I am sure I am not the only one to have first been astonished by Irish dancing when I saw Riverdance. The thundering rhythms, the swiftly moving feet, the immobility of the rest of the dancers’ bodies. The story is told that the reason for that contrast between top and bottom came from the British prohibition of the Irish dancing in their accustomed way since it interfered with the British goal of having the Irish become English (and Protestant) as swiftly as possible. So the Irish, so the story goes, did their dancing behind curtains that came up halfway up the window. Thus the passing British soldiers could only see people moving around the rooms, never guessing that the feet were tapping and skipping behind the curtains.
But that is almost certainly nothing more than a good story. The more likely story for the rigid control of the upper part of the body is that the Irish dancing masters of the 18th and 19th centuries. Arthur Young, an Englishman traveling around Ireland in 1776-1778 reported that dancing was found among the poor as well as the well-to-do. “Dancing masters of their own rank travel through the country from cabin to cabin, with a piper or blind fiddler, and the pay is 6d a quarter. It is an absolute system of education.” Of course there were also at the highest level the dancing masters who claimed to have been trained in France. But for all of them proper deportment was an absolute commandments, and that is still seen in the Irish dancing today, although Michael Flatley of “Lord of the Dance” probably has pushed the limits of deportment farther than any of the traditional dancing masters would consider acceptable.
It is the step dancing that seems most typical to most of us not familiar with the range of Irish dances familiar to the Irish themselves. There are also the céilí dances, with as few as two dancers or as many as sixteen, dancing in circles or in lines, and set dances, with square sets of four couples.
Sean-nós (old style) dancing was formalized by the Irish Dancing Commission in the early days of Irish independence, when the importance of separating Irish traditions from the acquired English codes became paramount. In general the Dancing Commission favored a style of step-dancing based largely on the Munster style, but the sean-nós dancing of Connemara and Rathcairn has survived and flourished. Sean-nós dancing is distinguished by being less formal than the step dancing and céilí dances—the dancers wear street clothing and their arms can move with the rhythm of the dance or hang loosely at their sides.
Because of the various different styles of Irish dancing, there have come to be two sorts of shoes worn: the hard shoes are used for jigs and when the sharp percussive sound is desired. Soft shoes, also called ghillies, are laced across the foot and used for dances where the delicacy of the footwork is the focus.
Given the popularity of Riverdance, performed across the world after its initial performances in Dublin in 1995 and seen by over 25 million people, Irish dance is now performed by many dancers without a drop of Irish blood in their veins, charmed by the excitement of the clattering feet and the grace of the dance itself.
It’s 1810. The English have a firm grip on Diarmaid’s beautiful green Ireland. But Diarmaid McGuiness is determined to make that grip impossible to maintain. In the first half of this two-volume combination (The Divided Heart) we meet the reckless, red-haired Irishman as he tries out his wings as a rebel to follow in his dead father’s footsteps. In the second half (The Defiant Heart) we find Diarmaid as the determined leader of rebels that he has become, and the equally fierce, equally red-headed girl whose resolve to free Ireland is as strong as his own. Their clash leads them into unforeseen complications and new ambiguous challenges.
About the Author
Beppie Harrison fell in love with Ireland and Irish dance years ago, when she was living in England, and has been sharing that love with her Irish historical romance novels, taking place in the early years of the nineteenth century, when the Regency was in place in London, and the English rulers of Ireland were trying to come to terms with the stubborn resistance of the Irish people to buckle under to their control. Her most recent book is Diarmaid the Irishman, which puts two of her novels together in a single volume: The Divided Heart, in which we meet Diarmaid MacGuinness, and The Defiant Heart, in which we see him as a committed Irish rebel, making his way in a complicated world, with a fiery Irish girl with hair as red as his.
Find the Author Here