Irish Step Dancing

By Sandra Buxton

By Sandra Buxton

by Sandra Lee Buxton

My DNA indicates that I am more than a third  Irish, which gives me the authority to speak  on a subject that I know nothing about, Irish  Step Dancing. Who hasn’t seen and loved  watching “Riverdance?” If that didn’t encourage you  to call for lessons or lay down with mental exhaustion,  well then nothing would. I checked into the history of  this form of dance and became even more intrigued. I  followed up with two local authorities that teach this art  and thought that you might find it interesting as well.

First a little history: The traditional music was  originally meant for dancing at celebrations, weddings, saint’s days or other  observances. Tunes are usually divided into two eight-bar strains which are each  played as many times as the performers feel is appropriate. At least ten instruments  were used in creating the music for the reel, hornpipe and jigs.

The music and dance have roots in pre-Christian Ireland. Traveling dance  masters taught all over Ireland beginning around the 1750’s and continued as late as  the early 1900’s. Irish dancing has evolved and adapted to accommodate and reflect  changing times blending with new cultures. It is often said that the stiff upper body was related to limited hard surfaces and space. People
removed their door from the hinges using the door as  the dance floor.

step dancers


The actual step dance is specific to each school or  dance instructor. Each dance is built out of the same  basic elements, but the dance itself is unique. The  performance dance is generally characterized by a  stiff upper body and quick precise movements of the  feet. Two types of shoes are worn, hard shoes, which  make sounds like a tap shoe, and soft shoes, which are  similar to ballet slippers. The dances for soft shoe and  hard shoes are generally different, though they share  basic moves and rhythms.

My Naples resources on Irish Dancing are  Michael O’Hare, owner of Flanagan-O’Hare School  of Irish Dance and Catherine Gorman, owner of  Celtic Spirit School of Dance. Both agree that Irish  Dancing is for people of all ages, the dance form is  modified to accommodate the age and abilities of  their students, which range from 4 to 80. The younger  students are able to start lessons when they can  count to ten and their goal is usually competitions.

Students who begin as an adult are generally involved  in team dancing (ceili) and enjoy the socialization  and exercise. The adult dancers have less hopping and  jumping in their routines.

Step Dancer


Students begin with warm up exercises, basic steps and positions and  what’s called “7s.” After that, the dancers learn one step at a time and add  to that once they mastered each step along the way. Dancers build off  of those steps and move towards more advanced steps using both hard  and soft shoes. Steps are taught and mastered according to level as well  as age. The need for a uniform varies between schools and a student may  dance for months before there is any consideration given  to purchasing shoes or parts of a costume.

Certified schools often believe dancers should  earn their costumes based on their practice and  performance. Not all schools mandate costumes  as they are costly and the family budget is  respected. Dancers start with weekly lessons  which increases to two, it is advised that students  have at least one hour of home practice between  lessons. This dance art is taught over several
years in order to become a dance master, which is  generally after five years of instruction.

Step dancing requires stamina and classes  are taught in a way to develop and maintain that  stamina through warm up and drill exercises.

Many students are also athletes but they do have  to protect ankles and feet so that they can continue  this dance art. Shoes and costumes are expensive so only those who are  dedicated make major commitments. Soft shoes (ghillies) are at least $50  while hard shoes are upwards of $125 to $200. It is possible to find gently used shoes which are considerably less costly.

trio of step dancers


Costumes are made in many  places but most are imported from Ireland or England and range from  $500 to $3,000.

Most dancers start with a school costumes and outfits and  then earn school dresses.

Once a dancer reaches a certain level, she can also  earn a solo dress. These are the most expensive and intricate dresses. Male  dancers usually wear simple shirts, black pants and ties. If this has piqued  your interest contact Catherine Gorman at 239.272.8791 or Michael  O’Hare at 239.961.0610 regarding this great form of exercise and dance art.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.