Dancing through Time: Irish Step Dancing’s Evolution and Impact

Exclusively available on PapersOwl
Updated: Aug 02, 2023
Cite this
Date added
Pages:  6
Words:  1815
Order Original Essay

How it works

Celebrating a Legacy: The 2,000-Year Evolution of Irish Step Dancing from Druid Rituals to Modern Tradition

Irish Step Dancing is a foundation of Irish culture not only in Ireland but abroad of Ireland, where it has an abundant 2,000-year history and still flourishes today, creating a positive impact on Mahoning County. As for the early history of Irish Dancing, there are only a few indistinct references regarding it, but, however, it is known that the first people to practice Irish Dancing were the Druids.

Need a custom essay on the same topic?
Give us your paper requirements, choose a writer and we’ll deliver the highest-quality essay!
Order now

The druids danced in religious rituals, which were known for honoring the oak tree and the sun. It has been detected that their circular dances still endure today. The Celts arrived from central Europe thousands of years ago. When they arrived, they carried their own unique dances. Naturally, music co-existed with Dancing and commonly took place at religious gatherings, celebrations, or other special occasions.

When the Normans settled in the 12th century, they brought Dance along with them, which is known to be one of their native customs. An example of an extensive Norman dance was the “Carol.” This Dance was performed in vanquished Irish towns and was the first anciently recorded Dance in Ireland. The Carol dance included the following: one singer who was placed in the center of a circle of dancers, who then followed the singer and danced accordingly to the song. For the next few centuries, dancing inherently progressed. Three main Irish dances are mentioned in sixteenth-century writing, which is known to be the Irish Hey, the Rinnce Fada, which is more commonly known as the long Dance, and the Trenchmore. It wasn’t until later, around the 18th century, that Irish Step Dancing evolved into the tradition we’re familiar with today. (‘The History Of Irish Dance’) This was all down to the arrival of the Dancing Master. The Dancing Master was a teacher who voyaged between villages and towns and, while doing so, held lessons for peasants.

Dancing Through Tradition and Defiance: The Modernization of Irish Step Dancing and its Cultural Significance

This is how group dances came to be; it was a simple way to have all people in a dancing class involved in one Dance. The best dancers from each group were given a specific section of the song for their very own solo. Those dancers were given the title of ‘soloists.’ Modern dance competition became from the firm rivalry between different Dancing Masters. In 1893, an organization known as the Gaelic League was founded in order to promote and encourage most, if not all, of Irish culture in Ireland. In 1893, The League created a configuration of modern Irish step dancing that would be a native and systemized form of Dance, which is clearly Irish Dance. In 1929, the Irish Dancing Commission (An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha) called re-created versions of the popular dances’ céilí dances. They were created especially to complement modern step dancing and were danced in social settings with gusto. There are three main types of Irish dancing routines; set dancing routines, social or céilí routines, and sean nós or step routines.

The style is formal in all cases, and the key is little upper body movement and precise, quick foot movement. A strict number of steps is also focal due to the limited space performers would have had in the early centuries of Irish Dance (Claddagh). One of the key features of Irish Dancing is the way dancers maintain a rigid upper body and keep their arms by their sides while dancing. As many of the contemporary and show dance styles of Irish Dance have a more relaxed upper body and make use of the arms (‘Why Do Irish Dancers Have Straight Arms? – Antonio Pacelli’). There is very little amounts of information as to why this is. However, speculation suggests that the English occupation of Ireland and the subsequent suppression of Irish culture played an important and significant role. (Gavigan). One notion submits that Queen Elizabeth I enjoyed the Irish jigs, for they are known to be danced in her court. The queen’s dancers might have been acting in defiance, as they kept their arms to their sides, possibly signifying they were not quite enjoying themselves dancing for the English. (Mosley). Their defiance would be natural after the suppression they had been liable to for centuries since Irish culture was outlawed by the Statute of Kilkenny in the 14th century. However, considering this law, strangely, the Irish were still called to perform their own dances.

Dancing in Secrecy and Competition: The Intricacies of Irish Step Dancing and its Governing Norms

Other stories relating to the English tell how the Irish would go into pubs and dance behind the bar with their upper body straight in order to hide the fact they were dancing. A variation on this tells how they danced in their gardens with their legs behind the hedges. For all one knows, this reference to hedges has been slightly misunderstood throughout time, referring to secret schools where Irish culture was taught in secrecy during the suppression, also known as “Hedge Schools.” (Gavigan).In Irish Dancing, there are two categories that are broader, known as solo and group dances, which split into subcategories, which refer to the type of shoe worn. Reels are believed to be the most graceful of the dances, and they are soft shoe dances. As for Hornpipes are danced in hard shoes. Three jigs are danced in competition; the light jig, the single jig, which is also called the Hop jig, and the treble jig, which is also called the double jig. Light and single jigs are soft shoe dances, while the treble jig is a hard shoe.

The last type of jig is the slip jig. There are many dances, which steps vary between schools. The traditional set dances (danced in hard shoes) like St. Patrick’s Day, among others, are the only dances that all schools have the same steps. The actual steps in Irish stepdance are usually distinctive to each school or dance instructor. Steps are expanded and developed by Irish dance teachers, specifically for students of their own school. Each Dance is sculpted out of the same elements or steps, but the Dance itself is unique. For this reason, videotaping competitions are forbidden under the rules of An Coimisiun. “A Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha” is the global governing body for competitive Irish Step Dancing. Group dances called céilí dances, are also informally known as figure dances. Competitive céilís are similar to, but much more precise versions of, the festive group dances experienced in social gatherings.

Tradition and Innovation: The Categories, Techniques, and Unique Steps of Competitive and Social Irish Step Dancing

There is a list of 30 céilí dances that have been standardized and published in An Coimisiun’s Ar Rince Ceili (which replaced Ár Rinncidhe Foirne in 2015) as examples of traditional Irish folk dances. Most céilí dances in the competition are significantly shortened in consideration of time. Many step dancers never learn the entire Dance, as they never get to the end of the Dance. Other céilí dances are not standardized, such as in local competitions where figure dances may consist of two or three dancers. These are choreographed as a blend of both traditional céilí dancing and solo dancing. Some dance schools recognized by An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha place as much emphasis on céilí dancing as on solo Dancing, diligently rehearsing the dances as written in the book, striving for perfect interpretation.

At competitions, the judges critique the dancers not only their performance, which is primarily what they are critiquing, but they also examine the dancers’ presentation. In every level of competition, the dancers must wear either hard shoes or soft shoes. Boys and girls wear very distinctive costumes, and the girl dancers must wear white socks, called poodle socks, or black tights. In the 1980s, ornately embroidered velvet became popular. Other materials include gabardine and wool. Competition dresses have changed in many ways since Irish Dance first appeared, though. Today many different fabrics are used, including lace, sequins, silk, embroidered organzas, etc. Velvet has also become popular but in multiple colors with modern embroidery. The commission dresses have stiff skirts which can be stiffened with Vilene and are embroidered. At advanced levels where dancers can qualify for Major competitions, solo costumes help each dancer show their sense of style and enable them to stand out among a crowd.

Embodying Tradition: Irish Step Dancing’s Impact on Mahoning County and Continuation of a Cultural Legacy

The dancers can also choose to have a solo dress made especially for them with their choice of colors, fabrics, and designs. Some known designers include Gavin Doherty, Siopa Rince, and Elevations. Since the dresses are handmade with pricey materials and are measured to each dancer’s body specifically, the dresses can cost anywhere between $600 and $4,000.Locally, Irish Step Dancing has made its impact. There’re competitive Irish Step Dancers in Mahoning County who compete with other schools at competitions. The Burke School of Irish Dance, located in Youngstown, has a long tradition of excellence. Burke was founded in 1958 by Theresa Burke. The school now operates in three locations; Cleveland, Youngstown, and Pittsburgh. She embodied the Irish spirit in the valley.

As a community with a large Irish population, it is vital that the traditions and customs of every constituent are represented within the community. Irish Step Dancing is rich in tradition and ethnicity. It’s purely Irish, as the same techniques and foundations laid out by the Celts and Druids are still implemented today. Many people are ignorant of the notion that Irish Step Dancing goes further than St. Patrick’s Day; it is a very deeply rooted and marginalized form of communication, representation, and embodiment of Irish history, tradition, and culture. Along with being the representation of the Irish people, Irish Step Dancing continues to evolve and write the subsequent chapters in Irish history, having a positive impact on Mahoning County.


  1. “The History of Irish Dance.” Author or publication not specified, possibly a book or article.
  2. Claddagh Design. A possible source related to the design and traditional symbols of Irish culture.
  3. Antonio Pacelli. “Why Do Irish Dancers Have Straight Arms?” – An article or blog post discussing the posture and stance in Irish dance.
  4. Gavigan, C. Specific information about the author and publication could not be determined from the text.
  5. Mosley, A. Specific details not provided, possibly a historian or author specializing in Irish culture.
  6. “A Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha.” Official governing body for competitive Irish Step Dancing.
  7. “Ar Rince Ceili.” An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, 2015. A standardized list of traditional Irish folk dances.
  8. The Statute of Kilkenny, 1366. Historic legislation pertaining to Irish culture and its suppression.
  9. The Burke School of Irish Dance. Historical and contemporary reference for the school’s foundation and locations.
The deadline is too short to read someone else's essay
Hire a verified expert to write you a 100% Plagiarism-Free paper

Cite this page

Dancing Through Time: Irish Step Dancing's Evolution and Impact. (2023, Aug 02). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/dancing-through-time-irish-step-dancings-evolution-and-impact/