Irish Dance

Irish Dance

While the tradition of Irish Dance has been around for centuries, it has just recently come into the limelight. Thanks to dancers like Michael Flatley and his Riverdance, and Lord of the Dance theatricals, Irish dance has now become a worldwide phenomenon. People love the rhythm, the discipline, and the joy of the traditional styles. So much so, that, wherever you go, be it China or Zimbabwe, you’re sure to find Irish Dance fans.

Types of Irish Dance:

Ceili Dancing

Pronounced “Kay-lee”, this is a form of social or party dancing. In typical Ceili style, several couples dance together in a set pattern of memorized steps which are usually performed in a line or a circle. The dances often have intriguing names such as The Waves of Tory, or The Siege of Ennis, and tell the stories of Irish traditions, and history.

Step Dancing

This style emerged around 1750, when Irish dance masters began traveling throughout the country. Step dances are performed solo or in a group, where dancers in a line do the same synchronized steps. This style of dance focuses entirely on footwork Sean-Nos Unlike step dancing these dancers are free to move their arms and upper body. Sean-nos means low to the ground, and the movements of this dance are low and often improvised. The steps are similar to tap dance.

Set Dances or Quadrilles

Performed by four couples arranged in a square, this type of dance was inspired by the 18th century French “Quadrille”. Irish dance masters blended French and Irish dance forms to create a new style, set to Irish music. Set dancing resembles ballroom dancing and employs steps such as the waltz, polka and swing.


The tradition of Irish dance grew in direct relation to Ireland’s music. The bouncy jigs and reels perfectly matched the fast stepping, high kicking style of dance. It said Ireland’s unique style originated with travelling dance masters who, due to lack of dance floor space often performed on table tops or even the tops of barrels, thus requiring the contained form of flying feet, but rigid upper body and arms.

Another story has it that when British soldiers banned dancing, Irish citizens rebelled by shutting the bottom half of their doors and dancing enthusiastically while keeping the top half of their bodies still.

Today no one wants to ban Irish dance, just the opposite in fact. Irish Dance theatricals, and dance musical shows travel the world, and sell out at every stop. Irish dance schools proliferate, offering classes for everyone from toddlers to senior citizens. Touted as a great source of mental and physical exercise, it’s also just plain fun. Check out your local Irish dance school. Before you know it, you too could be dancing a jig – table tops are optional.

See also:

Cultural Map of Ireland