Ireland has a long history and still keeps many traditions and habits. One of them is traditional Irish dance. Lots of Irish inhabitants are part of some dance school, association or group. They practice this Irish dance and enjoy the communities. If you are an expat you will probably come into contact with this dance in some club or you will hear about it at least. If you weren’t lucky and you missed it, there is an opportunity for you to find out something about it.
History of Irish Dance
The first who arrived to Ireland and brought some new culture, customs and form of dancing were Gaels. They had their own preferred types of dance and music. After them, over two thousand years ago, Celts came to Ireland from central Europe. They carried their own folk dances and dresses with celtic design. With the approach of Christianity around 400 AD, custom, culture and as well dancing changed again.
In the 16th century three Irish dances appeared : the Irish Hey, the Rinnce Fada and the Trenchmore. It was performed in the great halls of the newly built castles. Some of them were even brought to the court of Queen Elizabeth. Dance was accompanied by music played on bagpipes and the harp.
The 18th century was also important for Irish dance. Dancing masters emerged in Ireland; they were wandering dance teachers traveled from village to village and teaching dance to peasants, which spread Irish culture throughout the island.
There are two main Irish dancing bodies now. The first is called the Irish Dancing Commission (An Coimisiun), and was formed in 1929. It includes regulation of teachers, rules of dance and judging of competition. The other one is Cogol (An Comhdhail), in which dance steps are often performed on traditional dances ‘by the book’.
Costumes today commemorate the clothing of the past. Each school has their own dancing costume. For women, there are dresses with hand-embroidered Celtic designs. Copies of the Tara brooch are often worn on the shoulder. For every woman, a beautiful hairstyle is also important. Men usually wear a plain kilt and jacket, with a folded cloak draped from the shoulder. Women as well as men have hornpipe shoes, and for reels and jigs, soft shoes similar to ballet pumps.
Darren and Ryan Morris, CelticCafe
There are also dancing competitions and championships. The Feis is a competition which has existed for a long time. It was popular in rural, cultural life. Children, teenagers and adults attended in group and solo competitions for the Feis title and prize. It was very highly esteemed to have won this award.
The World Dancing Championship takes place in Ireland in spring every year. The best dancers of every four provinces compete in Dublin to be the best of all Ireland. Dancers come from England, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
World-wide success in Irish dance is Riverdance. It is the international Irish dance phenomenon, originated as an interval performance act during 1994. Ohe show in the style of Riverdance, by Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, is called ‘Lord of the Dance.’ They did a tour and brought Irish dance to the international stage.
Jean Butler and Michael Flatley
There are many styles of Irish dancing. The most popular of them is Céili that originally means to gather neighbours to enjoy: dancing, playing music and storytelling. Today it refers to an informal evening of dancing as well as a type of Irish dance. Sean Nos is a very traditional style. It is mostly known and danced in Connemara, Co. Galway. Another one, for example, is Set dancing that is usually performed in couples. Every style has its own specification but each one has the same or similar origin and basic.
Everybody can learn any of the Irish dance styles. There are many Irish dance schools around Ireland. For example Cabe Academy of Irish Dance in Castleknock, Dublin as well as dance school in Galway or Cork. There is also a one-year postgraduate programme at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, University of Limerick. It is the only programme of this type in the world. You can learn a dance performances practices as well historical, theoretical and dance performance contexts. Or you can go just to some Céili event and share your dance passion with other dancers.