Grace, rhythm and a little bit of craic – still part of Irish dance?

I love trawling YouTube for Irish dancing of all different styles, and I find myself going back to the older recordings – not that long ago, but not contemporary.

They have a grace and class that I don’t see in newer recordings – even in most of my own, I have to confess. RTE, the Irish national broadcaster, did a lot of filming of Irish traditional music, dance and song in the late 60s’ through to the 1980’s and produced some wonderful stuff. Most of the best of these recordings are available in the “Come West Along The Road” series of DVDs.

I understand the need to update, move and change with the times to inject new influences and trends into Irish dance but a lot of what I see seems to be a move backwards from what was. In Irish set dancing, the trend to play faster and faster music means that the nuances of the tunes are lost, and the rhythm and flow of the dance is completely overtaken by tempo-not nice to dance to really.

In Irish step dancing, it’s hard not to laugh out loud (LOL) at some of the get-up- the bouffant hair matched with the bouffant dresses – a real distraction from the dance itself. The amazing athleticism and skill of  the dancers is impressive – it must take a huge amount of time and commitment to be able to pull off some of those moves, and that is a truly admirable quality.

But mostly, I am left cold watching these performances, as the experience seems lacking in joy and spirit, the music is like wallpaper – just background, and not integral to the rhythm and meaning of the dance. Perhaps I am expecting too much?

As I write, I have just seen a nice bit of updated Irish dancing (to Michael Jackson music)  that has much of what I am talking about – rhythm, graceful dance and looks like they are enjoying themselves!

So there is hope. What we  had once we could have back again, and even better, if we tried and took a bit more thought and care with the beautiful Irish tradition.

An áit a bhuil do chroí is ann a thabharfas do chosa thú.

Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.


Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss
irish bliss globe of world flags

6 thoughts on “Grace, rhythm and a little bit of craic – still part of Irish dance?

  1. I agree. A bit off the point but I am surprised there are no step dancing teachers taking a stand against the trend for bouffant hair and hideous make up on small girls. I know a few parents who would love their children to learn but are not prepared to expose them to the ‘beauty pageant’ stuff that goes with it. Judge the dancers on the dancing, not the wigs and make up!

    • Yes, it’s all a bit sad, especially for the very young ones. It’s probably also not very encouraging for the boys, either! Thanks for your comments.

  2. Please don’t lump all teachers into one category!

    Everyone has their own preferences. I was a dancer who remembered sleeping in rollers (ugh!) so I appreciate the convenience of wigs, but I also think the larger hair helps counterbalance the brightness of the dresses.
    I do advocate for a touch of makeup on my teens… When They stand in line with other dancers without wearing make up they look fatigued. Only my champions tan, and mostly just for majors, where the tan sets off their musculature. However, it must match their face!

    Having been a dancer back in the days of rollers, I enthusiastically embraced the convenience of wigs, and feel the curls enhance the dancing and counter balance the brightness of the dresses.

    My dances are not allowed to have animal print on their costumes, and I try to steer them towards a more classic style so they can wear their dresses longer. I do think it is ridiculous that’s some are dropping thousands of dollars, the cost of a wedding dress, about every year for dresses.

    Having also studied Scottish dance, I have often wondered what would happen if Irish dancing had rigid costuming requirements like Highland dance. I like the beauty and uniqueness of Irish dance costumes, but would gladly embrace stricter guidelines. I think my parents would too, as competitive Irish dance is quickly becoming cost prohibitive.

    I know there are many who feel the way I do, as well as many who feel there should be no rules, as well as those who feel we should be wearing long plain green dresses with our hair pulled back.

    I think the time is past. It is what it is now. It is in the hands of everyone. The teachers and what they allow, the adjudicator’s in what they reward with placements, the commission in how they set rules regarding it, and the parents in how they vote, with their dollar. If a parent really doesn’t like their teacher’s make up rules, they can always go to a different school. No what is being forced to comply, but there is a lot of peer and cultural pressure for the Almighty win.

    As a sidenote, I would love to see Irish dance tutelage be expanded to more than just Irish step dancing and at Rince Foirne Ceili dancing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, to have a school where students are well-versed in Sean Nos and set dancing as well? I would like to work towards that, not waste my time arguing over minutae on the frosting.


    • Thanks for your comments. I think people should have more “freedom” in what they wear and how they look. I don’t agree that there’s no control over this trend now- we can all choose and we have a voice. I chose not to continue step dancing because I wanted a style that was more social.

      However, my main point is that “it’s about the dancing”, not looks.

      And I certainly agree that it would be great if all styles were taught in one place.
      I tried 8 years ago to interest local step dancing schools & the National Association here in trying Irish set dancing (particularly for those who are past competitions and/ or parents) and they wouldn’t return my emails or calls. There are plenty of people out there who can dance and have no form of Irish dance to take part in after they become adults. What a shame. Who wins from that?

  3. Pingback: Provisional Irish Dancing vs. Real Irish Dancing? | Irish Bliss

Leave a Reply