Irish and Scottish Dance
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
-WB Yeats, The Stolen Child
Irish and Scottish people have been dancing at ceilis or ceilidhs
(literally, gatherings) for hundreds of years, and enjoying themselves no end.
Traditional dancing is now undergoing a resurgence both at home and around the
world. In light of this, and of the close links between celtic music and dance,
Ceolas presents the following information and links to the world of Irish and
Scottish traditional dance.
What is Irish dancing?
There are two general kinds of dancing: set and ceili dancing. Ceili dancing involves
large groups, and is pretty easy to pick up, while set dancing is much more elaborate
and usually requires more teaching. Set dances are usually danced by four couples, forming
a square, and have evolved from French quadrilles.
In Scotland, the ceilidh seems to be the equivalent
to the Irish ceili, and there is also Scottish Country Dancing and competitive Highland
dancing. In Ireland, the exhibition-style Step dancing is also associated with competitions.
Websites dealing with Irish and Scottish dancing
Lets not forget Breton dance:
Local resources and classes
- Mountain View, California (Irish Cultural Society)
- Mountain View, California (Irish Network)
- San Francisco
- Philadelphia Ceili Group
- Ceili dance classes in St. Paul, MN
- Scottish Dance in Minnesota
- Irish and Scottish dancing in Portland, Oregon
- Irish and Scottish dancing in the Washington, DC area (and Ceili's in DC,
not to mention more Irish Dance and Music in DC/Baltimore.
- More stuff from Portland (Irish only)
- Classes in New York (maybe outdated)
- More New York dancing at the Rince Ceol.
- Chicago (Irish, Scottish and other folk dance)
- Boulder, Colorado
- Cleveland, Ohio.
- Akron, Ohio.
- Marietta, Georgia (Mulligan Irish Dance School)
- Balyglas Irish Dancers (Seattle)
- Grand Rapids, Michigan
Traditional Dance Music
Traditional music is dominated by dance tunes in both Ireland and Scotland. The main categories are
European waltzes and polkas are also common in both Scottish and Irish dances.
- Reel - in 4/4 time, usually fast, the most popular of rhthms
- Jig - in 6/8, derived from the European gigues
- Hornpipe - in 4/4 time but with every second beat strongly accented
- Strathspey (Scotland) - an even more strongly accented hornpipe, in 4/8 time.
- Polka (Ireland) - local to the Cork/Kerry region, similar to European polkas.
Riverdance started as a brief intermission piece at Ireland's hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest, revolutionising
the perception of Irish dance, by taking it from the old straight-laced and rule-bound competition format to a
modern and dramatic form of dance. It became the number one talking point in Ireland for weeks, and the video
repeatedly sold out around the globe. It lead to an extended "Riverdance - the show" which has sold out in Dublin,
London and New York, and is expected to be touring for at least another year.
From Martin Kiff, who knows much more about this than I do:
'English Ceilidh' dates from when the high-energy wing of English Folk
dancing borrowed the Scottish 'Ceilidh' to distinguish their energetic
dances from the more considered English Country Dance style or the
suggestion of American Square given by 'Barn Dance'.
More info from his website
The dances are the same simple English/Irish/Scottish/Contra dances
but done with considerable vigour and swing; the best music however is
exploratory, with Jazz, Rock, Swing and European influences.
Ceili band music is a whole sub-genre of Irish traditional music, with which many have a love/hate
relationship. The primary purpose of most of these bands is to provide music for the dancers, not
for listeners. As a result, the rhythms are very tight, the number of instruments is high (to
increase the volume) and individual expression is not high on the agenda. Most ceili bands are
local to a town, though a few such as the Tulla Ceili Band (with which Martin Hayes played for
several years) have reached fame, glory and many recordings.
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