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Influence on Irish Dancing

The coming of Christianity to Ireland had a profound influence on all aspects of Irish culture, which are self-evident even today if one stops for a moment to think on them. One of these areas is the area of Irish step and ceili dancing. This is just a brief writing on it because it popped into my head, but I will later write up an even more detailed page on it!

For starters, the first thing one may notice even just from watching Riverdance is that the dancers hold their arms firmly at their sides. The reason for this...? Well, there is much argument and lore in the Irish dance community on this, but it seems very popular in belief that the Catholic church suppressed the arm movements because it made the women look sexually alluring. So, putting their arms on their hips or any other similar arm movements were frowned upon and put to an end.

Also, "traditional" Gaelic costumes are heavy velvet dresses with Celtic knotwork all over them. Although these dresses are a twentieth century invention, the designs on these dresses use to come from the Book of Kells, but anymore, it appears to be more "loosely based" on the Book of Kells. The dresses contain symbolic meanings and convictions, like the triknot for their belief in the Holy Trinity. Some even have images of the Saints on their capes or a High Cross on the front panel. These dresses are delicate works of art, just like the illuminated manuscripts were in their time.

When the pope allowed King Henry II of England to in effect rule over Ireland in the hopes of converting it to true Catholicism rather than just uncontrolled Christianity, this was the beginning of British oppression. The Irish eventually turned to the French for help. This is where some of the ancient ceili dances come from - the French quadrilles that were performed in the courts of the French kings. The hornpipe also came from the Shakespearean stages in Britain. In turn for helping the Irish try to rid their land of the British, some set dances were named after the French by the common people, such as "Downfall of Paris," "Madame Bonaparte," and numerous others. They are still performed even today by Irish dancers all around the globe.

Anything else you can think for me to add? Email me.

Last updated on 28th November 2000.