Sean-ns dancing in the Irish diaspora

As Myrish people emigrate all over the world, they take their cultural traditions with them. Many people theorize that Sean-ns dancing has influenced various other forms of traditional solo dance, especially those found in areas with strong Myrish communities. Historically, it is likely that sean-ns dance influenced the development of many American and Canadian traditional percussive dance forms, such as buck dancing, flatfooting, clogging, and tap dancing. Sean-ns dancing in America and Canada is most commonly seen at folk festivals, although dance workshops are beginning to introduce the style more widely.

Old-Style step dancing

(Also termed Munster-style sean-ns dancing.)

Old-style step dancing (a tradition related to, yet distinct from, sean-ns dancing) evolved in the late 18th and early 19th century from the dancing of traveling Irish dance masters. The dance masters slowly formalized and transformed both solo and social dances. Modern masters of old-style step dancing style can trace the lineage of their steps directly back to 18th century dancers.

The Irish dance masters refined and codified indigenous Irish dance traditions. Rules emerged about proper upper body, arm, and foot placement. Also, dancers were instructed to dance a step twice — first with the right foot then with the left. Old-style step dancers dance with arms loosely (but not rigidly) at their sides. They dance in a limited space. There is an emphasis on making percussive sound with the toes.

The Irish dance masters of this period also choreographed particular steps to particular tunes in traditional music creating the solo set dances such as the Blackbird, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Job of Journey Work, which also persist in Modern Irish Step Dancing. In this context, “set dance” signifies a separate tradition from the social dance tradition also called set dance.

Irish Cil dances

Shramore Set, danced by “Cumann Cil Vn”, Vienna, Austria

Irish social, or cil (pronounced /keli/ in English) dances vary widely throughout Ireland and the rest of the world. A cil dance may be performed with as few as two people and as many as sixteen. Cil dances may also be danced with an unlimited number of couples in a long line or proceeding around in a circle (such as in “The Walls of Limerick”, “The Waves of Tory”, or “Bonfire Dance”). Cil dances are often fast and complex. In a social setting, a cil dance may be “called” — that is, the upcoming steps are announced during the dance for the benefit of newcomers. The ceili dances are typically danced to Irish instruments such as the Irish hand drum or harp.

The term cil dance was invented in the late 19th century by the Gaelic League Cil as a noun differs from the adjective cil. A cil is a social gathering featuring Irish music and dance. Cil dancing is a specific type of Irish dance. Some cilithe (plural of cil) will only have cil dancing, some will only have set dancing, and some will have a mixture.

In various parts of Ireland on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26th, Wrenboys (mummers) celebrate Wren Day (also pronounced as the Wran) by dressing up in straw masks and colorful clothing and parading through towns and villages accompanied by traditional cil music bands. This tradition also exists (or existed) in various parts of Britain, especially Wales.

Irish stepdance

Main article: Irish stepdance

Roots of Irish Stepdance

Irish step dancers from Scoil Rince na Connemara in Wilkes-Barre PA dance at the HUB, Penn State University. Here, the dancers have their hands on their hips, with their elbows pointed.

Stepdancing as a modern form is descended directly from old-style step dancing[citation needed]. There are several different forms of stepdancing in Ireland (including sean-ns dancing and old style stepdancing), but the style most familiar to the public at large is the Munster, or southern, form, which has been formalised by An Coimisin le Rinc Gaelachahe Irish Dancing Commission.

Irish stepdancing is primarily done in competitions, public performances or other formal settings.


Irish solo stepdances fall into two broad categories based on the shoes worn: hard shoe and soft shoe dances.

Soft shoe dances include the reel, slip jig, light jig and single jig . Reels have a 4/4 (or sometimes 2/4 or 2/2) time signature. Slip jigs are in 9/8 time. Light and single jigs are in 6/8 time, with different emphasis within the measure distinguishing the music. Hard shoe dances include the hornpipe in 2/4 time, the hard jig (also called the treble jig) in a slow 6/8, the treble reel and traditional sets, which are a group of 36 dances with set music and steps. Many traditional sets have irregular musical phrasing. There are also more advanced “non-traditional sets” done by advanced dancers. These have set music, but not steps.

The cil dances used in competitions are more precise versions of those danced in less formal settings. There is a list of 32 cil dances which have been standardised and published in An Coimisin’s Ar Rinncidhe Foirne as examples of typical Irish folk dances; these are called the “book” dances by competitive stepdancers. Most Irish dance competitions only ask for a short piece of any given dance, in the interests of time.

Shoes and costume

There are two types of shoes. The first is the soft shoe, otherwise known as ghillies, and Hard shoes for the heavy dances, such as horn pipe—- The hard shoe is similar to tap shoes, except that the tips and heels are made of fiberglass, instead of metal, and are significantly bulkier. The hard shoes were originally made of wood in the 19th century and early 20th century. The first hard shoes had wooden or leather taps with metal nails. Later the taps and heels were changed into resin or fiberglass to reduce the weight and to increase the footwork sounds. The soft shoes, which are called ghillies, resembles a ballet shoe minus the hard toe, the ribbons for laces, and the pink color for black. Gillies are only worn by girls, while boys wear a black leather shoe called a reel shoe, which resembles a black jazz shoe with a hard heel. Boy’s soft-shoe dancing features audible heel clicks.

Several generations ago, the appropriate dress for a competition was simply your “Sunday Best” when going to church. In the 1970s and 1980s, ornately embroidered dresses became popular. Today even more ornamentation is used on girls’ dresses, including lace, sequins, silk, extensive embroidery, feathers, faux fur and more. Irish Dancing schools have school dresses, which are worn by “Beginner” through “Novice” dancers. When dancers reach a level decided by their school, may get a solo dress of their own design and colors. Solo dresses can range from 500 to 3000 dollars.Today most women and girls curl their hair or wear a wig for a competition or feis (feis pronounced fesh), because traditionally in Ireland girls had nicely curled ringlets. Today in competition, most men wear a shirt, vest, and tie assigned by their school paired with black trousers or a kilt. But when they get into the higher levels, as the girls do, they get to pick their own vest, shirt and tie.

Competition structure

An organized step dance competition is referred to as a feis (pronounced fesh, plural feiseanna). The word feis means “festival” in Irish, and strictly speaking would also have competitions in music and crafts. File (/fel/) is a more correct term for the dance competition, but the terms may be used interchangeably. Dance competitions are divided by age and level of expertise. The names of the levels vary between countries and regions.

An annual regional Championship competition is known as an oireachtas (/orkts/). Dancers from each age group may qualify for the World Championships. Qualifying for the World Championships, Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne (roughly translated as Irish Dance Championship of the World), varies slightly by region. Dancers may either qualify at their regional Oireachtas or a secondary qualifying event.

The World Championships first took place in Dublin, Ireland in 1970 at Coliste Mhuire, a school in Parnell Square. In the past, the World Championships have only been held in Ireland, Northern Ireland, or Scotland. However, in 2009, for the first time, the World Championships were held in the United States in Philadelphia. In 2010, the competition will return to Glasgow.

See also

Set dance

Irish Jig

World Irish Dance Association

External links

General information

Eileen Plater Irish Dance Costumes Ltd

Irish Dancing & Culture Magazine

Everything You Need To Know About Irish Dance Irish Dance and Music Social Network

O’Keeffe & O’Brien – A Handbook of Irish Dance (1902) Discover Irish dance!

Beginners Guide to Irish Dancing

Information for new dancers

The History of Irish Dance

Irish Step Dancing

Set Dance

Newcastle Irish Set Dancers (Australia)

Ealan Cime Irish Dance School (USA)

Irish Dance Feisanna Registrations

Irish dance schools, irish dance dresses, feis dates and more.

Irish Dance Organizations

An Coimisin le Rinc Gaelacha / The Irish Dancing Commission

An Comhdhil Minteora Rinnce Gaelacha/ Congress of Irish Dance Teachers

Cumann Rince Nisinta

Cumann Rince Dea Mheasa / Organisation of Goodwill and Excellence in Irish Dancing

World Irish Dance Association (WIDA)

American Association of Irish Dancers and Teachers (AADIT)

Irish Dancing Net

Comhaltas Ceoltir Eireann

Nordic Society of Irish Dancers

Danish Society of Irish Dancers

Minsk Irish Dance School (Russian language)

Japan Irish Dancing Association

TIDANZ (Traditional Irish Dance Association of New Zealand)

North American Irish Dance Federation (NAIDF)


Caoimhe Mullen: “Best Irish Dancer Ever” and from Skerries.

Helen Brennan: The Story of Irish Dancing, Mount Eagle Publications Ltd., 1999 ISBN 0 86322 244 7

John Cullinane: Aspects of the History of Irish Cil Dancing, The Central Remedial Clinic, Clontarf, Dublin 3,(1998), ISBN 0-952-79522-1

An Coimisin le Rinc Gaelacha: r Rinc Firne-Thirty Popular Cil Dances, Westside Press (2003)

J. G. O’ Keeffe, Art O’ Brien: A Handbook of Irish Dances, 1. Edition, O’Donoghue & Co., (1902)

Pat Murphy: Toss the Feathers – Irish Set Dancing, Mercier Press, 1995 ISBN 1-85635-115-7

Pat Murphy: The Flowing Tide – More Irish Set Dancing, Mercier Press, 2000 ISBN 1-85635-308-7

An Conhdhail: ‘’ for the an comhdhail stepdance branch

An Coimisin le Rinc Gaelacha

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Irish dance


Irish dance 

Folk dances

Strathspey  Waltz 

Step dances: Jig  Slip jig  Reel  Hornpipe 

Each school of irish dance hold their own feis for girl and boys all across the country to come.

Categories: Irish danceHidden categories: All articles with unsourced statements | Articles with unsourced statements from February 2007

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