The world of Irish dance today is varied and vibrant. Dances are either solo or in groups and are put on for performance, competitive or purely social reasons.
The incoming Gaels and Celts brought distinctive dance styles to the island. But it was really in the 18th century, with the arrival of the ‘dancing master’ and the emergence of the distinctive hornpipe rhythm alongside the introduction of the fiddle, that the Irish dance we know to today developed.
Irish step dance
The most famous style is undoubtedly step dance, with its characteristic contrast of a rigid upper body and rapid, intricate footwork.
Dancers wear either hard or soft-soled shoes, but for many, the former are most well known thanks to the loud, rhythmic clicks they produce. Costumes – particularly the girls’ dresses – have become increasingly ornate and traditional Celtic motifs feature prominently.
Irish heritage and identity
This new style of dance became an important means for emigrants to keep in touch with their Irish heritage and identity. In the 19th and 20th centuries, step dance competitions sprang up throughout America. Canada, Australia and New Zealand quickly followed suit.
Riverdance & Irish Dancers
Step dance was given another huge boost from the mid 1990s with the popularity of the Broadway show, Riverdance.
First performed in 1994 during the Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin, it went on to become the global phenomenon it remains today.
Céilídh, or social dance
The other important dance tradition is the céilídh, or social dance. Performed by between two and sixteen people, or by an unlimited number of couples, the céilí revolves around a set of traditional formations. In a social setting, céilís are often "called" with the upcoming steps announced during the dance. Céilí dances are typically accompanied by traditional instruments such as the Irish fiddle.
Forms of Irish dance
There are thousands of traditional irish dance schools which cover all over the following types of dancing:
- Set dance / Group dances
- Folk dances
- Slip jig
- Solo dancing
- Sean nós dance
Find out about other Celtic Dancing: