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What is irish dance?

Irish Dancers

Irish Dancers

Girls light shoe, Boys light shoe, Heavy shoe

Girls light shoe, Boys light shoe, Heavy shoe

Irish Dancing Wig

Irish Dancing Wig

Irish Dance

Irish dance is an enjoyable, energetic and expensive passtime. It is quite complicated both to dance and to understand, as the steps are intricate and the way you compete in competitions changes with how good you get.

The Main Dances

There are 9 main dances which you do at competitions (comps are known as feisanna-plural or a feis-singular in Gaelic). These dances are called a). the Reel b). the Single jig c). the Light jig d). the Slip jig e). the Heavy jig and f). the Hornpipe. All vary in pace and length, so no dance is nearly the same. However, within a particular dance, for example the Heavy jig, it is not unusual for the tune to be played differently from feis to feis.

Even though each song for a dance (Slip jig for example) is played to the same length, all Irish dancing school's have individual dances for their competetors. This is to 'out do' other dancers you are up against in competition and how well you do is down to your steps (given to you by your dancing teacher) and how well you dance them. An example of this would be if you had 10 girls competing together in a small competition. The girl who has the hardest steps, who dances them with the best ability and effort wins. This is not taking into consideration politics of the Irish dancing world or the fact that you have to do a set dance once recalled but see Championships for more information on that.

Different Competitions/Feisanna

Depending on how high you have managed to climb up the Irish dance system has an impact on what dances you have to perform at feisanna. This is because dances suchas the Reel, Slip jig, Heavy jig and Hornpipe are harder than the others which make them more suitable to be danced once in higher competition. They are still danced in lower feisanna levels, but once a dancer graduates to a higher level, teachers make steps in these particular dances harder. This is to keep up with competition in the hope of doing well, The Irish dancing levels are 1) Novis: for begginers. All 9 dances are in competition at this stage and the steps will be easy. 2) Primary: Dancers are still classed as beginners but competition is usually harder. 3) Intermediate: Competition is substantiallyharder now, many dancers fail to progress past this point. 4) Open: The highest level you can achieve to be in within Irish dance. It is the hardest group to compete in as all dancers have won all dances in Novis, Primary and Intermediate to earn their place. Once a dance is won in Open, you can not go back down to a lower level in that particular dance at the beginning of a new Irish Dance season.

To progress to a higher level in this dance, you have to win all dances in the level you are in first. For example, to get to Open, you have to win all 9 dances at feisanna you attend over the Irish Dance season. Say you do get all your dances into the next level in one feis (unlikely), you are free to go to the next feis and compete higher up. Dancing levels also cross over. This means if you have won out one of your dance's into primary from novis, for an example, you can do all your dance's still left in novis in the novis competition and do the one dance that is in primary in the primary competition.

To get placed first you have to stand out to the edjudicator. The edjudicator is basically a judge of a competition at a feis. They have the final say on place orders. At a competition for novis, primary and intermediate, there is usually only one edjudicator. However, once you reach Open there is 3 for each dance you perform. Furthermore, at major competitions there can be from 5 to 7 judges.

Once you are in Open, you do not have to continue doing the Single jig or Light jig. This is because these dance's are simple and are seen of a waste of time once you have reached this level. Despite this, you still need to practice them incase your dance teacher decides that next season they want you to go down a level for either experience (you aren't ready to be in the higher level) or because the competiton is too hard. Once in Open, the dance steps do become very hard as well. Only open dancers go to major feisanna such as the World Championships (held in different cities every year), the Europeans, American Nationals etcetera.


Championships are the competitions that take place in Open. They consist of 2 dances (the harder ones, exlained in above section) that competetors perform and depending on how well they are danced, and how highly they are marked upon these dances by edjudicators, the get recalled to dance a set dance. A set dance is a special dance made for you by your Irish dance teacher to traditional irish dancing tune (which is either played in Heavy jig beat or Hornpipe). This decides how you do in the overall competition. Basically, if you dance well enough in the first 2 dances, you get asked to dance again (to your set dance) and if you do well, you get a good place. This is easier said than done because set dances can go on for up to 2minutes 20seconds, which is hard when you put in everything.

Different Shoes

Irish dancing has 2 different types of shoes that dance's are performed in. These are heavy or hard shoes and light or soft shoes (even though boys wear different light/soft shoes to girls). Sometimes the girls light shoes are called Gillies. The Reel, Single jig, Light jig and Slip jig are all in light shoe, with Heavy jig, Hornpipe and set dances all being in heavy shoes.

The Dance

The actual Irish dance is the hardest part. It is very complex and has specific skills, moves and aspects that are different from any other dance. Light shoes have a leather sole and sides, with crossed laces from the toes to the nape of the ankle. In light shoe, you have to be very high on your toes, feet turned out, legs crossed, toes pointed, straight legs, along with shoulders back and arms in! This is easy once you have danced for a while, but many struggle with remembering everything once starting out. Once in Open, it isn't a case of doing all these things, just doing them better and sharper than any other apponents. Once you can do these things with ease, to a higher ability than any other competitions, this is when you win competitions. Heavy shoes are harder as they count more towards how you win and be a better dancer. This is because your set dance is in heavy shoe, and ultimately, the set dance decides your place in competiton. Heavy shoes consist of a fibre-glass tap and heel with leather on the soles and sides. They have a buckle and a bendy in the middle to allow dancers to go en point (like a ballet dancer) in dance's. While is heavy shoes, dancers treble, shuffle their feet bang, tap and go on their toes. These different movements make a variety of sounds which add to the effect of the dance. It is a common irish dance saying if the dancer makes good noise with their feet that they have 'feet for the radio'.


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For competitions, you have to wear an Irish Dancing costume. For boys/men, it is standard to wear black trousers, waistcoat (usually brightly colored or patterned), tie and shirt. However, on the rare occasion you sometimes see boys wearing kilts even though this is usually more associated with scotish highland dancing. Traditionall, girls wear a velvet, heavily embroided dress but modern materials and technology have made way for a whole different wave of dresses. Nowadays, most dresses consist of block colors with a lot of sparkle and diamonte. They are very showy and can cost thousands. On top of this, girls have to wear wigs to ensure there hair looks curley and visable on a large stage. These wigs are the natural color of the dancers hair and can be in a bun or a full wig. All dancers wear poodle socks as well, which are special Irish Dance socks that have poodle like quality to them (being white, soft and bumpy, much like poodle's fur). These socks pulled fully up and are put in place with sock glue to prevent them falling down. Senior ladies (older girls, 19+) sometimes wear tights in place of these. To keep dancers dignity, all girls have to wear bloomer knickers which essentially are big knickers in the color of the dress's underskirt which go over your normal knickers. These are used so when dancers kick their legs up high, nothing is on show.

Difference Between Irish Dance and Riverdance

It is a common mistake of people that do not know what traditional Irish dance is to misunderstand it to be Riverdance. In fact, riverdance is a show in which irish dance is the main bulk. It was invented by Michael Flatley, a famous and world champion irish dancer. Riverdance also includes Spanish dance performances with tap and other varients.


The Expense of doing Irish Dance is very high. This is because many dancers have to dance for up to 5 lessons per week to maintain a good standard and get in all required practice. This adds up. Also, to enter feisanna is costworthy and along with dresses which can be up to $3000, it isn't a cheap and cheerful hobby. This is the disadvantage to the dance as many do not have this kind of money to pay for a new dress every time you grow.

Thankyou for reading, any questions just leave below and i'll answer!


Anonymous on May 24, 2012:

My friend, you could use some major work on both your English grammar and spelling.

The Logician from then to now on on September 06, 2011:

Great hub!! But you left out the most fundamental fact - how Irish Dance Started

GuessingG (author) from England! on December 14, 2010:

Thank you everybody!I am relatively new to hubpages and appreciate any comments! :)

MalAdjusted on November 20, 2010:

I've always wanted to take irish dancing lessons, ever since I was a young girl, sounds wonderful the way you've described it, wish I had taken the oppurtunity to to do it, but it's never too late!

fetty from South Jersey on November 20, 2010:

Well written with lots of detail. I love to watch all ages doing an Irish dance. Great hub! Congrats. on your nomination!

Elayne from Rocky Mountains on November 19, 2010:

I love watching Irish dancing. It looks hard and they make it look so easy. Thanks for the education and congrats on your nomination. Good luck.

Michelle Simtoco from Cebu, Philippines on November 19, 2010:

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. Yay let's do an irish dance now! :) Dance your way to the Hubnuggets by following this link and the instructions over there..okay? have fun with the Hubnuggets!

RedElf from Canada on November 16, 2010:

What an interesting and comprehensive article! I have always loved Irish dance.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on October 31, 2010:

Great, comprehensive review of Irish dancing. I love it.

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