Irish Dancing – Innova Dance Company
Throughout Ireland and across the world, Irish dancing continues to be a very important part of the heritage and culture of this tiny Island of Ireland. More than a hobby, Irish dancing is a devotion, requiring a commitment of time and is as important as the Irish language, Gaelic football, hurling and traditional Irish music. I remember the days when Irish dancing was taught in cold and musty halls, an accordion providing the music for the jig and reel, as children, we were scolded for not holding shoulders back and keeping arms straight, I have fond memories of learning Irish dancing.
Irish Dancing History
It is recorded that the roots of Irish dancing came from the Celts and the druids who roamed the island before the onset of Christianity and outside influences.. Many of the druids’ religious rituals involved dancing, usually in a circular fashion around sacred trees. If you have an interest in Irish trees please follow the link; http://irishwordsofwisdom.com/irish-trees/
The Celts had their own folk dances with similar formations. This type of dancing was common around much of the European mainland at the time, and although it wasn’t really anything like traditional Irish dancing as we know it now, there are still remnants of the formations and patterns used today.
Irish Dancing Routines
There are three main types of Irish dancing routines; set dancing routines, social or céilí routines and sean nós or step routines. In all cases, the style is relatively formal and regimented, with little upper body movement, precise and quick foot movement and a strict number of steps to be completed. This was mostly because of the limited space performers would have had in the 18th and 19th centuries; small rural pubs or barn dances crowded with locals didn’t afford much room for arm movement or for dancing around the floor.
Céilí routines were the most popular form of Irish dancing and a standard component of any social occasion. They’re performed with a minimum of two and a maximum of sixteen people (or sometimes an unlimited number of people!). Set dance routines are based on the French quadrille dances, i.e ‘squares’ of four couples who complete several different figures of the routine which are repeated throughout the song. Among other steps, dancers swap sides and swap partners – it can get extremely chaotic if you don’t know what you’re doing!
Step routines descend from the old-style sean nós dancing and are what the Irish Dancing Commission has adopted as the flagship Irish dancing style. Each step is danced twice, once with each foot, with arms slightly less rigid than other styles. Percussive sounds are made with the feet to add to the rhythm of the music. In the 18th and 19th centuries, these dances were often performed on top of barrels or tables.
Soft shoe dances include reels, slips, light jigs and single jigs; these are all classified by the time signature of the music and the steps taken in each dance. Hard shoe dances include the hornpipe, treble jig, and treble reel. Some of the more popular sets have been given names, like the St. Patrick’s Day set, the King of the Fairies Set, or the Tree Sea Captains set.
The hard and soft shoe.
Soft or hard shoes are used depending on the style of dance; hard shoes have tips and heels of fiberglass to add percussion noises and rhythm, while soft shoes are leather lace-ups, also known as ghillies.
Irish Dance Clothes
Traditionally Irish Dancing costumes were simple and modest as per the photograph above, very different from the Ornate and ostentatious costumes we see today. Male dancers generally just wear a shirt, vest and tie with dark trousers, while female dancers wear specially made dresses. Each Irish dancing school has their own specific dress uniform. The dresses are just above the knee and pleated, with long sleeves and more often than not some sort of Celtic-inspired design or embellishment on the chest and back. In the past girls were required to curl their hair into ringlets or wear wigs, but this is slowly becoming less common. Dresses have become more and more flexible and breathable compared to decades past when tough material and elaborate decoration was the name of the game. Outside of competitions you’re more likely to see dancers in simple, plain dresses with straight hair so that the footwork and movement of the dance is given complete focus.
You will see many different dance troop children wearing wigs, fake tan and makeup at high profile competitions nowadays, a change for the worst in my opinion as children are showcased as miniature dolls rather than traditional Irish dancers. My opinion for what it is worth.
Irish Dancing Music
Historically the traditional accompaniment for Irish dancing was a harp, bagpipe, or just singing. As the dances got more complex, however, so did the music. Nowadays, Irish dancing and traditional Irish music go hand in hand, and in the same way that there are a variety of different dances and routines, there is a variety of music and instruments to go with it. Some typical Irish instruments include the fiddle (pretty much a violin, just played differently), the bodhran (a hand-held drum made of goatskin and played with a special wooden beater called a tipper), the tin whistle, the concertina (similar to an accordion), and the uilleann pipes (Irish bagpipes). When solo dancers take to stage, a solo instrument will also generally play with them.
The Irish Dancing Feis
The ‘feis’ plural of feiseanna means Irish Festival, traditionally including folk music, dance, and sports. It was the gathering at which new laws were decreed.
The ‘feis’ was a big local celebration held by Celtic communities and the ‘feis’ continues to be an integral part of Irish Dance society today.
Folklore recalls the Hill of Tara, then the seat of the High King of Ireland and the epicenter of Celtic life, a huge feis was known as the ‘Aonach’ (great festival), was held once a year, apparently beginning over a thousand years ago. Feiseanna are still held today in many communities, but these days they are usually just a showcase for Irish dancing and music, where dancers compete for medals and trophies.
Outside of performances, the best way to see some Irish dancing is by attending a competition or feis. In Ireland, there are several levels of competition divided by age and location, ranging from county to regional and national competitions. The annual regional championship is known as the Oireachtas, which also happens to be the name given to the Irish government. Dancers are scored on technique, timing, and sounds made from their shoes. All contests have very rigid regulations and criteria for qualification, and the whole process is very competitive between both dancers and teachers.
I will never forget the first time I watched Riverdance on TV, like everyone I was spellbound, the dance, music, and arrangement was amazing. I don’t think there are many people on the planet who haven’t heard of Riverdance. The theatrical show which brought Irish dancing to a worldwide audience has certainly boosted its popularity around the world. Now over twenty years old, the original show went on to play all over the world for fifteen years. Today there are still several smaller productions touring all over the world and a number of spin-off shows, ensuring that Irish dancing has a place on the world stage for years to come. If you haven’t seen Riverdance, here is the youtube link: https://youtu.be/FoHlrQScWl0
Innova Dance Company
There are many dance schools across the country offering classes in traditional dance. I have chosen Innova Dance Company as featured in the book when I found a photograph taken by Johnny Hero photographer. The girls, their costumes, and their spin on Irish dance using both traditional and with a twist of modernism. I had no idea that Innova was part of Britain’s got talent line-up in 2014, you can see for yourself at https://youtu.be/jeQJ25XtM-Y