Irish Dance and Tripping the Sod

Irish Dance and Tripping the Sod

Irish dance has gone through numerous changes since its inception from tan, wigs, and elaborate costumes to daring to wear pants during a competition. Such was the case in New Jersey where Breanna Broesler broke the mold of traditional Irish dance while competing in Glasgow, Scotland.  While not unusual for Irish women to challenge social norms, a brave step for a 22 year old. After all, Irish women have been known to take much greater risks. They challenged the authority of the British Empire in 1916.

irish danceHow I would have loved to see my little girls compete but would like to see it performed more simply, without the wigs, and extravagant dresses. My hats off to Brianna Broesler! when she dared to dance wearing trousers.

By the way, the word, phony, was derived from Irish. This is one of the fascinating trivia facts in the book, 100 Things You Didn’t’ Know about Ireland.

Scottish sword dancerScottish Sword Dance

Irish music and dancing are one, and like Irish music, the steps were taught  from person to person, generation to generation,  never to be written down until centuries later. Although most Irish culture was forbidden by England during Colonial times, the king of England loved entertainment.

Irish dance Two Irish dances were imported at the request of the Tudor King.

They were both country dances performed in a ’round.’ In addition the English were fascinated by the sword dances, favored by Scots. In fact, Ireland, Scotland, and France share history with Irish dance.

The Dance Master

As far back as the 1700s or more, Dance Masters traveled through rural villages, stopping along the way to teach dance steps to country people. He brought his own musicians and stayed with a local family. Dancing took place in kitchens, barns, at crossroads or out of doors.

This later form of education was called Hedge Schools. This is where the phrase, “tripping the sod ‘ came from.

Irish danceJumping and Twirling to an Irish Muse!

Not all Irish dance is the same. Some dances are meant as solo performances while others are meant to be with partners or in a large group. All share the frenzied jumping and often twirling to an Irish muse.

irish danceIrish dance has also migrated and mingled with the American Colonies of the South with Irish French, Scottish and Polish migrations. Their dances can be very similar.

Different Types of Dance

  1. Set Dancing is the older type of dance with a European flare, very much like American “square dance.” Traditionally it was done at a cross roads. They were extremely popular in County Clare.
  2. Ceili Dances were created because someone thought other types of set dance were not Irish enough. These days no one cares and often Ceiliis and Step dances are mixed together.
  3. Sean-nos-dancing is the solo sort of isolated dance with the arms hung loosely at the sides. I’ve heard this was in order that dancing were secretive should a British soldier be peeing in a window but I’m not sure if this is true.
  4. Lastly, we have the step dance which is the more contemporary dance we see today in shows like ‘River Dance.’ and competitions.

If you enjoyed this post you may like: Why Irish Music Remains a Mystery

To read about Women of the Easter Rising go here


4 thoughts on “Irish Dance and Tripping the Sod

  1. As the mom of 2 Irish dancers I just want to caution people about making assumptions of competitive dance if you aren’t a part of it. Yes, some parts (the tans especially) can be overdone. But the wigs serve a purpose – the bounce helps the judges to see if steps are timed correctly. The costumes can be blingy or more plain- there is nothing saying they have to be blinding; no two solo dresses are alike and many dancers have a hand in their design, incorporating symbols or colors meaningful to them. But beyond that you must see competitive dance as a sport. The hours of practice put in by dancers is no less – and no easier- than a basketball, volleyball, or football player. In fact, it may be more intense as, if you fail, you don’t have a team to pick up your slack.

    • Thank you Jody. This is great insight that we didn’t have before and you taught me things I did not know. As a spectator, its lovely to watch and I admire the skills the girls learn plus all that precision with each other much take a long time to learn. That is so interesting about the wigs.

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