The emergence and spread of Irish dance dance can be credited to the work of the dance masters, known as bright, colorful and evenly eccentric people who traveled all over the country and taught the locals to dance. The many dances developed from these first learned by the dancers include jigs, reels, sets and dance dances. The website IrelandsEye explains that to help those who could not distinguish between their right and left foot, the masters put a piece of straw on one foot and a piece of hay on another. The dancer would be told to either lift the straw foot or the hoof foot
The dancers, to keep the less talented dancers entertained and mix them with the better dancers, developed group dance numbers. Solo dances were highly honored and admired, and even these standards were very high.
As traditional folk dances were common in Ireland, the new dances taught by the choreographers were appealed to those looking for a more elite form of dance. The dances were often modified by the masters to suit today’s traditional music. They taught eight bar movements, a basic one in the construction of traditional Irish dance, including ceili, set and step dance. The steps consisted of foot percussion, or battering, which made it possible to hear the rhythm of the dance. Tabletops doubled as stages for the masters’ ‘demonstrations.’
Development and adaptation
Originally, dancing was usually done in extremely tight quarters, a rigid dance style where the legs are kept close together and there are minimal kicks and traveling became a necessity. In the 1950s and 1960s this was adapted and the dance lost some of this rigidity due to the larger stages and more space available to the dancers. The well-known aspects of dance dance such as movement steps, circular beginnings, laps and seven and three were more developed and embraced during this time.
The costumes worn by Irish stepdancers today are rooted in the traditional garment worn by Irish dancers of history. Most include hand-embroidered Celtic patterns on the front of the costume and copies of the Tara brooch on the dancer’s shoulder, which clip a cloak hanging at the back. Men’s traditional attire consists of a regular kilt and jacket with a folded coat over the shoulder. Both men and women wear skates or soft shoes that resemble ballet positions, depending on the dance.
Modern Irish Step Dancing
Many shops exist today to celebrate Irish dance. The Irish Step Dancing World Championships are held in Dublin and include dancers from England, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United States. Even the success of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance as the fame of the latter’s mastermind, Michael Flatley, helped catapult Irish steps dance on the international stage. The earliest traces of Irish Step Dancing are found more than 2,000 years ago in the religious circle dances of the Druids who honored the oak and the sun, as well as in the Celtic folk dances, which brought their dance traditions to Ireland in about 400 AD. In the 16th century, there are references to three types of Irish dance: the Irish Hey, Trenchmore and Rinnce Dada, or long dance, which consists of two straight dance lines. The dance was typically performed in the palace halls and greeted royalty. Irish stepdancing, as it is known today, performed in the late 18th century, as a result of the dancers’ instruction.