History of Irish Dancing
The social, group dancing us known as ceili dancing. Solo dancing is known simply as solo dancing. Set dancing refers to a dance
choreographed [set] to a specific piece of music, and can be applied to both ceili and solo dancing.
Early dance consisted of three forms: the hay or hey, the rinnce fada, and the rinnce mor. The first, hey/hay comes from the
French 'haie'- stakes in a row or fence. It was used when refering to a line of dancers, similar to those seen in modern theatrical
productions. The next, the rinnce fada has been paralleled to, "...answering to the festal dancing of the Greeks [which] seems to have
been of the nature of the armed dance with which the Grecian youth amused themselves during the Siege of Troy" (The Wild
Irish Girl, 1806). The third and final, rinnce mor is described by John Playford, dance historian, as a "long dance for as many as will" (1651).
It is thought to have been a wild processional type of dance.
Set dancing has been taught by traveling dance-masters from as early as 1776. Orignially these instructors taught only solo
sets, but soon created group sets, for lesser skilled dancers. Since then variations can be found in the sets, depending upon
the county and part of Ireland the teacher is from.
Solo dances are to show simplicity and natural grace. The carriage of the body should be natural and relaxed. Arm movement is
discouraged in solo dancing, as the dancer is trained to display control and grace. Therefore, the arms are held straight against
the sides; with hand positions varying be dance instructor. The steps must be executed with accuracy and precision, but easily
without any effort. The dances done in standard solo competition are the: light reel, light jig, slip jig, treble jig, and hornpipe.
Special solo competitions may include the: hop jig, treble reel, and a solo set dance.
Most women in Ireland, until over a century ago, would have danced barefoot; which gave then a natural grace and lightness which
today's dancers strive to maintain. Girls began wearing softshoes, known as ghillies, in 1924 while dancing jigs, reels, and slip jigs. Men
worked on the land, and therefor wore hand-made rawhide shoes which were light and suitable for dancing. Fishermen on the coasts of
Ireland wore wooden soled shoes, and when teaching traditional music was outlawed, the rhythms of the various dance tunes were
maintained by tapping the hard shoes on the flag stones and tiles.
Today's modern Irish dancers were specially made 'hard shoes' and soft shoes. After black stockings were forbidden by the Church for
being seductive, female dancers switched to white socks- poodle socks- which are still worn today, especially in competition where they
contrast the black shoes. Tights are however slowly gaining popularity due to theatrical presentations.
There are no specific rules governing the design of step dancing. Traditional costumees are based on the simple princess cut dress. The
dresses are decorated with Celtic designs, reproduced from those seen in The Book of Kells,
The designs are created with
applique and emboidery. Colors have always been present to highlight the designs; today the term highlight is often overlooked,
as dancers asre trying to stand-out in competitions through the use of neons, lames, rhinestones, and sequins. The skirts are gored, box
pleated, split panel, or knife-edged- all to allow free leg movement. Skirt length is to be above the knee by no more than four inches as
regulated by An Comision.
Most dance schools and academies will have a school costume which all dancers at the school are asked to purchase and wear for
performances, and team/figure dances. When dancers start competing [they must follow school rules], they wear the school costume
until they advance [usually until they reach open prizewinner]. When a dancer reaches such an advanced competition level, he or she can now purchase a solo costume. These are designed by the
individual dancer and vary tremendously in appearence and price.
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