Irish dance: Tips for Body Style

Body Style : The Sweet and Lowdown

So, you’ve got the hang of the steps that you’ve spent ages learning, and finally the rhythm is starting to come after lots of practice, and perhaps also the moves in the set if you’re doing set or céilí dancing. But there’s this other elusive bit that you see “the really good dancers” doing and you can’t just work out why you’re not quite as cool as they are! They’re doing something different and you can’t quite put your finger/ toes/ feet on it….

Well, each style of Irish dance has it’s own unique body stance or sometimes you get a choice! Most styles of Irish dance require bending the knees and hips while dancing to allow looseness in the lower half of the body, giving a bit of bounce and spring – think of car suspension acting like shock absorbers.  Lower centre of gravity also gives you a lot more control, particularly reducing uncontrolled sliding on the dance floor.

For those of you whtelemark skiingo have learned snow skiing, the same principles apply – bend ze knees and get control over your movements. (And no, leaning a long way forward  with your butt sticking out on it’s own doesn’t count as bending the knees…!)

I’m going to try to explain for each of the 6 styles of Irish dance using static photos of Martin (below) but it will become clearer when you see people dancing and moving, and you know what you are looking at.

Traditional Irish step dancing & Irish two-hand dancingRelaxed stance
Stance is upright but relaxed – similar but different to the modern Irish step dancing style. You may also choose to dance only on the balls of your feet (forward stance) or a more flat style using the heel and ball of your foot depending on the step being dance

Irish céilí dancing
Very similar to traditional Irish step dancing, the body is somewhat more relaxed stance but still upright,  usually dancing on the balls of your feet – sprightly and springing to life when the music starts.

Modern Irish step dancing a.k.a Riverdance Upright stance
The style is very explicit and drummed into student dancers very early on – no variations. Very upright stance, chest forward, weight slightly forward on the balls of your feet (particularly for soft shoe dancing), and arms very straight and hands made into a fist. This ensures the dancer’s centre of gravity is quite high – the bulk of  the body weight is further from the floor- generally makes it easier for leaping, hopping and generally dancing up.

Irish sean nós and Irish set dancing
With these dance styles, you have a choice – can have either what I call a sit-down stance or a forward on-the-toes stance. As discussed in my previous post – Change Your shoes, Change Your Style – shoes and heel height can quite often dictate this stance. Higher heels tip you forward (forward stance) and flatter heels allow more rocking back on the heels (sit down stance).sit down stance 1

Sit-down stance
Notice how the body is sitting back and this allows the dancer’s centre of gravity to be more over the heels. This will allow you to do more battering steps with your heel and will give you more sound. To do this, bend your knees and pretend that you are about to sit down in a chair.

Forward stance
The body is still in the Z bend shape but angling forward, with the weight over the top of the balls of the feet.

forward stance 1It’s worth being aware of this difference, particularly for Irish sean nós dancing because it can get quite confusing when a teacher or someone showing you is doing a step one way and you find it difficult to do.

For example, if you are learning a shuffle step, this can be done heel-toe shuffle – strike heel first then the ball of the foot coming back OR toe-toe shuffle – strike ball of the foot going out and ball of the foot coming back. Both are correct but you just need to choose which way you want to dance or perhaps you can mix it up and do both. However, the choice is yours and both are great for Irish dancing.

You can see a great example of the forward stance (Edwina) and the sit-down stance (Michael) in this lovely bit of Irish sean nós dancing – doing the brush dance:

I hope this information is helpful and I’d love to hear what you think.

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

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3 thoughts on “Irish dance: Tips for Body Style

  1. Nora, thank you so much, this is enormously helpful. Wondered if you have come to our Irishfest in Milwaukee Wisconsin USA?

    • Hello Janet- Thank-you for your kind comment. No, I haven’t been to that festival but I have been keeping my eye on it and I will get there one day! Looks like a fantastic event that draws a wide audience. Happy Easter to you 🙂

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