Traditional Irish Step Dancing
Traditional step dancing developed from sean nós ("old style") dancing which was free-form solo dancing performed by men who composed their own steps. It was mainly danced to reels and was usually associated with the west coast of Ireland, in particular, Connemara. Not all dancers learned to dance in a formal teacher/pupil way but picked up the steps simply by watching others in their locality.
The emergence of dancing masters meant that more children could be taught to dance and so it was that the dancing master, accompanied by a musician, would arrive in a village to give dancing classes. His arrival in the area would create great excitement and there was great rivalry for the honour of who would put him up. Each dancing master would have a distinct way of teaching his own steps and would teach hornpipes, jigs and reels as well as ‘deportment’.
Traditional old-style step dancing is low-to-the-ground, dancing on the beat of the music using leather-soled shoes. It was usual for the men to dance in heavy shoes and the women to dance in lighter shoes: somewhere along the way that changed.
The old-style step dancing uses well-paced jigs, reels and hornpipes as well as slip jigs. In addition, there are the ‘set’ dances which are generally danced in jig or hornpipe time and often set to music of the same name, such as St Patrick’s Day and Humours of Bandon, both in jig time, and the Garden of Daisies, Blackbird and Job of Journey Work, all in hornpipe time.