How Irish Dance Came To Be – A Brief History Of The

Ireland is aptly named as the land of dances. Irish dances have evolved throughout the century — from ritual dances to modern steps that speak of complexity, finesse, and of course, custom of a nation rich in culture. Let’s dive into history and find out how Ireland became a celebrated nation that popularized their unique contribution to the art of dancing — the Irish Dance.

A History

Irish dance is part of the nation’s culture even before the Celts stepped onto their shores. Native dancing was cultivated by the druids to celebrate the seasons and to worship deities and nature-god icons, like the oak tree. The Celts helped evolve the native Irish dance by introducing dancing styles from Europe. Similar contribution to the art was also made by the Normans in the 12th century.

Irish dance is classified into two categories with their own specific variations, namely the social dance and the performance dance. The Irish social dance is mostly performed during special occasions and holidays. This type of Irish dance is further broken down into 2 other categories — the set dancing and “Ceili”.

The more traditional solo social dance is called the Sean-nos Irish Dancing. This is well-known for its close-to-ground footwork following a slow tempo unlike stepdancing, as well as free arm movement and battering steps following accented music. The Sean-nos Irish Dance is mostly done solo, but can also be free-styled to include partners or small groups without any physical contact between dancers.

Irish performance dance can also be called as the “stepdance”. If you were able to watch the “Riverdance” show in 1994 then you were lucky enough to witness the best Irish performance dance of the century. This type of dancing is well-known for its rapid movements — mainly on the legs while the upper body is left almost stationary throughout the performance.


Stepdancing is the modern form of Irish social dancing classified as a performance dance. The rapid leg movements and rigid upper body stance is made popular by the “Riverdance” performance back in 1994. Today, stepdancing is not only limited to performance and shows but is also popular in dance competitions composed for both small and large groups.

Also, stepdancing is further broken down into two types of steps — the soft shoe and hard shoe. The soft shoe often follows the 4/4 tempo with movements including reel, light jig, slip jig, and single jig. Hard show follows the 2/4 hornpipe, hard or treble jig, treble reel, as well as the traditional steps. The name soft and hard shoe is also evident in the footwear used during their performance.

Old-Folk Irish Dance

The Irish social dance can be easily described as the Ireland’s folk dance known as the “Ceili” — a combination of Irish music and dancing during social gatherings. This can be performed solo or in combinations. In social events, the “Ceili” is often performed in 2 lines where dancers face each other, circular formation, quadrilles, or the long-line formation up to 16 dancers.

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