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. Set dancing

Websites dealing with Irish and Scottish dancing

Lets not forget Breton dance:

Local resources and classes

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.


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.

English Ceilidh

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'.
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.
More info from his website

Ceili Bands

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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