In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, today’s post will focus on Irish dancing!
In 1366 the Statute of Kilkenny imposed heavy penalties upon anyone practicing Irish customs, so traditional dancing was carried on in secret until the 1700’s. During that time Dance Masters would travel the countryside, one per district, teaching peasants how to dance. Several versions of the same dance started to appear all over Ireland. Over the years the dances were assembled and modified to be the four main types of Irish dances that we see today; the jig, reel, hornpipe, and set dances.
Jigs originated in England, but became popular in Irish culture around the 1600’s. The jig and the reel are very similar dances in rhythm and movement. However, a reel has more silent and gliding movements than a jig. Jigs can be found in either 6/8 or 9/8 time, and reel music is 4/4 time. So they both are very fast paced dances. There are several different types of jigs such as the light jig, heavy jig, slip jig (which is in 9/8 time), hop jig, and treble jig. Normally only women dance jigs in 9/8 time, but both men and women dance the 6/8 jigs and reels. The hornpipe began in the mid 1700’s and is similar to a slow reel. It too has 4/4 time music, but it has accents on the first and third beats (not just the first like in a reel). Set dances are usually performed by (four) couples and are arranged in squares. Set dances came to Ireland in the 1800’s, by soldiers returning home from the Napoleonic Wars in France.
When I was younger, my pop-pop used to teach me a new set dance every time I visited their house. My grandparents would take my little sister and me to various Irish Festivals all over Pennsylvania and Delaware in the summer time where we could join to all they dances they taught us. I started to learn how to jig from an Irish camp I attended in 4th grade, but since my Irish dancing skills really aren’t that great enjoy this video of Irish dancing instead!
“Dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with the heart is another.” ~ An Irish Proverb