Irish Dance Style: Up or Down?

I remember learning the High Cauled Cap in Ireland, a year or two after I had moved there from Australia- I think it was a lovely weekend in Mullaghboy, Co.Louth.

For those of you who don’t know, this is quite a complex Irish figure dance that crosses over between being a ceili dance and a set dance: an unusual creation with  a foot in both camps!

We got to the part where we do “sevens” – dancing sideways and back again to place – and I thought, “Goody -I know how to do this bit” ( SEE FILM at the bottom of this post). Every dancer who learns Irish step dancing will pretty much start with this step. And then a funny thing happened. Everyone else was doing sevens but they didn’t look the same, although it was very like the sevens I was dancing, with pointed toes and little leaps at either end but not the same. Then, the confusion of the next few moves overtook me and I forgot that thought.

The flat, slidey style of Irish set dancing soon became second nature to me and it has only been very recently that I have got to thinking about how all the styles of Irish dancing are similar, and how they are different.

Irish dance styles or types are similar in that they use mostly the same music and are all very rhythmic, and many of the steps are the same- seBallet up and flat down picturevens, over-one-twos, etc. What can be starkly different is the style or manner in which these steps and moves are done, and to some extent, why they are done- for performance and competition or purely for the craic!

I’ve located two really good YouTube examples of the High Cauled Cap (below) – one danced for modern Irish step dancing & Irish céilí style which is ballet-like and high up on the balls of the feet; and the other danced Irish set dancing style- flat, slidey and down.

Look closely and you will see in both of the videos that the dance is more or less the same but the style is completely different.

BALLET UP – Irish Ceili/ Step Dancing Style

FLAT DOWN- Irish Set Dancing Style


I thought it would be fun to try to show you very quickly how to dance sevens using both styles.

This exercise has seriously taxed my poor legs and feet as it’s been a long time since I did any kind of ballet moves (!) You will notice when I dance the Ballet-Up style,  I am doing a little hop on the back foot as I lift and step my front foot behind. The style for doing this for performance is a little different, with a jump and change of both feet position all at the same time- light and quick, very like ballet.

Why are they called sevens when there’s 8 bars of music?

Going left 2 bars    1,2,3,4,5,6,7–> On the spot 2 bars 1,2,3: 1,2,3

Going right 2 bars 1,2,3,4,5,6,7–> On the spot 2 bars 1,2,3: 1,2,3

Another lovely bit of Irish contrariness that will keep you on your toes!

Happy dancing.

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

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2 thoughts on “Irish Dance Style: Up or Down?

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