You probably know our hopping, hair-flying traditional Irish dancing from the ‘Riverdance’ show thundering through your town or at least your TV set.
It’s a peculiar but much-loved style that has evolved over centuries and has enough customs and conventions to make your curly head spin! So we thought we’d save you the chin-scratching pondering of questions like ‘how do they all have such perfect ringlets?’ and ‘where do they get those costumes?’ and provide you with a little ‘Irish Dancing: 101′ cheat sheet for when our next show hops into town (or if you want to catch some while you’re over here).
OK, first things first, how do they all get those perfect ringlets in their hair?
Hate to shatter an illusion, but they’re often wigs. Don’t judge, curling a dancer’s hair for a competition can take up to two hours so some girls (understandably) opt for the wig. Michael Flatley, though, his blond curls are all natural.
So those stunning original dresses, where do they come from?
Not from your local shop obviously! They’re quite special, young girls (who often begin competing from the age of three) generally get their dresses handed down from sisters or family members. Should you want one made, you’d have to commission a costume-maker and be around €2,000 ($2300) lighter afterwards!
So do all traditional dancers in Ireland wear the costumes?
Aha, there lies a tale! You see, traditional dancing in Ireland is broken up into different styles. We’ve just been talking about Competitive Irish Dancing, but there’s more! Sean Nós (meaning ‘old style’) for example, is a bit looser and involves less dressing up, but that isn’t to say it’s any less competitive. Both Sean Nós and Competitive Irish Dancing are defined as Step Dancing. (Check out Emma O Sullivan‘s Sean Nós style, below)
The céilí gets everyone dancing together on the floor – how did that start?
The céilí (pronounced kay-lee) originated way back when in Ireland and Scotland, and was basically a coming together, where a community would read poetry, sing songs, dance and basically hang out. Increasingly, the Friday-night dancing session took centre stage (not least because it was the perfect place to meet the love of your life). The Walls of Limerick and The Siege of Ennis are two of the best known dances and also the most fun. These dances feature lots of fun partner spinning and arm linking. You may hear phrases such as ‘Around the house’ and ‘Mind the dresser,’ which both originated from the time when céilís were held in people’s houses.
Some of the dancing in Ireland has influences from Scotland, is that right?
Yes, Ullans dancing (found mainly in Northern Ireland) is a large slice of Ulster-Scots heritage. It’s got plenty of the Highland fling about it, with lots of impressive on-toe balancing, as well as the gorgeous tartan patterns on the costumes. The dancing is quite like Competitive Irish Dancing in terms of style, with plenty of sets and quadrilles. Plus lots of opportunities to swing your partner around, of course!
So where should we head to for some real-life action?
For a more intimate setting, some pubs put on dance performances during the week. If you’re really lucky you could end up in the middle of a ‘session’ (a spontaneous night of dancing and music) where a whole community will be jammed into a pub’s lounge dancing, singing and playing the night away.
Of course you’ll need music to dance to and you won’t be short of a tune or two in Ireland.
Check out the full listing of music events taking place around the island of Ireland in 2011.