The subject of Irish dance history has experienced something of a rebirth to contemporary dance enthusiasts. Thanks to live productions such as Riverdance, and the resurgence in popularity of Irish music, Irish dancing has become a go-to activity for many a partier. But just how did we get here?
In The O'Beginning
The beginnings of Irish dance history are as vague as leprechaun legends and corned beef that's been sitting in your fridge since St. Patrick's Day. However, the one thing people seem to agree on is that it began with Druids, dancing ritualistically to honor the sun and oak trees. Irish dance history demonstrates that over two thousand years ago, when the Celts arrived in Ireland, they brought with them their own folk dances. And, by the year 400 AD, the massive Christianity conversion movement saw even priests use the pagan style of ornamentation to liven things up-making Father Dowling seem all the more boring.
The Anglo-Norman conquest of the 1100s brought Norman customs and culture to Ireland, with The Carol performed in conquered Irish towns, which slowly evolved into Irish dance. By the sixteenth century, there is evidence of three principal Irish dances: the Irish Hey, the Rinnce Fada and the Trenchmore. In fact, a reference to Irish dance history can be found in a 1569 letter written by Sir Henry Sydney to Queen Elizabeth I, in which he comments on girls seen jigging in Galway.
No, he did not say they were "getting jiggy with it."
When royalty arrived in Ireland, young women would greet them at the shore to perform native dances, and even wakes and funerals were deemed appropriate dance forums.
During the 16th and 17th centuries "crossroads dancing" became very popular, but was condemned by the clergy, leading to clandestine dance parties. Holy Ren MacCormack! However, by the middle of the 18th century, perception softened, and Irish dance became something you could do in public again.
The Dancemaster Flash
During the 1700s, with dance all the rage, those in the know began to make a living out of teaching it. Known as "dance masters," they would roam from one village to the next teaching dance to the townsfolk. Dance masters were in high demand, but would not encroach upon each other's territory. However, they were so sought after, they would often be kidnapped by a neighboring community intent on becoming better at dancing.
The Dance Masters Dash
By the end of the 1800s, dance masters were on their way out as the powers that be began to recognize dance as an Irish institution. In 1929, the Irish Dancing Commission was founded to teach dance and organize competitions. And, after some wartime slumps, Irish dance history has again solidified itself as a cultural phenomenon.
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