Irish Step Dancing Costumes: Children's Ages

Figure 1.--Judges carefully watch this dancer's foot work. The normal boy's costume for Irish dancing is a short jacket, white shirt, tie, shoulder sash, kilt, and kneesocks. The kneesocks usually match either the jacket or the kilt. Some American dancing schools let the boys wear long black pants, but until recently this was not common in Ireland.

Children often begin learing Irish step dancing at about 6 or 7 years of age. Some begin a little younger if they are in an Irish dancing family. A few boys begin aittle older for a variety of reasons, but generally not a lot older. Sometimes because of the cost of a dabcing jacket and kikt, the younger children usually the boys, do not begin with the firmal dancing outfit. The dancing kilt is expensive and some parents want to make sure the children are serious. Some mothers are so anxious to have their boys in Irish dancing that they buy a kilt right away. This varied from family to family.

Age to Begin

Parents often ask when children should begin Irish dancing lessons. Many instructors suggest beginning at the age of 6 or 7, sometimes younger if the dancer has an older brother or sister in the school. The developmental age of the child is critical as you want the child to have a very pleasant experience. So children need to have reached a certain level of coordination. There are many children who first began lessons as early as age 4. In fact, many dancers do not recall when they began dancing because their mothers enrolled them at such an early age. Often mothers who enroll their children at an early age are those who did Irish dance as children themselves. The younger children are usually girls. Other children begin as late as their mid-teens, again usually girls. Before enrolling a very young child into Irish dance, it is a good idea to ask the teacher to spend a few moments with your youngster and give you an honest appraisal of what to expect in the first year (before committing to lessons). Teachers are qualified to evaluate your child and usually welcome the opportunity to do so.

Ages to Compete

We note quite a few younger boys beginnin with Irish dancing. Often mothers interested in Irush dancing encourage them to participate. And often if they have sisters in Irish dancing they also have a hanhd at it. We see the children vegin to participate at about age 6 years. The largest number of boys seem o be in this younger group. Og=ften biys have a hand at it regardless of their actual skills and abilitirs. Thise boys who do not develop some prifessiency rapidly drop out of the competitions, especially by about 10 years of age or a little older. There is far more competition among the girls, even at ages that many if the boys are dropping out. . Older than this it is primarily the boys competing in the championship competitions that continue with it. This is especially the case of teenagers.


Sometimes because of the cost, the younger children usually the boys, do not begin with kilts. Younger boys may dance in long or short pants. Boys dancing in shorts usually wear kneesocks because the boys in kilts always wear knee socks. The dancing kilt is expensive and some parents want to make sure the children are serious. Some mothers are so anxious to have their boys in Irish dancing that they buy a kilt right away. Girls are more likely to begin with a proper dancing dress. They do not wear kilts, but rather dresses to help establish the kilt as a male garment. The little girlmhere wears a red kilt-like skirt because she is just beginning. This is, however, highly unusual. Almost all of the girls wear daresses to dance. Often they begin with standard dresses adopted by their dancing schools.


Normally separate competitions are held for boys and girls. Especially at the younger ages, the girls seem more skilled than the boys. This may be because of differung inteest levekls and well as normal developmental rates which vary somewhst fir biys abd girks. At some feises, however, there are so few boys competing that their events are combined with the girls. Generally speaking, the boys prefer separate competitions.

Figure 2.--At the boys' request, girls at this dancing class covered their eyes as the two boy dancers practiced a few steps during final rehearsals for the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The girls do not seem to impressed with the biys.

Gender Differences

Most of the children interested in Irish step dancing are girls. The girls may outnumber the boys by 10 or 20 to one. The beginning boys are often talked into it by their mothers. Thus there are more younger boys involved in Irish dancing. Some are eager, others are rather dubious. Often the boys are not as coordibated as the girls. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps because many of the most potentially gifted boys pursue sports rather than dance. Often the firls will tease the boys if they make mistakes--if the teacher does not supernise them closely. Even if they don't say things outright, they do whisper to each other and the boys here them. This makes the boys even more shy about the whole process. This is not a problem with the older boys as the one that stick with it are talented dancers. It is a problem with the beginning novice dancers.


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Created: February 10, 2000
Last updated: 7:39 AM 7/17/2013