Irish Dance School - Feis
The first 'Feis' (Festival) was organised by Conradh na Gaelige in Macroom, County Cork in 1898. Conradh na Gaelige also known as the Gaelic League was formed in 1893 and its aim was to promote the Irish culture, particularly spoken Irish and Irish literature. Conradh na Gaeilge was also responsible for promoting other areas of Irish culture particularly Irish dancing. The Gaelic league organised the establishment of dancing classes all over Ireland and even set up classes for the children of Irish Immigrants in Boston and London in the early 1900's. The London branch of Conradh na Gaeilge was founded in 1894.
The popularity of Irish Dancing is increasing! Irish dancing teachers all over the world teach second, third and fourth generation Irish girls and boys traditional jigs and reels. The outstanding success of productions such as Riverdance has encouraged even more children to learn to dance just like their ancestors. Irish dancers compete in dancing competitions regularly, all hoping to qualify for the world championships which brings together competitors form all over the world to be recognised as the best!
The Irish dancing commission known as 'An Coimisium le rinci Gaelacha' was established to promote Irish dancing and the World Irish dancing championships (Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne) were established in 1970. Until 2000 the championships were held annually in the Republic of Ireland. However in 2000 the world championships were held outside the republic for the first time in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since then they have been held all over the world due to the global popularity of Irish dancing.
Types of Irish Dance School
There are dance schools all over the world teaching the Irish dispora as well as those who just like the style of dance and the music. Most dance school lessons follow the academic year and lessons run from September to May or June.
Irish dancing competitions are held all over the world and solo step dancers compete to qualify for the world championships. Irish dance is mainly about steps (footwork). Timing and rhythm are vital and the speed of dancing is simply breathtaking.
Irish Dance SchoolSome parents are unsure of the best age to begin dance lessons. This is completely down to the individual instructor as well as the parent feeling that their child is ready to learn. Some instructors feel that six or seven years of age is ideal but some children begin dancing from as young as three and many competitions have a category for dancers under five! Dancers can learn at any time and some children don't begin dancing until their early teens, in fact Michael Flatley did not start dance lessons until he was twelve years old! Most teachers do not allow parents to be present while the lesson is in progress, the teacher needs to be in control of the class and this isn't possible if the parents are in the same room, the children simply do not have the same level of concentration as when the teacher is the only adult present. Apart from competitions, most teachers allow parents the opportunity to watch their progress once a term, often the last lesson of term is open for parents and grand parents to observe the progress made by the dancers.
Irish Dance School - Hard Shoes for Dancing
Irish dance schools will be able to advise parents where to purchase shoes for their children enrolling in dance classes. Often they keep a stock of second hand shoes for parents who are unsure if their children will continue with lessons. The image below shows a typical pair of Hard shoes worn for dances such as the Treble reel or Treble jig.
Picture of an Irish Dance Hard Shoes
Irish Dance School - Soft Shoes for Dancing
Soft dance shoes are worn for a variety of dances including the reel, slip jig and single jig. The shoes are very similar in appearance to ballet shoes but tie with laces instead of elastic. The shoes as shown in the image below are know by a variety of different names including ghillies, light shoes and pumps.
Picture of an Irish Dance Soft Shoes
Irish Dance School - Dresses
Most Irish dancing schools have their own costumes for the dancers to wear when performing in a group situation. Often Irish dancing schools are asked to perform a short routine at weddings, anniversaries and parties. However, once a dancer begins to perform as a solo step dancer the costumes can get very elaborate and expensive! The design of the dresses are based on the style of dress worn by Irish peasants over two hundred years ago but the dresses of today are certainly not peasant dresses! They often cost more than a wedding dress and there are a huge number of specialist designers who create bespoke dance dresses to the requirements of the individual dancer. The choice of colors, designs and material is endless, dresses are usually covered in a selection of Celtic patterns and also feature a cape which is tied at the shoulder typically with a Tara brooch. The picture of the dress below is just an example of an outfit worn by a solo Irish dancer and features a selection of Celtic and flower patterns.
Picture of an Irish Dance School Costume
Irish Dance School - Types of Dances
There are four main types of Irish step dances that solo dancers are taught:
There are many variations of each of the main step dances including light jig, single jig, double jig and treble jig. Other dances include the treble reel which is danced with hard shoes and set pieces which are individually choreographed dances to a piece of chosen music, each individual Irish dance school will have its own set piece taught to its dancers.
Benefits of Attending an Irish Dance School
Irish dancing is not just about footwork and a beautiful dancing costume! Although the dancers move their feet at a breathtaking rate and their costumes are amazing, timing and rhythm is also extremely important. Other benefits of attending and Irish dance school are:
Increased Physical Fitness
Fantastic and fun exercise
Increased concentration levels
Helps form a competitive spirit
Builds self esteem
Helps to improve stage presence
Promotes Irish Culture
Friendship amongst dancers attending lessons
Image of Will Kemp Dancing a Jig
The image above shows the famous Elizabethan clown, Will Kempe. He was an English actor and dancer. In fact he was an actor in Shakespeare plays. He is famous for dancing a jig from Norwich to London in 1600! Will Kempe 'was greatly applauded for his buffoonery, his extemporal wit and his performance of the Jig' (Extract from the book 'Kemps Nine Daies Wonder' - Published 1839)