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Forum: Irish / Irish - Technique & Training

Irish - Technique & Training
Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By DancerTonitePremium member Comments: 518, member since Mon Aug 22, 2005
On Wed Mar 12, 2008 06:42 PM

I attended a performance of Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance recently. There is something about irish dancing that I've always wondered about...how come there is so little emphasis on upper body movement, arm movement, etc.?

Is it something in the history and tradition of the dance that makes it so? Coming from a american dance background I find it so odd to not see the upper body move. And really, I would just like to know more about it...

15 Replies to Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About

re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By Irishdancegrlmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 577, member since Sat Mar 11, 2006
On Wed Mar 12, 2008 07:05 PM
There's alot of speculation why we don't move our upper body. The most accepted one is that priests stopped the dancers from moving the upper body. They would have them put their hands in a fist on the hip or their sides to help ephisize the feet and encourae move complex steps.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By lorna_doonemember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 1380, member since Tue Sep 12, 2006
On Wed Mar 12, 2008 07:15 PM
^Good answer.

Also, what I've heard is that if we did a lot of movements with our arms, people would be distracted from looking at just the feet.

Ballerinas have one, flowing motion, their head, upper torso, legs, feet -everything is graceful and flowing.

ID (especially in heavies) from the waist down is very powerful, loud, etc.- if we were doing things with our hands or arms, the audience would become easily distracted because in heavy rounds, everything is powerful and somewhat choppy. Choppiness is not a bad thing in heavy ID, it's just putting more emphasis on everything to make each sound sound more deliberate.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By reeldansr Comments: 290, member since Mon May 16, 2005
On Wed Mar 12, 2008 07:33 PM
I have heard several different explanations for why we don't use arms, some of which seem more legitimate than others. I think ultimately, we really don't know.

1. The priest explanation per above, however, I was told that during the oppression of Irish culture, they thought that the arms should be kept down, because it would minimize the "lewdness" of dancing or the sensual aspect of it, not because of the complexity of the steps...

2. That it had something to do with swords. Back in the "old" days, when men used to wear swords around their waists, they would have to clamp their arms down at their sides (over the sword) to prevent it from swinging around and causing damage while they were dancing.

3. Again, the oppression of Ireland. Another theory is that people danced with their hands at their sides so that when soldiers walked by people's houses, they wouldn't be able to see that people were dancing through the windows. It was more discreet, and allowed people to continue traditions when Irish dancing could not be displayed in public.

4. It has something to do with the way dancing used to be taught. Dancing masters would travel all over Ireland, teaching from town to town, and in addition to dancing, supposedly they also taught proper manners: behavior, posture, etc. The question is: did the dancing master teach the straight posture with arms at sides to make his job easier and "kill two birds with one stone" so to speak? Did he become confused and combine the two? Did the kids/students end up combining the two naturally?

Anywho.... those are several things I've heard. I'm sure there are other theories out there as well. To be honest, I don't think we really know why the arms are the way they are in Irish dancing. Irish dancing has had a very strong oral tradition over the years. It was also highly regionalized until very recently, so everyone has their own explanation for why things are.

Just my $0.02!

RD
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By irish_dancer_82 Comments: 545, member since Tue Feb 01, 2005
On Thu Mar 13, 2008 05:34 AM
I heard all of those above, plus this one:
dancing was a social thing and people gathered at croos roads or in houses, when the weather was bad. Since the houses weren't really large, there wasn't any room to move the arms around (nor the legs too much, hence no sideward movements like in ballet.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By hornpiper Comments: 204, member since Tue Sep 16, 2003
On Thu Mar 13, 2008 05:56 AM
I've heard different explanations for the "arm thing" including balancing beer so it won't spill,but the one that makes some sense is this: when the Dance Masters would travel from house to house teaching steps to the people they would have to take the doors down for a surface to dance upon. The floors were made of dirt so this would make a spot where the percussive sounds are able to be heard and it's also such a tiny surface in such a crowded area the arms would probably bump into the residents constantly if you didn't keep them controlled in some way. I guess with all those people in those little houses it would also make it cooler inside.

What do you think?
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By oooshinymember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 1876, member since Wed Dec 12, 2007
On Thu Mar 13, 2008 09:00 AM
Those are all the ones I've heard. The one I've heard the most was the theory that if a soldier walked by the window all they would see was someone jumping up and down.

The second most frequently-heard one, in my epxerience, was the door idea: dance masters took down the doors of houses to teach heavy dances and since the doors were narrow and the rooms were crowded it was only natural to keep your arms a bit stiff.

Like everyone's already said, it's all speculation. No one knows for sure :)
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By rallyhopbackPremium member Comments: 2969, member since Fri Jan 09, 2004
On Thu Mar 13, 2008 02:03 PM
There were parts of Ireland where putting your hands on your hips was the accepted norm - but then there was confusion form outsiders about whether these dancers were Highland dancers or Irish dancers. In an effort to make the distinction clear, hands down were considered more appropriate.
I've also heard a similar reason why boy wear (wore) solid color kilts. At one time they wore plaid kilts but didn't like getting referred to as Scots. But they didn't want to wear breeches because that is what the English wore. So they chose solid color kilts as the norm.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By katusmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 411, member since Wed Jan 31, 2007
On Thu Mar 13, 2008 11:40 PM
I've only heard a few of those- and one that i've also heard is that the women serving at bars weren't allowed to join in with the men dancing, so they kept their arms down and danced behind the counter.
i've also heard another one like the soldier one- that the irish hosuses used to have those doors which the bottom and the top could open separately. sometimes the bottomw would be closed, but they left the top one open for a breeze- so when they did this, they kept their arms down so people walking apst couldn't tell they were dancing.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By minipoppy Comments: 139, member since Sun Jan 30, 2005
On Fri Mar 14, 2008 08:51 AM
I have a book about the history of irish dance, and in it, it says that dancing was banned by apriest and members of high society during the 17th or 18th cent (can't remember exactly) stating that the form of dance the irish were performing was too free and the mix between the genders was not acceptable. so they banned it for a time. the people still carried on the dancing in secret but only using the lower half of their body, so that if someone were to walk past their window for example, it would seem that they were not moving, let alone dancing, but in reality they were just from the waist down. this then carried on as a tradition as we know today, as it was seen as an elegant and controlled way of dancing. it showed that the irish dancer had pois and control whilst still having power.

nicky xxx
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By GraniaPremium member Comments: 599, member since Wed Dec 12, 2001
On Wed Mar 19, 2008 06:25 PM
It was an act of defiance against the British...or so I've heard.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By irishgal1211 Comments: 48, member since Tue Aug 01, 2006
On Fri Apr 04, 2008 11:01 PM
I've heard that the British wouldn't allow dancing, therefore the irish stopped moving there arms, and claimed that wasn't dancing! There are sooooo many reasons people have that it is hard to say which one(s) are true!
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By seannettaPremium member Comments: 2132, member since Fri Jul 28, 2006
On Sat Apr 05, 2008 09:00 AM
One thing to keep in mind, too, is that the arms have become much more formalized over the years.

It is likely that, 'back in the day,' the arms weren't as stiff as they are now. If you've ever seen Sean Nos (old-style) Irish dance, or Canadian (Ottawa Valley or Cape Breton) stepdance, they don't have arm movements per se but they do let their arms swing naturally as they dance, just loosely at their sides.

(This guy is a good example:
www.youtube.com . . .)

ID more than likely used these calm-but-loose arms in the beginning, and then slowly over the years it's evolved to a completely straight, immobile arm.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By DancerTonitePremium member Comments: 518, member since Mon Aug 22, 2005
On Thu May 01, 2008 11:13 AM
I finally made it back to this to read the replies......thank you so so much!
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By FeisForFoodmember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 2902, member since Mon Jul 17, 2006
On Thu May 01, 2008 11:38 AM
I just got up and tried doing a little treble reel with my arms swinging "naturally." They got tired and dropped down to my sides straight. Haha.
re: Irish Dance Question that I've Always Wondered About en>fr fr>en
By ctfeismom Comments: 50, member since Tue Aug 07, 2007
On Wed Jun 18, 2008 08:55 PM
well i have heard many stories from my teacher and the one that makes sense is when irish dance started in ireland-people were not suppose to be dancing. they would have the doors that were split in half so you could open the top bottom or both. when they wanted to dance they would open the top so the police wouldn't barg in and to make it seem like they were not dancing they won't move there arms. my teacher has told me other stories too but i dont really remember the rest of them.

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