Irish Dance is the collective name for the form of dance which developed in Ireland. Irish Dance is divided into social dances, called Ceilis and solo dances which are used for performance and competition. Ceili dances can also be used for competition but solo dances are far more common. Irish Solo dancing has been popularized by shows like Riverdance, and what was once a little known cultural activity has become a competitive and demanding sport.
Irish Solo Dancing
Irish Solo Dancing Footwear
Irish solo dances are performed in two types of shoes. Soft shoes, and hard shoes, which are also called hornpipe shoes. The soft shoes for girls, also called ghillies or pumps, are made of soft black leather and have four pairs of loops along the sides. The laces are crossed back and forth across the foot through these loops and tied around the ankle. Soft shoes for boys are similar to jazz shoes. Hard shoes are identical for boys and girls. They have fiberglass heels and tips, which are used to make the percussive steps. Girls wear white bobble socks called poodle socks which can range in length from mid-calf to knee length.
Irish Solo Dances
There are three basic soft shoe dances, the Light Jig, the Reel, and the Slip Jig. The Reel is usually the first dance that new dancers learn. It is danced to a Reel, a tune in 4/4 timing, which is played around a tempo of 117. Precision, speed, and "snap" or spring are all important characteristics of the Reel. The Light Jig is usually the second dance which dancers learn, although it may be learned first, with the reel then coming second. The Light Jig is danced to Jig music, music in 6/8 timing at an average tempo of 116. The Light Jig must demonstrate an easy springiness and flexibility. The Slip Jig is the third soft shoe dance that a dancer learns. Only girls and very young boys dance the Slip Jig. The Slip Jig music is in 9/8 timing and is played at a tempo of 119. Since the Slip Jig is primarily a girls' dance, it must be very smooth, graceful, and controlled.
There are several standard hard shoe dances. They are the Hornpipe, the Treble Jig, and the Treble Reel. Students usually learn the Hornpipe or Treble Jig as their first hard shoe dance. Hornpipe music is in 4/4 timing and can be played at two different tempos, fast or slow. The Treble Jig is danced to Jig music at a tempo of 73. A good dancer will use their hard shoes like a musical instrument, tapping louder on the accented beats of the music.
1. Beginner: A dancer who has not taken Irish dancing lessons from a registered teacher prior to September 1 of the previous year.
2. Advanced Beginner: Dancers remain in this category until they win a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in a given dance. For that dance only they then advance to the Novice category.
3. Novice: Dancers remain in this category until they win a 1st place in a given dance. For that dance only they then advance to the Open category.
4. Prizewinner: This is the last solo category. After this dancers move into Preliminary and then Open Championship competitions.
5. Preliminary Championship: A dancer who has placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, in the reel, slip jig, treble jig and hornpipe in Prizewinner Solos may choose to enter Preliminary Championship.
6. Intermediate Championship: A recently added category to bridge a growing gap between Preliminary and Open Championship dancers.
7. Open Championship: A dancer who has placed first in 3 Preliminary Championships Oireachtas (or-rock-tus) This is an official championship level feis. These competitions for very experienced dancers are annual events. Regional during November North American during 4 July World during Easter (usually in Ireland)
Irish Dance Costumes
Beginner dancers wear a simple outfit consisting of a white shirt and a mid-thigh length skirt that is either black, or in their dance school's colors. After that, they wear a school or class dress, a simple dress in their dance school's colors which is identical for all the dancers. Once dancers move into the Prizewinner category, they are permitted to wear a Solo dress. A solo dress is a custom dress made specifically for the dancer in their own pattern and colors.
- Information about Feisanna: http://www.northamericanfeiscommission.org/
- An excellent Irish Dance site with a good listing of dance schools around the world: http://www.irish-dancer.co.uk/