What is Irish Dance?

Every beginning is.. easy?

Usually, children start Irish dancing at the age of four to five years. Of course it is also possible to start in your teens, or at a more mature age! Our teachers and assistants successfully work with dancers of every age, and they can help you in every stage of your dancing career – even without any previous knowledge or skills – to obtain the technique, flexibility, strength and posture needed for Irish dancing!

In our free taster classes you can watch other dancers to get a first impression of the dancing and our school, and also learn basic Irish dancing knowledge such as the straight posture and non-use of the arms and movements like the “hop-2-3”, a chassé-like movement, the “sevens and threes”, which goes sideways, and the “jump-2-3” our most basic jump! Most first-level (“Beginners”) dances are based on these steps.

Types of Dances

Irish dancing as a competitive sport is divided into two categories, solo dancing and Céilí dancing. In solo dancing, there are six main dance types that are being danced in every level. Each one of these has a certain musical metre and, depending on the level, a certain speed, and are also danced in different types of shoes. They are called Reel, Light Jig, Slip Jig, Single Jig, Heavy Jig and Hornpipe.

A dance is an entity, consisting of individual “steps” of 16 bars that are performed in a certain order. Each step further consists of two halves of 8 bears each. To simplify it, we just call them the “right side” and the “left side”, as these halves consist of the same elements, but are danced once starting with the right foot, and once starting with the left foot. The beginning step of a dance is called a “Lead”, from then on they are named in numerical order starting with “First step”. The amount of steps per dance that needs to be performed at a competition (Feis) depends on the rules of the regional councils.

The chart below shows the dances with the standard levels and speeds for our competitive region, the Mainland Europe region.

Dance Musical metre Beginners speed* Primary speed* Intermediate speed* Open speed* Shoe Type
Reel 4/4 121/123 116/118 113 113 Light Shoe
Light Jig 6/8 116 116 116 / Light Shoe
Slip Jig 9/8 121 118 113 113 Light Shoe
Single Jig 6/8 123 123 121 / Light Shoe
Heavy Jig 6/8 89 79 73 73 Heavy Shoe
Hornpipe 4/4 142 130 113 113 Heavy Shoe

* = speed in beats per minute / bpm

Special exceptions in solo dancing are Traditional and Non-traditional Set dances.

Traditional Set dances are the only solo dances that were, because of the historical value of the their steps and tunes, unified by CLRG, which means they are taught almost identically in dancing schools worldwide, and they are always assigned to a certain piece of music. The most famous example would be St. Patrick’s Day. Additionally, all tunes of Traditional Set dances can also be used as a Non-traditional Set dance with different steps. Non-traditional Set dances are danced in Open Championships.

Open Championships are the highest-level competitions at a Feis, which are divided into three rounds. In the first round, the “Heavy Round”, either a Heavy Jig or a Hornpipe can be danced by each competitor, in the second round, the “Light Round”, there is a choice between Reel and Slip Jigs for girls and ladies. Boys and gents have to do a Reel. The third and final round is the “Set Dance Round”, where each competitor performs a Non-traditional Set dance of their choice from the official list of tunes. They can choose freely whether to do a dance in Jig or Hornpipe timing, and they can also choose the speed of the music themselves. Usually, the steps of such a Non-traditional Set are tailor-made by dance teachers for their students – which means that it occurs very rarely that even within the same dance school, two dancers have exactly the same Non-traditional Set dance.

Group Dances – Céilís

Céilí dances are group dances of either four, six, eight or sixteen people that evolved from the early round dances. A very special form of these Céilís, the long dances (or continuous dances) could even be danced by an infinite number of people!

At a Feis, you can compete in 2-Hand and 3-Hand Reel competitions – these “short” group dances have a fixed number of bars that can be choreographed with own steps. For all dances for 4 dancers or more, the steps are predetermined in a booklet issued by CRLG. Thus, they are very similar to Traditional Set dances, and some even have distinct music and historical names too – for example “The Siege of Ennis”.

The above mentioned long dances also are written down in the Céilí booklet, but they are not usually part of a Feis schedule.