Evolution and Types of Irish Dance
The Irish dances and the dresses that they wear can be alluded to their past occupations, economy, and mythology. However, there is no concrete proof that we can base our assumptions on, since the books and documents were destroyed by the Vikings who raided the country around 7th century. Dance in Ireland basically started with Feisanna, which means a gathering that would have several events of commerce, politics, and entertainment merged together. Around 18th century, 'crossroads dancing' was introduced which was condemned by the Irish Church and dancers were ordered to keep indoors.
At present there are two basic dance forms in Ireland: social dances and performance dances. Other dances like Céilí and set dancing can be called a part of Irish Social dancing whereas the most famous step dance or river dance is under performance dances. You may question why one is called 'social' and the other one 'performance'. It is because couples did social dancing, usually four or two couples at a time. It is more about being together unlike performance dancing which is more of a performance oriented dance. Irish social dancing is all about upholding the culture and tradition of Ireland.
The dresses worn by modern dancers refer to the everyday clothing of Ireland that has been a part of their culture since the eighth century. The dresses worn by female dancers reflect the traditional Irish peasant dress and they are embellished with hand-embroidered Celtic patterns taken from the Book of Kells and Irish stone crosses which are quite a part of the Irish history. Imitations of the famous Tara Brooch are donned on the shoulder, which also helps in holding the flowing shawl that falls down over the back.
Initially, the designs on the costumes were minimum, almost nothing but as and how Irish dancing gained popularity, innovation was endeavored and distinctive costumes were designed. The presence of interwoven stitching and lines in the design referred to the continuity of the process of life. The popular colors when it came to Irish costumes were green and white. Red was a color that was averted because of its association with England, as it is known that Ireland has an extensive history of trying to gain independence of the British yoke. Men's dresses are simple since they wear plain kilt or pants, jackets, and a cloak.
Initially, dancers in Ireland did not wear shoes but then around 20th century they started wearing soft shoes when dancing jigs, reels, and slip jigs. Male dancers wore rawhide shoes, which were not very heavy and were quite suitable for dancing.
These shoes can be found on the Aran Islands where they are named Broga uirleathair. Step dancing evolved from the wooden soled taps or clogs which were worn by some fishermen on the west coast. When it became illegal to teach traditional music, the rhythm of the dance tune was passed down to the younger generation by tapping the hard shoes on the flag stones in the kitchen. Now those shoes are transformed into hornpipe shoes, which are specially made for step dancing and for reels and jigs soft shoes similar to ballet pumps are worn. Lately there are various kinds of shoes made by various schools of dance and it is quite an identity for the dancers.