Irish Dance – Céilís and More

Emily’s already posted a little bit about Irish dance, but I wanted to talk more about the different kinds. I danced with the Karl Drake School of Irish Dance for seven years, so I definitely wanted to write about it. What Emily was comparing to tap is called hard shoe – hence the similarity. There is another kind of Irish step dance which uses soft shoes, called ghillies. The two kinds of shoes are pictured below. The socks are called poodle socks and are traditional attire. For performances and competitions (called feises) you use a special glue around the top to ensure that they don’t bunch up around the ankles as you dance.


Hard shoes


Have a bonus photo of me and my very serious dance face! This was (I think) my second competition; I don’t like them very much, but as I got older they were required to be part of the school. For my first one I just curled my hair, but for this one I am wearing a crazy heavy Irish dance wig! Feises have a tendency to turn into fashion shows. Many of the performers are very young, but the amount of money and time spent on wigs, solo dresses, makeup, self-tanner, etc. is frankly ridiculous. Here I’m wearing a wig but my school’s competition dress instead of a solo dress. Solo dresses have a lot more sequins, pictured here:

Solo Dress

Both hard shoe and soft shoe are types of Irish step dance, which is what you will see in feises and performances and is the type of dance I most often practiced. Within the division of hard shoe and soft shoe there are subdivisions of types of dances, based on the time signature. In my experience, there are three types of soft shoe dance (a reel, a jig, and slip jig) and two kinds of hard shoe dance (a treble reel and a treble jig), but there may be more kinds that I wasn’t exposed to.

However, Irish step dance is only part of the Irish dance tradition. Step dancing is usually solo but can be part of a group as a performance. There is another type of dance, called céilí, is a social dance. Céilís can be performed in two long lines or with partners in a set of eight dancers (this is sometimes called Irish set dance and considered distinct from céilís, but the tradition I’m familiar with called both formations céilís as a catch-all for social dances). Céilís were also a lot of fun because we only ever got to do them rarely and they’re a social dance! It’s always more fun to dance with other people!

Group dances can be done as part of a performances (we would often perform them when we visited assisted living places or schools or something similar to perform) but in places where more than just one group of elementary – high school girls know how to dance, they are usually part of parties or the focus of the party. Dances can be called, with a caller yelling (or using a microphone) the step before they happen. You need to have knowledge of the steps, but this can be picked up fairly easily. With a caller, a group doesn’t have to practice a dance beforehand, as one would for a performance. Everyone knows what’s about to happen with the help of the caller!

Group dances are really a lot of fun, and if you’ll excuse a little plug, the Haverford Folk Club is having one tonight! It will be contra dance, not Irish dance, but it will wonderful, with a live band, lots of great people, and a caller, so you don’t have to know the dances! There’s a beginner’s lesson at 7:30 to learn the basic steps, and then dancing from 8-11! It would be fun to see some of y’all there! Founders Great Hall, today, 7:30! Be there or be square (that’s a pun because it’s another type of social dance)!