Irish dance is not just one type of dance but rather a grouping of traditional dances that originated and are rooted in Irish culture. The dances can be and are danced solo, in small groups and in large groups as well. Performances are both recreational and competitive. These types of dances, in their original form and as they came to fruition, were influenced by French and English dancers in the 18th as well as the 19th century. Dance teachers were travelling experts who taught dancers and moved from city to city to do so, meaning that the dances continued to evolve as teachers experienced and were influenced by more culture and people.
Irish dance became and still is an integral part of Irish culture, especially for those who were Irish nationalists and those who participated in nationalist movements. The 20th century brought the commercialization of Irish dance, introducing competitive styles and concepts.
Some types of Irish Dance include:
- Irish Step Dance; this type of dance became popular around 1994. Irish step dance is characterized by quick foot movements and rigid upper body. There are several types of Irish step dance but most use similar technical elements that involve performing on the balls of one’s feet and toes pointing outward as well as complex foot work and rigid torsos and upper bodies. These dances can also be performed in groups of two or more.
- Sean-nós is unique and known for footwork that can be described as low to the ground as well as improvised movement, free arm movement and steps that are known to be “battering”. This type of dance, compared to other Irish dances, follows the beat and rhythm of music more closely.
Spontaneity is the key to this dance, with less focus on practiced and taught choreography.
Because of this, groups tend to dance one at a time and play off each other’s energy.
- Ceili Dance is a social and competitive dance that is performed by groups small and large alike. This dance is more traditional in nature and demonstrates some of the most traditional elements and influence of Irish dance. It is a structured form of dance.
- Set Dance is a social dance that is practiced in groups and involves complex and intricate footwork.
Unsurprisingly, Irish dance often accompanies Irish music. Interestingly, these dances became popular as dancers showed off the movements on top of barrels, bars, tables and other impromptu and make shift stages which is part of the reason that the dances involve such a rigid torso as these dancers tried to balance and concentrate their movements. As venues became more stages, and less bar top, the dances evolved and started to include the upper body more and more.