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Irish and Scottish dancing footwork

Irish footwork

Irish dancing has three basic steps: threes, sevens, and jig steps. Threes are used to dance in place, to move forward, and to move backward. To dance threes, you dance right-left-right, left-right-left. Your feet should land in about the same spot on the ground. You want to lift your knees as you dance your threes--this gives it the characteristic Irish look.

Sevens are used to move sideways. To dance sevens moving to the right: start with your right foot in front and your left foot behind. Bring your right foot up near your left knee and hop on your left foot. This is "1". Jump onto your right foot, placing it in front and to the right of your left foot. This is "2". Cross your left foot behind your right and hop onto it--this is "3". Move your right foot (keeping it in front) to your right and hop onto it--"4". Continue this way up to seven. This takes the same amount of time as dancing two threes. Dancing sevens to the left is the same, only you reverse right and left.

When dancing sevens, the direction you are going is the foot which is in front. This front foot remains in front--you never bring it behind.

Usually, you dance two threes at the end of a seven. Sometimes you will dance a jig step at the end of a seven.

There are several jig steps, but I am only going to cover one of them. This step is known as the rise and grind. This is the right side version of the rise and grind. Put your weight on your left foot and lift your right foot off the ground. Hop on your left foot once. Hop on your left foot again, bringing your right foot back behind your left foot and then shift your weight onto your right foot, leaving your left foot in the air. We use the phrase "hop, hop back" for these three movements. The next movement is a hop on your right foot. Then you alternate feet, left-right-left-right. The phrase for this whole movement is: "hop, hop back, hop 1-2-3-4." To do the step on the left foot, reverse the left and right directions.

A jig step takes as long as two threes.

Scottish footwork

Scottish dancing has four basic steps. In reels and jigs, there is a setting step and a travelling step. In strathspeys, there is a different setting step and a different travelling step.

The reel (and jig) setting step is somewhat similar to the Irish threes. To begin with, you can dance it exactly like threes--right-left-right, left-right-left. After you have that down, you can start working on foot position. In Scottish dancing, when you "set" your feet should make a "T" figure. To begin with, your right foot should be pointing at about a 45-degree angle from your body. The heel of your left foot should be at the arch of your right foot. This is the position for your setting step to the right, when you dance right-left-right. To dance the setting step to the left, your left foot makes a 45-degree angle from your body, and the heel of your right foot should be at your left arch. The first step of each setting step is slightly longer than the other two steps, e.g. right-left-right, left-right-left, with the emphasized steps being longer.

The last piece to the Scottish setting step is the kick. This comes before the first of each setting step. With your feet in position for a right setting step, you extend your right foot out so that your leg is fully extended, knee straight, foot slightly off the ground. You bring it back and down for the start of your setting step: "and-1-2-3", "kick-right-left-right". Basically, your right foot lands on the ground at the same time, whether or not your are doing the kick. You do the same thing on the left foot.

The setting step is used in place, and it is also sometimes used to move forward and backward.

The reel travelling step goes as follows: step forward with the right foot, bring your left foot up as for a setting step (bring the arch of your left foot up to the heel of your right foot), step with the right again, bring the left foot up and through, doing a lift as the left foot passes your right leg. Then you step left, close right, step left, step through right.

The strathspey travelling step is basically the same as the reel step, only done with more deliberation because the music is slower.

The strathspey setting step is unlike the reel setting step. To set to the right, you move your right foot sideways to the right, then follow with your left foot. Move your right foot to the right again, but this time when you follow with your left foot, you bring it up below your right knee and do a lift with your right foot. You then go back to the left to return to your original place. You then move off to the left of your original place to set to the left.

Last updated: November 5, 1999