Irish dance basics: The heel of the reel

The Paris Opera Ballet School celebrated over 300 years of dance tradition in 2013,  and I recently saw a lovely documentary focusing on the experience of young dancers starting out and doing an orientation of the company. I was entranced by their passion and commitment, particularly their gentle and considered approach to every aspect of the school and it’s tradition.

Part of that tradition is where all the youngest & newest members of the ballet school participate in the annual défilé– a parade of all balleParis Opera Ballet School -defileballett school and company members prior to a proper ballet performance. Everyone is on show, and careful attention is paid to all aspects of the défilé slow walk. One young dancer said her teacher told her to imagine that our heels light up the room.”

I’m quite taken by that idea- every time you lift your heel there’s a bright shining light that illuminates.

However, it’s all very well to do that in a slow, deliberate ballet walk but trying to light up the room at a fast Irish reel pace can be quite a challenge. Here is some information about reels that might help you.

There are two music beats (for dancing, we count double the number of beats 1,2,3,4) for each bar of reel music, and they are evenly spaced. Each beat in the bar is the same amount of time.

The basic reel step has 4 steps to each one bar of music, which nicely matches our music count 1,2,3,4.However, the steps are not evenly spaced in time across that bar of music.

Reel step 4 steps to one barFirst two steps 1.HEEL LIFT + 2. PUSH SLIDE FORWARD are danced almost simultaneously and take up most of the music of one bar.

Last two steps are almost like an afterthought and come quickly and hot on the heel of the reel-3.STEP, 4.STEP.

When you are learning, I’d suggest you focus on starting on the SECOND step and don’t worry about getting the heel lift in until you can dance the other three steps in time with the music. So practice to very slow music – 2.Push slide forward, 3.step; 4.step;  2.Push slide forward, 3.step; 4.step; etc.

Push slide forward should be done like skating – sliding your foot forward while pushing off with the other foot,  so that is makes a nice sshhh sound.1. Learning the basic reel stepWhen you have those three steps in sequence, then add the heel lift which is on the foot you have pushed off on.

Heel lift is done by lifting your heel off the floor whilst still having all your weight on the ball/ front of your foot. This is not a hop.

2. Adding the heel to the reel

The secret to doing this well is understanding that the last step of the 4, and the first step of the next 4 are done on the same foot.

3. Step 4 and Step 1 are on the same footBeing able to do a good basic reel step is at the heart of really enjoying your Irish dancing, as my lovely musician friend David Simpson advised me when I was just starting out:

All the really good dancers love to dance to reels

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss
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