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How Irish Dancing was Invented

Much like storytelling, Gaelic games and traditional music, Irish dancing is an integral part of Ireland’s history, culture and heritage. 

Whether you live here on the Emerald Isle, are part of a diaspora in another country, or simply appreciate Irish culture from afar, chances are that you’ve seen Irish dancing in one shape or form.

Despite that, few know the origins of Irish dancing and we want to right those wrongs… 

What is Irish Dancing?

Irish dancing is a form of dancing generally typified by limited upper-body movement and fast, frenetic footwork. The rise of this style was in large part due to the limited spaces available, during its formative years, for public dancing. These spaces generally included local barns, pubs, or whatever was available. 

The dancing can be both solo or group and is undertaken for social, competitive and performance purposes depending on the dancers and groups involved.

Irish dancing includes set dancing routines, social ceili routines, step routines and dances known as jigs, reels and step dances. 

When was Irish Dancing Invented?

The true origins of Irish dancing are unknown as, like much of Ireland’s ancient culture, many of the traditions, history and teachings, were passed down generation to generation orally. 

Despite that it is known that dancing came to Ireland via the Druids and the Celts. The Druids were said to undertake circular dances around sacred trees whilst Celts celebrated the “Aonach” (Great Festival), at the famous Hill of Tara, with group dances.

The beginnings of what we recognise today as Irish dancing, began in the 17th century onwards and was influenced by English Country dances and French/Latin style Quadrille dances.

At this time Ireland witnessed the rise of traveling “dance masters” who would travel village-to-village teaching locals technique and style. This time also saw the rise of Irish traditional music and the two cultural expressions now go hand-in-hand together. 

Modern Irish Dancing

Since then Irish dancing has long been an important part of Irish culture.

The rise of modern Irish dancing began with the formation of the Gaelic League in 1893, the formation of the Irish Dancing Commission in 1930, and the launch of the Irish Dancing World Championships in 1970. 

The World Championships still run annually and regularly welcome over 6000 dancers from over 30 countries around the world!

For many though, modern Irish dancing will mean just one thing alone: Riverdance.

The popular Irish dancing show launched at Eurovision in 1994, headlined by champion dancers Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, and went on to achieve worldwide success during a remarkable run of 15 years! 

On a local level you will still find hundreds of Irish dancing groups and competitions throughout all corners of Ireland. 

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