The Growth of the Jig

As I mentioned before, Irish dance’s popularity has grown exponentially over the last decade. With the development of dance companies like Lord of the Dance and Riverdance, movies, and documentaries, more and more people have been able to explore the world of Irish dancing, and begin to fall in love with it.


Riverdance Company

I know that I personally fell in love with Irish dance when my teacher began to teach me my first step; it was something different from any other form of dance I had done, and that made it exciting. The growing interest in Irish dance most likely comes from this excitement of something new and different. Irish dance is something you get hooked on, and once you start, you cannot stop. Whether it’s the music, the shoes, or even the bling, Irish dance celebrates a culture, and offers a challenge to both young and old dancers.


Best Friends

Irish dance is more than just fast feet; it takes stamina, balance, poise, and a level head in order to succeed. The challenge Irish dance presents to dancers makes them want to become better, tougher, stronger, and all around happier dancers. However, once a dancer reaches their goal, there is always another knocking at the door.

Winning Worlds

Winning Worlds

I think that is another reason why Irish dance has become a popular form of dance. Since it always changing, there is always more to learn, always another challenge to face and overcome. Although it may be a tough form of dance to start and get into, once friendships are formed, steps are learned, and the music is heard, a dancer has a hard time not loving it.


Not only has the form of dance grown in popularity among dancers, but audiences as well. Just the reactions I get when I say I do Irish dance astounds me. People’s eyes get wide, and an automatic smile comes to their face because it is something different, a breath of fresh air if you will.The music is lively, the movements are fun, and it really can work a crowd; it is no surprise it has grown in popularity. No matter where I may be dancing, there is always toe tapping and clapping heard from the crowd, not because they have to, but because they want to! Irish dance offers an audience culture, music, and fun that many of the other forms of dance cannot.


Brogan Mackay, 3 time World Champion

However, the one thing that really put Irish dance on the map was the movie Jig. Jig is a documentary developed by Sue Bourne that went behind the normally closed doors of Irish dance competitions and followed Irish dancers ranging from ages 8-21 from all over the globe as they made their way to the World Championships in Scotland 2010.


It showed the dedication, hard work, and passion Irish dancers have for their sport, and allowed audiences to see what Irish dance has to offer. Jig really is a movie that I have seen take the tiniest of dancers and make them want to aspire to become better dancers and never give up. The movie offers dancers and spectators alike to enjoy the form of dance and see why Irish dancers do what they do. Below is the trailer.

I know that I personally could never see myself giving up on Irish dancing. Some of my best memories come from dancing, and the life-long friendships I have formed over the years with dancers from all over the country I cherish too much just to throw it all away. Irish dance has given me the opportunity to learn teamwork, improve my self-esteem, and help me to realize that if you work hard enough, you can reach your goals.


Photos Courtesy of Fan Pop , Irish Dance Diaries, and Twitch Film


The Dress from Head to Toe

In the Irish dance world, the clothing we wear defines us as a dancer. Whether at competitions or performances, the way Irish dancers dress makes them stand out. When Irish dance was starting out, men and women would wear their Sunday best: shined shoes, curled hair, etc. Since then, the dress has drastically changed, but a few pieces have not yet disappeared. It may seem like a lot at first, but once you understand the basics it all seems to come together.

The Wigs


Long Wigs

Irish dancers get it all the time, “Is that your real hair?”. Though we are flattered at the question, the truth is that usually it is not. This is not because we simply enjoy bobbing pins threaded into our scalps, or the sheer heat that comes from them, but because it is Irish tradition. Girls would always curl their hair for church on Sundays “back in the day”, and then dance afterword for family gatherings and socials, so the tradition of curly hair just kind of stuck.


Bun Wig

In the forties and fifties girls would still pin-curl their hair for competitions and performances, but once the idea of synthetic hair came about everyone jumped at the chance. The wigs simply are easier to put on and take less time and effort then curling it, yet still sticks to the tradition. The style of wigs depends on a dancer, some are large, some are small, but they all give an Irish dancer a unique look and bounce to their dancing. Wigs can range anywhere between 10 and 100 dollars US depending on the style and color choice. No matter what the case, wigs are an important part of Irish dancing because it allows dancers to make their look unique and still preserve an Irish dance tradition.

The Headpiece


Along with the wig usually comes some soft of headpiece. This can be a headband, a tiara, or even flowers; it all depends on the dancer. Many Irish dancers have taken the idea of “bling” to an extreme in their headpieces, some covered with mire than 300 crystals to try and set them apart from other dancers.


The Accessories

You commonly see more “bling” at Irish dance competitions rather than ceilis or performances because an Irish dancer wants to stand out in front of the judge. Headpieces usually match the dancers dress by color or crystal to allow for a more uniform look. I have seen headpieces range from $15 to $90, and I am sure there are some far more expensive.

I actually was able to make the one shown above by using an old, thick headband, some extra velvet from my dress, and a sparkly headband. I have seen this done a lot, as they can be expensive, but it really is just a dancer’s choice.

For more information on headpieces and wigs visit some of my favorite sites!

Celtic Curls

Emerald Key

Camelia Rose

Irish Dance Diva

The Dress

The dresses are one of my personal favorites aspects of Irish dance. I love everything from the color choices, to the embroidery, to the crystals, to the skirt; it all blows me away. The dresses in Irish dance have gone through many changes over the years, mostly in the last five, that have made Irish dance a more unique than ever before. The idea of the “Sunday Best” has still held through, as many of these dresses are very intricate and well kept for competitions and performances.



At first the embroidery on a dress was meant to tell an Irish folktale from top to bottom, but most of this has disappeared, and it has hurt me deeply. The whole point of Irish dance is to keep a tradition alive, so I knew that when I purchased my dress I wanted to be sure it had traditional embroidery. Most embroidery on traditional dresses can be found in “The Book of Kells” that give many different patterns and ideas, and allows for a dress to tell a story.


Traditional Embroidery

Recently dresses have been made so over the top that the dancing gets lost in the dress and I sometimes find myself looking more at the dress and less at the dancer. I know why the dresses have changed, but I still find it heart breaking that they had to change so much that tradition was lost.

Older style dresses usually have three panels with detailed embroidery and are extremely heavy, hence one of the reasons skirts have been made of lighter material. Old-fashioned dresses can run anywhere between $100-$600 and usually are one of the first “solo-dresses” a dancer will wear.



The more recent styles usually include an A-line embroidery, thousands of crystals, and a softer skirt, and can run anywhere between $800-$4000 depending on the level of bling, embroidery, and designer. These dresses usually are worn during solo dance competitions and are meant to be extravagant in order to stand apart from other dancers she may be going against.  No matter what style a dancer chooses, she will always remember it and usually will pass it on to a young or new dancer to keep the dress “alive” if you will.


Soft Skirted

To see more examples of Irish Dance dresses visit these sites!


Elevation Design

Gavin Doherty

The Cape

Usually along the back of the dress, a dancer will wear a cape that complements the style of the dress. There are many different styles of capes a dancer can wear, but they all are there because of tradition. Years ago, a female dancer would wear some sort of cloak to church, and then remain wearing it while dancing. It became apparent that wearing a cloak was not very practical, so dancers began to wear small capes instead.




The Socks

I know I have spent a long time on the dresses, but the feet and legs are the most important aspect of Irish dancing. Usually along with a dress come white socks, which we call “poodle-socks”. Years ago, black tights worn with ghillies or hard shoes were considered seductive, so a white durable sock was used instead.


Plain Poodle Socks

The socks are said to get its name from an Irish tale. During the Great-depression, cotton was hard to come by, so when an Irish wool-worker was making sweaters some of his poodle’s hair fibers got mixed in with the wool, and voila a material just as durable as cotton! Although the material was not as soft as cotton, it worked just the same, and the name just sort of stuck to today. Although usually made of 100% cotton now, poodle socks have become another staple in the Irish dance world, so much that “sock glue” was made just to keep them up when dancing.


Sock Glue

I have seen many variations of the socks at competitions, some with crystals (always have to have more bling), some tie-dyed, but whatever the style they make the eye look at the feet. Since Irish dance shoes are black, the white contrast of the sock allows a judge or spectator to see the feet better and enjoy the dancing. The socks are one of the less costly stapled in the Irish world ranging from $10-$25.





To see more examples visit Keily’s Irish Dance

The Boys

Although it may seem like the Irish world is filled with female dancers, some of the best dancers are male. Male dancers do not have to purchase poodle socks, wigs, dresses, or headpieces, instead they wear a vest.


Simple Vest with Tie

Like the dresses, the vest have transformed over time with intricate embroidery and bling for the same reasons as the dresses, and have become an intricate part of their dancing. A male dancer will usually wear black pants and socks, a black shirt, and tie along with his vest; however, dancers want to make their look unique so have leaned toward colored shirts and ties in order to stand out from the crowd.


Crystallized Vest with Matching Cuffs

The Bottom-line: 

No matter what look a dancer chooses, it is his or her dancing that will set them apart, and I hope that every dancer understand this. I personally did move away from a traditional three-panel dress to a more modern one, but I still incorporated traditional elements in the embroidery and cape. Whatever a dancer chooses, it is their personality that stems the idea for their look, and that is something that makes Irish dance so great! The Irish dance world has allowed itself to transform in style, yet still hold onto the tradition that makes it what it is. IMG_3504

Dress Photo Courtesy of Tumbler

Sock Photos Courtesy of Rutherford Shoes and

Boy’s Vest Photos Courtesy of New Haven University and Irish Central

The Competitive Side

I know through my previous posts I kept talking about this “competition” thing, but I wanted to keep you on your toes (pun intended). The competitive world of Irish dancing is one that I walked into two years ago not knowing what to expect at all and unsure of what I had gotten myself into.


My very first competition was June of 2011 at the Old Dominion Feis in Fairfax, VA. There were at least a thousand dancers and their families packed into this high school gym, with Irish music playing, stages all around, judges sitting patiently; my first thought was chaos. Being an older dancer, and just starting to compete it was really intimidating when most of the girls my age at the time had been dancing since they were five.


However, I did not give up and I pushed through with confidence knowing that I wanted to excel in dancing no matter what it took. I ended up placing out of my division that very day, and the rest is history. Competitive Irish dancing allows a dancer to strive for a goal, in most cases becoming a World Champion, and allows a dancer to grow both physically and mentally in his or her dancing. I know that since I started to compete I have grown tremendously as a dancer, and I think it is a great opportunity for a dancer even if they try it one time.


 How does it work?

In order to compete at a competition, a dancer must register by mail or online through the many different websites created and pay the required fees. Usually there is an entry fee, somewhere between $10 and $20, and then each competition you enter has its own fee as well. Each section of Irish dance has its own competition, including Reel, Slip Jig, Treble Jig, Hornpipe, Treble Reel, Traditional Set, and then ceilis or figures. These are farther broken down by age and level that increase in difficulty as a dancer moves on.

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Registration Example

Each dancer is assigned a number (usually ordered by last name) that they pick up the day of the feis and wear it while they compete. This allows for the judge to distinguish between dancers while allowing for a level playing field among the dancers.


 As I mentioned before the competition is broken into sections. First by level: Beginner, Advanced Beginner, Novice, Prizewinner, Preliminary Championship, and then Open Championship. In order to move up in a level a dancer must earn a certain placement (first, second, third, etc) with the confidence that he or she can succeed in the upper level. These levels are then broken down by age, usually by two year increments, until you reach 15, then it usually will turn into a 15 & over, unless there are enough registered dancers for more age brackets.



Beginner: A dancer who has either not yet competed, or received a first, second, or third in this level

Advanced Beginner: A dancer who has received a first, second, or third in the beginner category

Novice: A dancer who has received a first, second, or third in the Advanced Beginner category

Prizewinner: A dancer who has received first place in the Novice category

Preliminary Championship: A dancer who has received first place in both light shoe and hard shoe dances in the Prizewinner level

Open Championship: A dancer who has received two first place wins in all offered dances

Each group of dancers will line up on one side of the stage, shoulder to shoulder, in front of an adjudicator who will write down the numbers of each dancer. Two to three dancers (depending on the size of the stage) will then step forward and wait for the music. Music at Irish dance competitions is always live, with a musician playing either a violin or accordion.


Once the tempo begins the dancers will dance two steps. As the first dancers reach the final half of their second step (the left foot) the next two dancers will get ready to perform, and the pattern continues until every dancer has danced. Once all dancers have gone, the judge will nod or ring a bell, all will bow and then exit the stage. This set up is different for those in Preliminary and Open championship, as they have a panel of three judges, but it basically runs the same way. A great resource for a more detailed look at things is the North American Feis Commission‘s website. They give you a break down of what rules are established and how a dancer must perform.



One important thing to point out about Irish dance competition is that every dancer has different steps. Although many dances may have the same movements, each dancer gets to do his or her own thing, that can make it difficult for the little ones just starting out, but allows dancers to be unique. Due to this, photography and video taping at Irish competitions is strictly forbidden due to the fact that other dance schools will “steal steps”. Recently, this has not been that big of an issue, but it is still forbidden all the same. To see tips on how to impress a judge visit World Irish Dancer.



The nail biting moment is when you are sitting there anxiously awaiting the results of the competition. I personally do not look until I have completed all of my dances for that day, just in case, but no matter what the outcome I am always proud that I got out there and did my best. The judge scores dancers based on their technique, style, and overall appearance. If your toes were pointed, legs were straight, arms were tight, and you held a smile, chances are you placed very high.


World Champion

The greatest moment of a young dancer’s life is seeing their number listed on that sheet of paper. Preliminary and Open Champions awards are conducted at a podium where each dancer is called by name to receive their award. Awards can be medals, trophies, sashes, or even cups, depending on the feis, but no matter what you do or do not receive, every dancer should be proud of themselves for getting out there and doing their thing!

Oireachtas (Pronounced Orocktus), Nationals and Worlds

These competitions are run a little differently as they include a larger area of dancers and much fiercer competition.



Oireachtas: This is a regional competition that is broken up by state in the United States including: Mid-America, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Southern, and Western, each with their own annual competition that varies in location. The number of dancers in each level increases tremendously compared to that of a local feis, usually in the hundreds, and a dancer must place high enough in order to qualify for nationals or worlds. A dancer at Oireachtas will dance one soft shoe, one hard shoe, and then a traditional set piece, in the same fashion as a local feis. These scores are complied, and the top dancers in each category (depending on the number of dancers) will either qualify for nationals or worlds.



Nationals: Nationals run the same way as Oireachtas, and the highest placed dancers in each category will move on to the World Competition.



Worlds: Worlds is the ultimate goal for an Irish dancer. Dancers from all over the world will meet once a year for a chance at the title of World Champion. The competition is run similar to that of Oireachtas and Nationals, except the stakes are much higher. There can be upwards of 400 dancers in your category, and you must show the judges that you are the best. A world champion dancer has poise, grace, and elegance on the stage, does not make one mistake, and holds that trophy up high. This past year they were held in Boston, Massachusetts, but they can be held anywher from Ireland to Australia! With motivation and A LOT of practice, every dancer can get there.


Beginner Photo Courtesy of Dailey Edge

Judge Photo Courtesy of Irish Dance Tumbler

Oireachtas, National, and World Photos Courtesy of Irish Central

Clicks and Stomps

Clicks and stomps can be done by male dancers in soft shoes as well as hard shoes, but are strictly done in hard shoe dances for women. They are some of the more powerful hard shoe movements because of their snapping sounds and can add energy and excitement to a dance.


Clicks can be done forward or back, and is a motion that clicks the heels of the shoes in a quick motion. In order to successfully hear the click sound a dancer must ensure his or her feet are turned out enough and close enough to hit the widest part of the heel. Although difficult to get at first, with practice and visualization they can become some dancer’s greatest assets.

Stomps on the other hand are less difficult.  They too respond to their name, and are a quick stomp of the whole foot onto the floor, the only time when an Irish dancer should have the heel on the floor. They usually stand in for pauses in the music, and can really draw someone’s eye when heard.

Photo Courtesy of Tumbler


One of the first movements dancers will learn when they try out their hard shoes are trebles, or shuffles. Trebles are the basic hard shoe step that changes in speed depending on the music, and makes two sounds. You first shuffle your foot forward to make the first sound, and then back to make the second.


They are very similar to the tap dancing shuffle, yet are done closer into the body instead of out to the side. While doing trebles, dancers must still remember to stay on the toes and keep both feet turned out to the side.

Photo Courtesy of Corr’s Irish


Sevens are another one of the more basic and simple movements that are performed to their name. Dancers move either to the right or left side, on the toes of course, while stepping seven times.


However, with sevens the same foot remains in front during each step with the direction you are dancing matching the foot in front.  They are very common in ceili dances, and are often used as transition in more complicated steps in order for a dance to travel.

Photo Courtesy of Shelly Allen

Cuts and Overs

A cut, or whip, is just what it sounds like. A dancer lifts his or her front foot up to the opposite hip in a sharp point, while keeping the foot on the ground off the heel and turned out to the side. These can be done quickly or slowly depending on the type of dance, but usually they are done at quick speeds.


Overs are one of the more difficult movements in Irish as it takes more precise movement and concentration. Dancers start out by pointing the front foot, up on the toes, and the proceeding to lift that leg at least to waist height while lifting the back leg to a tucked position behind. I know it may sound very complicated, but it is much easier to understand once you see it, so do not get discouraged. They are one of the more beautiful movements in Irish as well, due to their height, which makes them very graceful and an awe to look at.