Irish dance has a long and intricate history and remains hugely popular today with all ages. With Riverdance about to launch its UK 20th anniversary tour, we thought we’d delve into the origins of the Celtic dance of the Emerald Isle.

A Patriotic Dance Merged with Invasion

Irish Dance, as the name suggests, originated in Ireland but was coloured and influenced by various invasions and migrations. The first practitioners were thought to be Druids, who honoured the natural world by performing various forms of religious dance.

Not long after, the Celts came to Ireland and merged their own folk dances with Irish dance. As Ireland began converting to Christianity, peasants and priests began to incorporate an increasingly Pagan style. At the turn of the Anglo-Norman conquest, the Carol was introduced, a circular dance in which one dancer was surrounded by others as he sang.

Types of Irish Dance

Historical texts refer to three principle forms of Irish dance; the Irish Hey, Rinnce Fada and the Trenchmore.

Perhaps one of the most recognised forms of Irish dance is the structure of two long straight lines with dancers performing an energetic “jig.” Irish dance is accompanied by melodic musical strains with harps and bagpipes typically featuring in the accompaniment.

The Introduction of the Dance Master

[caption id="attachment_217" align="alignleft" width="300"]Irish Jig Credit - wikipedia[/caption]

In the 18th century, dancing masters travelled between villages in districts to teach Irish dance to peasants. The dance master would be flamboyantly dressed and carry a staff. Nowadays costumes are heavily attuned to the dance performed and that is perhaps owing to the origin of dance masters.


Modern Day Irish Dance

Today’s version of Irish dancing comes in many forms; hornpipes, jigs, half sets, sets, reels, polkas and step dances are widely performed. Solo dancing, otherwise known as step dancing also began to emerge as a prominent form of dance.

Irish dance has endured in popularity over time with many performances and competitions taking place all over the world giving many the opportunities to learn about this ancient, lively form of dance.

Costumes are heavily integrated into the Irish dance culture and feature traditional elements of classic peasant wear adorned with Celtic designs.

As today’s competitions place heavy emphasis on glam and glitz, many dancers like to jazz up their outfits with Swarovski sew on stones for a striking dress to catch the eye of the judges. The crystals interact beautifully with light and movement to create a truly mesmerising effect and are easy to attach to clothing.

The humble Irish dance has come a long way and is set to remain a firm dance phenomenon for a long time to come.