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The Complete Guide to Learning How to Irish Dance!

By Yann, published on 03/05/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Dance > Get to Grips with Irish Dance!

“In some parts of Ireland the sleep which knows no waking is always followed by a wake which knows no sleeping.” Mary Wilson Little.

Oh, Ireland: the home of the shamrock, leprechauns and this unique dance! In addition to being renowned for its beauty, the Irish Jig is a sport in itself, practised both socially and competitively. Yet I’m sure very few of you reading this will actually know the basic steps in Irish dancing.

So, why not take Irish dance classes and discover Celtic culture?

What is Irish dancing?

If you’re not already a fan of Irish culture, why not take a look at Irish dance!

Go to Ireland to learn Irish dancing. In Ireland, they don’t mess around when it comes to dance competitions! They start at a very young age. Source: Visual Hunt

Irish dance is a traditional dance from the island of Eire, part of the British Isles. It is performed both solo and in groups, particularly during dance competitions. Although its exact origins are unclear, Irish dancing emerged around the same time as traditional Irish music and spread throughout Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries.

At the time, the dance was practised in small groups, with dancers usually doing the steps on top of barrels or tables in pubs. As time went by, dancers started to attend dance studios and developed the moves further, no longer focusing solely on the arms.

Irish dance is sometimes confused with tap dancing. Be careful! Although these two dances may seem similar, they have some key differences, even though knowing how to Irish dance undoubtedly helps to understand the art of tap dancing.

The dance show “Riverdance” has greatly contributed to the popularity of Irish dance across the world! This Irish show consists of Celtic music, ballets, Irish songs as well as traditional jigs and takes place mainly throughout Western Europe and North America.

So, why not learn about this famous dance from the Emerald Isle?

To discover another style of dance online, let yourself fall in love with country dancing.

What Irish dance should I do?

Before reviewing the different styles of Irish dancing, bear in mind that Irish dance is divided into two categories:

  • Show dance: taught in dance schools or dance organisations show dance uses choreography specially designed for the stage. The troupe of dancers perform to either a fast or slow rhythm, depending on the choreography. The show dance class takes place to pre-recorded music.
  • Competition dance: This type of dance is more focused on solo dancing, learners are usually required to have an artistic background in order to master all the dance steps. Competition dance is generally performed along with an Irish musician (specifically a violinist or accordionist) or a Celtic orchestra. The troupe is typically composed of eight dancers.

Master Irish dancing with a professional dance instructor. Have you tried the Hornpipe, Reel or Three Hand Figure? Find your favourite Irish dance style! Source: Visual Hunt

To learn Irish dance, it’s crucial to pick a type of dance that’s well suited to your taste!

Some less rhythmic dance styles are more appropriate for beginners. Classes requiring previous tap dance experience are reserved for beginners, although it is certainly doable to master this type of dance with just a few months of hard-work at a dance centre.

Here’s a short list of some Irish dance styles:

  • Reel,
  • Single jig,
  • Slip jig,
  • Treble jig,
  • Treble reel,
  • Set dancing,
  • Ceïli dancing,
  • Hornpipe,
  • Polka,
  • Step dancing,
  • Two hand dancing,
  • Three hand figure,
  • Traditional set,
  • Individual set, etc.

There are so many styles of Irish dancing: enough to overwhelm the beginner! Don’t panic: to find the right style for you, Irish dance schools offer a free trial class. This introductory lesson lets you observe other dancers and learn the pros and cons of this or that dance.

Madison dance, with its American roots, is a far cry from Irish culture.

The Basic Steps in Irish Dancing

Like in any sport, it’s essential to warm up properly before your Irish dance lesson!

Irish dance warm-ups should last a minimum of five minutes, during which the student will work their legs, feet and abs. Irish dancing can be hard for people who are not naturally athletic: many Irish dancers take Pilates classes to gain body strength and flexibility.

That’s right, Irish dancing is not plain sailing, as professional dancer Owen Barrington explained in an interview to Irish Central in 2012:

“The best advice I have for new guys who have just joined Irish dance is to work hard (aka practice, practice, practice), try your best whether it be class, competition or a show and lastly, always listen to your teacher.”

With a good dose of determination, you can learn the basics in Irish dancing in no time!

To master the jig, the student must shift their body weight from the right foot to the left and hop while keeping the knee raised. Then, it’s a question of placing your left foot back while skipping three steps back.

For the quadrille, the pupil must make a slight jump, land on their right foot, then jump forward. The foot is raised up to knee level, then the left foot takes seven quick steps forward.

To see the classic Irish dance steps in action, we recommend you go online and watch educational videos (Youtube, Dailymotion) or on free dance apps (Irish Dance, Irish Dancing Physical Fitness)!

Of course, we are far from African dance classes where you completely let go of the upper body!

Take Irish Dance Lessons

To become an expert on Irish culture, nothing beats a professional dance class!

Get Irish dance lessons to have fun with dance. No need to ask a Leprechaun how to dance: just find the right teacher! Source: Pixabay

In the UK there are a number of dance schools and dance groups, which specialise in Irish dances. Nevertheless, this style remains relatively uncommon in Britain as a whole. It can often be difficult to find classes close to home, unlike more popular classes, for example, classical dance, ballet or contemporary dance.

The best way to learn? Irish dance lessons!

With Superprof, students can choose personalised lesson according to different criteria:

  • Learn in person (dance studio, town centre, private dance hall, etc.)
  • Teachers with diplomas,
  • Experienced choreographers,
  • Dancing according to your level,
  • Different Irish dance styles,
  • Low rates for one hour of class,
  • Take classes via webcam,
  • Flexible Irish dance teachers, etc.

Although being able to take an Irish dance class solo may seem appealing, it is advisable to stick to group lessons at the start.

In addition to being financially beneficial, private group dance classes let you learn choreography in a friendly atmosphere. The group lessons also allow you to meet Irish dancers and, possibly, organise a trip to Ireland to show off your dance skills.

From Irish dancing to oriental dance, you can find all sorts of dance classes across the UK.

Getting Ready For an Irish Dance Class

That’s it, you’ve found the perfect match? So, it’s time to get on the dance floor! But just like for Indian dance lessons, you need to do a little preparation.

Get yourself the right dance gear. You will be lucky to find traditional Irish dance costumes at an affordable price! Source: Visual Hunt

You should never skip preparing for a dance class in advance, whether you’re the dance teacher or the student: the latter may risk wasting precious hours (and money) if they don’t prepare properly.

One of the recurring problems with newcomers in Irish dance is getting the right gear. While leotards and trainers for other dances are easy to find in sports shops, it will be a bit harder to come across Irish dance clothes.

To do this, don’t hesitate to go to Irish sports shops online:

  • I Dance Irish,
  • Irish Dance Shop,
  • Feis Fayre,
  • Dance City,
  • Irish Dance Diva,
  • Keilys,
  • Orieil Irish Dance Supplies,
  • Kilkenny Dance Shop,
  • Dance Again,
  • Irish dancing, etc.

Irish jig dancers usually wear quadrilles, a kind of rigid ballet shoe, or ghillies with a soft sole. As for Irish tap dance, you’ll need to get your hands on hard shoes, made of a wooden heel, which is not the same shoes used in traditional tap dance class.

Our tip: start by buying a simple dance costume to learn how to do the basic dance steps. In fact, traditional Irish costumes, which are compulsory for official competitions, are quite expensive: they are therefore primarily reserved for professional and experienced dancers.

Lastly, the custom is that women wear their hair down in tight curls. If you are not a talented hairdresser or your hair is short, you can opt for wearing a wig!

So, what are you waiting for? Start your first Irish dance class today!

From Irish dancing to Spanish dance, our Superprofs are here for you!

A long way away from Irish dancing, discover Zumba classes online or in London.

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