Forum: Irish / Irish

All About Irish Dance (karma: 15)
By IseultPremium member
On Sat Nov 26, 2005 08:17 PM
Made sticky by Theresa (28613) on 2005-11-26 21:30:02 Your fabulous! Contest winner, 11/23/05
Made unsticky by Theresa (28613) on 2006-12-18 19:00:34

All About Irish Dance

Note: The information I have provided mainly applies to North American dancers under the organization of An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha. A few facts about level and competitions may be slightly different in other parts of the world, and in different Irish dance organizations.

Basic Info
Irish step dancing is characterized by a stiff upper body and arms, while your lower half does all of the work. It can be done competitively, or just for fun! Irish dance was made very popular by the show “Riverdance,” which highlights Irish dancing, as well as various other forms of dance.

Who can learn Irish dance?
Anyone who has an interest in Irish dancing can learn. And contrary to what some believe, you don’t have to be Irish! You can be any size or shape, and any age. Most schools enroll children as young as four or five years and many teach adult classes.

How to find a school
If you want to learn Irish dancing, the first thing you need to do is find a school. There are hundreds of schools all over the world. A simple search online will easily find one. Sometimes dance schools will list in local phone books. If none of these methods work, feel free to hop on over to the Irish section and ask the dancers there if they know of a school close to you!

If you want to be able to compete in competitions, your dance teacher must be certified under one of the many Irish dancing organizations. To do this, they have to pass a rigorous exam that includes dancing, teaching, and writing. There are many teachers who are not certified, so make sure you ask your teacher if he/she is before joining the school.

The three largest organizations a teacher can be certified under are:

1. An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha -
2. Comhdháil Múinteoiri Na Rinci Gaelacha (a.k.a. An Comhdháil) -
3. Cumann Rince Naisiunta (a.k.a. CRN) - . . .

There are many other smaller organizations as well.

Class Attire
Most Irish dancers wear a pair of shorts and a t-shirt to class. Some schools have dress codes. The proper dance shoes are almost always required in class. However, when you are just starting out, wait for your teacher’s instructions on where and when to purchase the proper shoes.

The Dances
There are many different types of dances in Irish dance. Each of these dances, except for the traditional sets, is choreographed by teachers for the dancers only in their school. Each dance usually progresses with difficulty as a dancer progresses in ability and competition level. Some dances, such as the non-traditional sets, are usually only performed by the upper level dancers. In most dances, a step is performed on the right and left foot.

The light shoe dances are: Reels, Single Jigs, Light Jigs, and Slip Jigs. These dances are done in the light shoes, or ghillies, which have a soft leather upper with a hard leather or suede bottom.

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Boys wear a jazz shoe with heels that they click together to make noise when they dance.

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Reels have an upbeat tempo and usually consist of many jumps and a lot of movement. They are done from the beginner level into championships.

Single Jigs and Light Jigs are much simpler dances than reels. They are done from the beginner to the novice and/or prizewinner levels.

The Slip Jig is a dance done by females only. It is a very graceful dance, but strong movements must also be done like in the reel. It is danced from the beginner into championship level.

The hard shoe dances are: Treble Jig, Hornpipe, Treble Reel, traditional sets, and non-traditional sets. These dances are done in “hard shoes” - which have a soft leather upper with a hard leather or suede bottom, and fiberglass tips and heels. The tips and heels allow the shoes to make sound.

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The treble jig and hornpipe are very rhythmic dances done from adv. beginner into the championship levels. Dancers start out with a faster, “traditional” speed jig or hornpipe, which are usually very simple in choreography. As a dancer progresses, they begin to dance at a “slow” speed, which allows for more moves with more time.

The treble reel is a reel danced in hard shoes. It is a fun dance that can be done by all levels.

Traditional sets are dances that have been passed along by teachers for many generations. Dancers from different schools all do the same dance.

Non-traditional sets are tunes from a set list that teachers may choreograph their own dance to. Non-traditional sets are typically only danced in the championship levels.

Each dance has a different type of song that is played for it (usually by an accordion or fiddle). For reels, a reel tune is played. For hornpipes, a hornpipe tune is played, etc.

Ceili dances are group dances done by pairs of 2, 4, 6, 8, or more dancers from a set list of ceilis. In ceili, coordination, sharpness of movements, and keeping lines straight are very important.

If a dancer is registered as a student under a certified teacher, they may compete in “feiseanna." At feiseanna, a dancer can perform specified dances for a judge, who places the best dancers in the competition, and sometimes gives comments to help the dancers improve. This is the only way a dancer can move up in level. Boys and girls compete separately, except for in preliminary championships. Competitions are provided from the beginner level up to the top levels. Music and art competitions are sometimes provided as well.

The competition levels for feiseanna in North America are:

1. Beginner - A competitor who has not taken a full year of Irish Dance lessons. A Beginner must move into the Advanced Beginner category the next year. However, a teacher may move a dance up sooner if he/she feels that the dancer is ready.
2. Advanced Beginner - An advanced beginner who wins 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place will advance to the Novice category in that particular dance.
3. Novice - A novice who wins a 1st place will advance to the Open (Prizewinner) category in that particular dance.
4. Open Prizewinner - A competitor who does not qualify as a Beginner, Advanced Beginner or as a Novice. Dancers must achieve certain placements, which usually vary by school, in all of their dances before moving up into Preliminary championships. Many schools require the dancer to win a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place in each dance, while others require a 1st place in all dances.
5. Preliminary Championships - Once a dancer wins two first places in preliminary championships, they may move into open championships.
6. Open Championships - the very top level.

Dancers who reach the higher levels can (at teacher’s discretion) attend Regional competitions (Oireachtas), and can try to qualify for Nationwide competitions and the World Championships.

The Costumes
When a female dancer first begins competing, they usually do not purchase a fancy costume. Beginners usually will wear a simple blouse and skirt, or a beginner costume made by their school.

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When a female dancer decides that she wants to stay with Irish dance, or she reaches a certain level required by the teacher, she can get a school costume. These costumes have a school logo or design on them. Some schools do not have school costumes, and instead, the dancer goes straight to buying a solo costume.

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When the female dancer advances to a certain level specified by their school, they can purchase a solo costume. Solo costumes are very ornate, and are unique to every dancer. They are worn especially in the championship levels.

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Boy’s attire is much simpler. Most boys wear a black or colorful shirt with black trousers. Many choose to wear ties, cummerbunds, or vests.

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Occasionally, a boy may opt to wear a kilt. The kilt used to be worn by all boys several years ago, but now it is very rare.

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Beginning female dancers have many options. They can wear their hair natural, pulled off of the face, or in a wig or bun.

More advanced dancers usually wear either a wig or a curly bun, with a crown and/or tiara in front.

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Male dancers have no hair requirements, although it is preferred that they look neat and clean.

Irish dancers also wear white, bubbly, “poodle socks.” They are pulled up, then glued onto the legs with body adhesive to ensure that they will stay up. Some older dancers opt to wear black tights instead.

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A current trend in competition is to apply sunless tanner to the legs to help define the muscles and create contrast between the white socks and the legs.

Most Irish dancers wear some makeup in competition. Heavy makeup is only encouraged at major competitions such as regionals, nationals, or worlds, where it is needed on the large stages with bright lights.

Learn a Basic Move!
Before you learn your first move in Irish dance, you must know the basic techniques for Irish dance.

Basic Techniques include:
- Hold arms straight down at the sides. Hands are kept in fists, with palms facing inward towards your thighs.
- Always keep your back straight when dancing.
- Keep toes pointed when you lift your leg off of the ground.
- Keep toes turned out towards your side.
-Cross legs over at the knees.

Find your starting position:
1. Begin with heels together.
2. Separate your feet at the toes so that the right foot points towards the right and the left foot points towards the left.
3. Move your right foot in front of your left so that your legs are crossed and the toe of your left foot is not visible from behind your right foot. This is the position you always will start from.

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Now, rise up onto the balls of your feet, keeping in your starting position. This will be your main position when you dance. Remember to always turn your toes out towards the sides, and stay crossed at your knees.

Now, it’s time to learn that move! This is called a “hop 123." It is usually the first move a dancer learns in Irish dancing.

1. Stand in the starting position, and rise onto the balls of your feet.
2. Bend your right leg back so that your right foot is close to kicking your rear. Your knee should point down towards the floor. Hop on your left foot in this position.
3. Put your right foot down as far as you can comfortably put it in front of your back foot.
4. Bring your back foot forward to meet behind your right foot so that you are in starting position again.
5. Step forward with your front foot.

Repeat on the left foot, then right foot, and so on.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask us on the Irish board! We would love to help and answer any that you have!

10 Replies to All About Irish Dance

re: All About Irish Dance
By reelcanadiangirlPremium member
On Sat Nov 26, 2005 08:26 PM
Awesome post Iseult!! This should be made a sticky!
The only random thing I could think to add to that is that feis is pronounced "fesh" (the things I think of...)
Nicely done!
re: All About Irish Dance
By Rosiemember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sun Nov 27, 2005 10:36 AM
Nice post! Very informative, especially to people who have no idea what irish dancing even is...which many people on don't. Great job, and congratulations for winning the contest!
re: All About Irish Dance
By pure_dance101
On Sun Nov 27, 2005 10:43 AM
oOo You won the contest!! Go You!! Haha..
Very informative post, I think it covers absolutely everything a non-IDer would need to know.
Love the photos as well.
re: All About Irish Dance
By DanceForCraic
On Sun Nov 27, 2005 06:10 PM
Nice job, Kelly! That was a very informative post, definitely some good info in there for Irish-dancers-to-be. BTW, I miss you girl!
re: All About Irish Dance
By mango2
On Wed Dec 07, 2005 05:23 PM
Wow! Great post...very informative :D What brand of hardshoes are in the picture?
re: All About Irish Dance
By IseultPremium member
On Sat Dec 17, 2005 08:55 PM
^ Thanks! The hardshoes in the picture are Fays grey suede soles.

I miss you too Aisling!!
re: All About Irish Dance
By KeepOnSinginPremium member
On Fri Dec 30, 2005 11:50 PM
Thnaks...I have wanted to try Irish since last year when I saw some on TV - And I'm hopefully going to start in January.
re: All About Irish Dance
By xXxstumblexXx
On Sun Jan 15, 2006 11:44 PM
great post theres stuff in there i didnt no so thanx for givin me some more info

cya lindsey
re: All About Irish Dance
By dance_inthe_rain
On Thu Jan 19, 2006 12:05 PM
ive had a few irish dance lessons when i was little at a day for dance thingy. i fink tht its a reali lush style of dance and i wud love to start
i also fink ur costumes are very pretty
re: All About Irish Dance
By Cadbury_Eatermember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Sun Jan 22, 2006 08:36 PM
This is a great post! Now I know exactly what Irish dance is.

Karma for you!


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