian form of quadrille, see Quadrille (dressage) Quadrille is a historic dance performed by four couples in a square formation, a precursor to traditional square dancing. ...


Sean-nós Dancing

Kaylene Rafferty is the queen of irish dance. The tradition of step dancing in Ireland grew from an indigenous form of percussive dance that developed alongside traditional Irish music. The current incarnation of this tradition is known as sean-nós dancing (damhsa ar an sean-nós or rince sa sean-nós). The strongest tradition of sean-nós dancing persists in the Connemara Gaeltacht in the West of Ireland, although sean-nós dancers can be found throughout Ireland. Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic that is currently politically divided into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. ... Connemara (Irish Conamara), which derives from Conmhaicne Mara (meaning: descendants of Con Mhac, of the sea), is a district in the west of Ireland (County Galway). ... Gaeltacht regions in Ireland Gaeltacht (pronounced ; plural Gaeltachtaí) is an Irish word for an Irish-speaking region. ...

Sean-nós, which literally means 'old style' or 'old way' in the Irish language (Gaeilge), is a form of old-style solo step dancing. Characteristics of sean-nós dancing include percussive steps, relaxed arms and upper body, steps danced close to the floor, self-expression, improvisation, and an emphasis on the relationship between the steps and the music. Most sean-nós dancers prefer to dance to one musician. The melodeon or accordion is a popular choice for the accompaniment of sean-nós dance. Note: This page contains phonetic information presented in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) using Unicode. ...

Sean-nós dancing is generally non-competitive, and sean-nós dancers can be found performing in homes, in pubs, and at céilís. The largest gathering of sean-nós dancers occurs at An Oireachtas na Gaeilge, an annual festival which celebrates the Irish language (Gaeilge) and includes the most prestigious competitions in sean-nós dancing and sean-nós singing.

Sean-nós dancing has experienced a revival in the past ten years with increasing participation by people of all ages learning the steps through classes and workshops. Fledgling sean-nós dance communities are appearing outside of Ireland in the United States and Australia.

Old-Style Step Dancing

(Also termed Munster-style sean-nós dancing.)

Irish Dance truly began with sailors. To entertain themselves, they would put on their hard shoes and dance on the decks of the ships. Since the ships didn't have much room to store anything but the necessities, the dancers had no music. They danced accapella. Old-style step dancing (a tradition related to but distinct from sean-nós dancing) evolved in the late 18th and early 19th century from the dancing of traveling Irish dance masters. The dance masters slowly formalized and transformed both solo and social dances. Modern masters of old-style step dancing style can trace the lineage of their steps directly back to 18th century dancers. A cappella music is vocal music or singing without instrumental accompaniment, or a piece intended to be performed in this way. ...

The Irish dance masters refined and codified indigenous Irish dance traditions. Rules emerged about proper upper body, arm, and foot placement. Also, dancers were instructed to dance a step twice -- once with the left foot and once with the right. Old-style step dancers dance with arms loosely (but not rigidly) at their sides. They dance in a limited space. There is an emphasis on making percussive sound with the toes.

The Irish dance masters of this period also choreographed particular steps to particular tunes in traditional music creating the solo set dances such as the Blackbird, St. Patrick's Day, and the Job of Journeywork, which persist in Modern Irish Step Dancing.

Irish céilí dances

Irish social, or céilí (pronounced /ˈkeɪli/ in English) dances vary widely throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. A céilí dance may be performed with as few as three people and as many as sixteen. Céilí dances may also be danced with an unlimited number of couples in a long line or proceeding around in a circle (such as in "Shoe the Donkey", "The Walls of Limerick", "The Waves of Tory", or "Bonfire Dance"). Céilí dances are often fast and complex. In a social setting, a céilí dance may be "called" -- that is, the upcoming steps are announced during the dance for the benefit of newcomers. Céilí (Irish reformed spelling), or Ceilidh (Scottish and older Gaelic spelling), pronounced Kay-Lee in either case, is the traditional Gaelic social dance in Ireland and Scotland. ...

The term céilí dance was invented in the late 19th century by the Gaelic League to distinguish non-quadrille dances from the quadrille-based set dances, which were thought to be a British or foreign import to Ireland. Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League) is an organization for the purpose of keeping the Irish language spoken in Ireland. ...

Céilí as a noun differs from the adjective céilí. A céilí is a social gathering featuring Irish music and dance. Céilí dancing is a specific type of Irish dance. Some céilithe (plural of céilí) will only have céilí dancing, some will only have set dancing, and some will have a mixture.

In various parts of Ireland on St. Stephen's Day, December 26th, Wrenboys (mummers) celebrate Wren Day (also pronounced as the Wran) by dressing up in straw masks and colourful clothing and parading through towns and villages accompanied by traditional céilí music bands. This tradition also exists (or existed) in various parts of Britain, especially Wales. St Stephens Day, or the Feast of St Stephen, is a Christian saints day celebrated on 26 December in the Western Church and 27 December in the Eastern Church. ... December 26 is the 360th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar, 361st in leap years. ... Wren day is celebrated in Ireland on December 26. ... Céilí (Irish reformed spelling), Cèilidh (Scottish reformed spelling), or Céilidh (older spelling in both languages), pronounced in either case, is the traditional Gaelic social dance in Ireland and Scotland. ... The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a country in western Europe, and member of the Commonwealth of Nations, the G8, the European Union, and NATO. Usually known simply as the United Kingdom, the UK, or (inaccurately) as Great Britain or Britain, the UK has four constituent... This article is about the country. ...

Irish set dances

Shramore Set, danced by "Cumann Céilí Vín", Vienna, Austria
Shramore Set, danced by "Cumann Céilí Vín", Vienna, Austria

Set dances are folk dances of Ireland based on French quadrilles. Most are done in square sets of four couples and consist of several "figures," each of which has a number of parts. The styles of the various steps in a dance vary from place to place and from set to set. The sets come from various parts of Ireland and are often named for their place of origin; examples are the Corofin Plain Set, the South Galway Set and the Clare Lancers Set. The music can be a reel, jig, slide or polka, but though types of tunes are frequently mixed within the set, only one type is used for a given figure. Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... Image File history File links No higher resolution available. ... For other uses, see Vienna (disambiguation). ... Set dances, sometimes called country sets, are a popular form of folk dancing in Ireland. ...

Irish set dancing is popular throughout Ireland as well as in Canada, the United States, Australia, Europe and other countries. Social set dancing is not usually competitive, but Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann does hold competitions. The term "traditional set dancing" also describes a different type of competitive solo stepdancing taught by Irish dance schools.

Irish stepdance

Main article: Irish stepdance

Irish stepdance is a type of performance dance originating in Ireland from traditional Irish dance. ...

Roots of Irish stepdance

Irish step dancers from Scoil Rince na Connemara in Wilkes-Barre PA dance at the HUB, Penn State University
Irish step dancers from Scoil Rince na Connemara in Wilkes-Barre PA dance at the HUB, Penn State University

Stepdancing as a modern form is descended directly from old-style step dancing[citation needed]. There are several different forms of step dancing in Ireland (including sean-nos dancing and old style step dancing), but the style most familiar to the public at large is the Munster, or southern, form, which has been formalised by An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha—the Irish Dancing Commission. Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (2592x1944, 1385 KB) Summary Irish Dance in Penn State Licensing I, the creator of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (2592x1944, 1385 KB) Summary Irish Dance in Penn State Licensing I, the creator of this work, hereby release it into the public domain. ... The Hetzel Union Building, commonly referred to as the HUB is the student union building centrally located on the University Park campus of the Pennsylvania State University. ... The Pennsylvania State University The Pennsylvania State University (commonly known as Penn State) is a state-related land-grant university in Pennsylvania, with over 80,000 students at 24 campuses throughout the state. ...

Irish stepdancing is primarily done in competitions, public performances or other formal settings.


Irish solo stepdances fall into two broad categories based on the shoes worn: hard shoe and soft shoe dances.

Soft shoe dances include the reel, slip jig, light jig, and single jig. Reels have a 4/4 time signature. Slip jigs are in 9/8 time. Light and single jigs are in 6/8 time, with different emphasis within the measure distinguishing the music. Hard shoe dances include the hornpipe, in 2/4 time, the treble jig, in a slow 6/8, the treble reel, and traditional sets, which are a group of 36 dances with set music and steps. Many traditional sets have irregular musical phrasing. There are also more advanced "non-traditional sets" done by advanced dancers. These have set music, but not steps. The reel is a folk dance type as well as the accompanying dance tune type. ... Slip jig refers to both a style of Irish music and of Irish dance; the dance is danced to music in slip-jig time. ... The jig (sometimes seen in its French language or Italian language forms gigue or giga) is a folk dance type as well as the accompanying dance tune type, popular in Ireland and Scotland. ... The time signature (also known as meter signature) is a notational convention used in Western musical notation to specify how many beats are in each measure and what note value constitutes one beat. ... This article describes forms of dance. ... A treble jig is a dance in hard shoes that is preformed to music with a 6/8 time signature Categories: Dance stubs ... There are very few or no other articles that link to this one. ...

The céilí dances used in competitions are more precise versions of those danced in less formal settings. There is a list of 30 céilí dances which have been standardised and published in An Coimisiún's Ar Rinncidhe Foirne as examples of typical Irish folk dances; these are called the "book" dances by competitive stepdancers. Most stepdance competitions only ask for a short piece of any given figure dance, in the interests of time. Céilí (Irish reformed spelling), Cèilidh (Scottish reformed spelling), or Céilidh (older spelling in both languages), pronounced in either case, is the traditional Gaelic social dance in Ireland and Scotland. ...

Shoes and costume

Two types of shoes are worn in step dancing: hard shoes and soft shoes. The hard shoe is similar to tap shoes, except that the tips and heels are made of fiberglass, instead of metal, and are significantly bulkier. The first hard shoes had wooden or leather taps with metal nails. Later the taps and heels were changed into resin or fiberglass to reduce the weight and to increase the footwork sounds. The soft shoes, which are called ghillies, resembles a ballet shoe minus the hard toe and the ribbons for laces. Ghillies are only worn by girls while boys wear a black leather shoe which resembles a black jazz shoe with a hard heel. Boys soft-shoe dancing features audible heel clicks. Man tap dancing. ...

Several generations ago the appropriate dress for a competition was simply your "Sunday Best". In the 1980s ornately embroidered dresses became popular. Today even more ornamentation is used on girls' dresses, including lace, sequins, silk, extensive embroidery, feathers, and more. Irish Dancing schools have team dresses, but dancers, once they reach a level decided by their school, may get a solo dress of their own design and colors. Today most women and girls curl their hair or wear a wig for a competition or feis. Today in competition, most men wear a shirt, vest, and tie assigned by their school paired with black pants. But when they get into the higher levels, as the girls do, they get to pick their ow vest, shirt and tie.

Competition structure

An organized step dance competition is referred to as a feis (pronounced /ˈfɛʃ/, plural feiseanna). The word feis means "festival" in Irish, and strictly speaking would also have competitions in music and crafts. Féile (/ˈfeɪlə/) is a more correct term for the dance competition, but the terms may be used interchangeably. Dance competitions are divided by age and level of expertise.

An annual regional Championship competition is known as an oireachtas (/oʊˈrɒktəs/). Dancers from each age group may qualify for the World Championships. Qualifying for the World Championships, Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, (roughly translated to Irish Dance Championship of the World) varies slightly due to the competition or region. In the United States, dancers may qualify at either a Regional Oireachtas, or the North American Championships, which includes the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The World Championships have in years past only been held in Ireland, Northern Ireland, or Scotland, however in 2009, for the first time they will be held in the United States in Philadelphia. In modern Irish dance, the term Oireachtas (plural:Oireachtasai) refers to an annual championship competition. ...

There are a few different levels in competitive Irish Dancing: Beginner, Primary, Intermediate and Open. However in National competitions, you do not dance in levels but you dance with all of your age group.


  • Helen Brennan: The Story of Irish Dancing, Mount Eagle Publications Ltd., 1999 ISBN 0 86322 244 7
  • John Cullinane: Aspects of the History of Irish Céilí Dancing, The Central Remedial Clinic, Clontarf, Dublin 3,(1998), ISBN 0-952-79522-1
  • An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha: Ár Rincí Fóirne-Thirty Popular Céilí Dances, Westside Press (2003)
  • J. G. O' Keeffe, Art O' Brien: A Handbook of Irish Dances, 1. Edition, O'Donoghue & Co., (1902)[1]
  • Pat Murphy: Toss the Feathers - Irish Set Dancing, Mercier Press, 1995 ISBN 1-85635-115-7
  • Pat Murphy: The Flowing Tide - More Irish Set Dancing, Mercier Press, 2000 ISBN 1-85635-308-7

External links

General information

International, national, and regional Irish dance organizations

An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha / The Irish Dancing Commission (CLRG)

  Results from FactBites:
What is Irish Dance? (1435 words)
The "rince fada" [long dance] is actually a family of dances, one of which was described in the end of the 17th century as performed by "three persons moving abreast, each of which held the end of a white handkerchief, followed by the rest of the dancers in pairs".
In fact, dancing in a limited space was viewed as such an important aspect of the style that one of the greatest tributes to be paid to a dancer was to note that they could "dance on the top of a plate".
Set dances are danced flat on the feet, and generally avoid the leaps and traveling movements of the ceili dances, although the feet of some of the dancers from Cork and Kerry are only occasionally found near the floor.
The History of Irish Dance (1256 words)
It was not unknown for a dancing master to be kidnapped by the residents of a neighbouring parish.
Dancing schools in Ireland today are filled with young pupils keen to imitate and learn the dancing styles which brought Jean Butler and Michael Flatley international acclaim.
Dancing sessions at céilis are usually preceded by a teaching period where novices are shown the initial steps.
  More results at FactBites »



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