The growing popularity of Irish dancing: from Rinnce Fada to Tik Tok step dance

Irish dancing is taught all over the world and has been becoming particularly viral on TikTok. How has this popularity grown? Why is Irish dancing popular beyond Ireland? Let’s find it out!

Development of Irish dancing

Irish dancing, as we know it today, started to develop in the 17th century. Its first forms were influenced by foreign dances, such as French quadrilles. From the 1750s and until the early 20th century, dancing masters travelled from one village to another to teach Irish dancing. Dancing was often part of social occasions.

Irish dancing brought people from different social classes together! We can see from this excerpt: 

“They are at this day much addicted… to dance after their courtney fashions the long dance one after another of all conditions, Master, Mrs., servants.”

It was the first description of the Irish dance Rinnce Fada or “long dance” given by Thomas Dineley, who travelled across Ireland in 1681.

Gaelic League established in 1893 aimed to preserve Irish language and culture. Although there were at least three different kinds of Irish dancing, Gaelic League put an emphasis on Irish step dance. In 1897, Gaelic League organised the first “feis”, a cultural festival with dancing competitions. Their organisation was called An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha. 

Irish dancing abroad

In the 19th century, Irish people who moved abroad started to spread Irish step dance, mainly in North America and Australia. A bit later, in the early 20th century, Irish step dance schools start to emerge.

During the 20th century, Irish dance competitions also started to appear worldwide, and the Gaelic League was not the only one to organise them. Besides An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha, more organisations started to pop up all around the world.

Competitions all over the world

If you want to be an Irish dance teacher or judge at competitions, you should acquire a specific qualification. Although there are many dance organisations that can give you a certificate, An Coimisiún is the one that sets the structure of teaching and is accredited by other organisations.

One of the biggest competitions is “The World Championships”, or simply the “Worlds”. It first took place in Dublin in 1970, and since then the location moved between Glasgow, Belfast, London, Boston and so on.

COVID-19 affected the dance world, too. Shows and competitions were postponed, but it seems that now some competitions are back again, with safety precautions such as wearing masks and inviting a smaller audience. Still, it is great news for all the dancers who have been patiently waiting to participate in competitions for a long time!


Irish dancing owes its worldwide popularity to Riverdance. It is an interval show performed at the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest in Dublin. The song Riverdance was number one for 18 weeks straight in Ireland! The whole performance was so successful that John McColgan and Moya Doherty decided to turn it into a full show Jean Butler and Michael Flatley as the main dancers. Here you can read more about it.

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Riverdance started a whole new era of Irish dancing. Costumes and movements were inspired by it. Many people dreamed of seeing it or even being in the show. And it’s still on! Unfortunately, this year the show was postponed due to COVID-19, but next year you should definitely see it!

Irish dancing on social media?

Now that everything has been moved on to social media, including art and poetry, dance also found its place there. Tik Tok is famous for being a good place for dancers; everyone who loves dancing can learn a couple of movements and share them with friends. For some professional dancers, Tik Tok gave an opportunity to show their talents to a broader audience. 

This happened to Morgan Bullock, an African-American Irish dancer. She posted the videos of her Irish dancing on TikTok, and it quickly went viral. Morgan said she fell in love with Irish dancing at the age of ten, and since then she has been performing in the international events and competitions. She didn’t expect this huge success on social media, but now she is in every newspaper. She was even asked to perform in Riverdance next year!

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While some people were sceptical about whether she was “appropriating” Irish culture, the reception was mostly positive. Morgan is an example of a person who’s using her talent to share positive vibes and show the beauty of Irish dancing! Plus, she encourages other Black dancers who might be interested in Irish dance.

Another Irish dancer who recently went viral on TikTok is Mary Papageorge, a college student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her talent was noticed by celebrities, who even asked her to perform in a duet with them. One of them, for example, was NBC’s World of Dance judge Derek Hough.

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How has Irish dancing become so popular all over the world?

For the most part, its worldwide popularity emerged due to its ambassadors, no matter if they are travelling dancing masters, Irish immigrants, a touring show or dancers on Tik Tok. When people are able to see Irish dancing, they see how much practice it requires, how elaborate and mesmerising it is.

If you haven’t seen Irish dancing yet, you need to change it now! Make sure to watch the videos we attached and, if interested, find more of them on the Internet. Irish dancing is absolutely beautiful, do you agree?

Kamila Mushkina
Kamila Mushkina

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