Dance Around the World: Irish Step Dancing
Dance Pundit is back from her very extended hiatus. Thank you for sticking with me during this frigid winter. During my period of hibernation, I still managed to receive an average of 550 page views per month!!! It makes me ecstatic to know that I have great content that generates readership on a consistent basis, even when I decide to do what the bears do and sleep instead of type…
This post has been about a year in the making. I thought about writing an entry on Irish step dancing last year, however I missed the most appropriate time to write it. While it’s still March, this post is relatively timely.
Like most of the non-Irish, Irish step dance conjures images of Lord of the Dance and very fast, complicated leg work. I also visualize people bobbing around while performing endless gravity-defying high kicks. As with many forms of dance, the exact origins of Irish Step Dance are somewhat debated. It is generally agreed that dance is featured very prominently in Ireland’s mythology and history. In 1413, the first instance of caroling, a Norman custom that combines singing and dancing, was recorded.
Very crucial to the development of Irish step dance was the introduction of Dance Masters around 1750. Dance masters were traveling dance instructors who spent about six weeks in each town they visited. These dance masters also went on to create the first dance schools in Ireland. Fast forward to 1893, the Gaelic League was established to preserve and strengthen elements of Irish culture, including dancing classes and competitions. In 1929, the League appointed the An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (the Irish Dance Commission), which went on to become the governing body of Irish dance and establish the World Championships.
Modern Irish step dance has become looser and more relaxed than its traditional predecessor. Fun little fact: In the dance’s early days, people would often dance on unhinged doors or table tops for their hard surface. This is partly why the dance was originally very stiff and contained in a small space. Another recent development I found interesting is the emergence of the “bling culture” where “fake tans, curly wigs, tiaras, heavy make-up and jewellery are as much a part of competitive dancing today as the music itself.” It is clear as day that the competition aspect is changing the aesthetics of the dance.
The first video I am highlighting is of a very traditional Irish Step dance. It’s from 1963 and is in black and white. Notice what I believe is a large unhinged door… As a nice contrast, the second video features a collaboration between the two founding members of Hammerstep, a dance group that blends Irish step dance with hip hop, and DEORO, a Grammy nominated classical band that also fuses various genres.