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A brief history of Irish dancing

The earliest reference to dancing in Ireland comes from about 1300. Unfortunately, it doesn't say anything specific about dancing.

In the mid-16th century there are references to the Rinnce Fada, which means "long dance". The Rinnce Fada, or "fading" continues to be mentioned in literature throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. There are also references to jigs, roudelays, heys, and trenchmores.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of the dancing master. Dance teachers (the dancing masters) would travel from town to town (or village to village), staying about 6 weeks in a place, teaching dancing. Dancing masters would sometimes compete with each other for the right to teach in a particular area. They would dance their steps and whichever one could dance more steps won. Dancing competitions frequently happened on small spaces, such as the top half of a door laid on the ground. More interestingly, sometimes the surfaces were soaped to make it more challenging. The dancing masters were probably responsible for the development of both the ceíli dances and the set dances.

The 20th century saw the rise of "standardized" Irish dancing. The ceíli dances were standardized, definitely at a loss to regional variations and probably to historical accuracy. The An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha produced a series of books which have the standard ceíli dances in them.

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Last updated: March 30, 2001