Irish dancing is a cultural form of dance, rich in tradition and ethnicity, which originated in Ireland hundreds of years ago. Irish dances are traditional group numbers that can either be divided into performance dances or social dance, and going even further, into solo, pairs and groups.
Although step-dancing is often the dance form that comes to mind when thinking of Irish dance, it is in fact only one of a number of styles. Other Irish dance styles include Ceili (pronounced KAY-lee), Sean-nos and set dancing.
Step dancing is a highly skilled art form focusing entirely on footwork. Arms are held tightly at the sides and the torso remains rigid. While it is unclear exactly why the upper body does not participate in this dance, the most intriguing theory is that because when Irish dancing was banned by the British, dancers only used their feet so they would not appear to be dancing if seen through the windows.
Ceili involves several couples dancing together in a set pattern and is usually performed in a line or circle. Dancers either learn the steps in advance or listen to a caller announce them. Sometimes partners are exchanged in this type of social dance.
Sean-nos, meaning “low down,” is an old-style solo form of Irish dance. The movements are low to the ground and often improvised. Similar to tap dance, the arms move freely and are sometimes incorporated into the steps.
Set dancing resembles ballroom dancing and employs steps such as the waltz, polka and swing. In recent years it has become very popular in Ireland and is gaining in popularity in the United States.
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