- 10 1-Hour Drop-In Irish Dance Classes
Irish Step Dance: Watch the Feet
Prepare for your first class with Groupon’s brief look at the long tradition of Irish dance.
Though taut and still from the waist up, the ankles flash and toes feverishly tap to the jovial rhythm of Celtic music. This is the style that Riverdance and Lord of the Dance brought to the world stage in the 1990s, and while it’s not the only Irish dance tradition, it’s probably the flashiest. The step in Irish step dancing refers to an eight-bar segment of music—part of a jig, reel, or hornpipe—which dictates the kinds of moves available to the performer. Rather than artistic interpretation, step-dancing competitions through the ages have tended to reward control, precision, and an encyclopedic knowledge of different steps.
Carrying the Beat
Many of these standards have been passed down from enigmatic figures known as the dance masters. Starting in the mid-18th century, these men would travel from village to village, earning their room and board with local families by teaching the children to dance. Regional styles could vary widely—some prizing nearly silent steps, others explosive sound—but eventually the Gaelic League, founded in 1893 to revive traditional Irish culture and language, standardized things a bit. It created An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (the Irish Dancing Commission) in 1930, which established rules for competitions and continues to operate today.
- Step dancers often confine their feet to about one square yard. Helen Brennan’s The Story of Irish Dance collects stories of dancers flaunting their skills by dancing amid a tight grid of sticks or even around a fiddle placed on the floor by a trusting musician.
- Another popular Irish dance form, ceili, is performed by groups of couples. Though their moves are coordinated, the form is much more forgiving than step dance.