Irish Step Dancing: Beginners

Figure 1.--

While watching in awe at a dance school performance, a parent may wonder "How long would it take for my child to learn to do those amazing steps?" Dance teachers generally see individual dancing skills as a gradual progression and that there is no "normal" progression. This all depends on the dancer's age, talents, commitment, home practice, etc. Here is a general assessment as to where an individual dancer could be while describing the following dance program.

Reels and Light Jigs

Immediately, you'll see your beginner dancer learn the "threes and sevens". This is the foundation of all Irish steps. You'll watch the child develop poise and grace, always improving body alignment. As your dancer advances (perhaps into the third or fourth year), you'll see the dancer able to execute more and more complex steps, able to lift him/herself across the stage with the grace of a deer. By this time you'll become aware that there are features to dancing that are exclusively Irish and not found among the ethnic dances of any other people.


As the "threes and sevens" are being learned, almost immediately, your own child will dance with other dancers, performing the same steps at the same time. This helps the child develop the all-important sense of timing. By the end of the first year, these beginner figures will include hand holding and other arm movements as well as the execution of steps. The teacher will match age and appearance with the talents of other dancers in two-, three-, four-, six-, and eight-hand figures with your dancer's classmates. Your more advanced dancer (second or third year) may become part of a four- or eight-hand ceili team. A ceili dance is a figure not designed by the teacher, but done only one way "by the book" as allowed in the manual Ar Rince Foirne. Also, the teacher may gather his/her most accomplished dancers and put together a teacher's choreography. A choreography team is made up of nine to sixteen dancers and indeed brings the best out of the teacher's creativity when it comes to figure movements. After long and hard work from all concerned, it is the teacher's hope to enter this choreography in regional, national, and even world competition.

Hornpipes and Treble Jigs

As he/she develops coordination and timing (perhaps in the second or third year), your child will need a second kind of shoe; "hard shoes" fitted with fiberglass heels and tips. You'll now watch your dancer learn to make rhythmic sounds using the toe, heel, and ball of the foot. From there you'll see the complexity of the steps grow and grow. Maybe in the second or third year of hard shoe (fourth or fifth year as a dancer), the teacher will put together a Set Piece for your dancer. Choreographed by the teacher, the set is named after the tune itself and is performed at the dancer's chosen speed.


A ladies-only and unique-to-the-Irish dance, you'll find your daughter learning the graceful slipjig in her first or second year of lessons.


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Created: 5:46 PM 8/13/2004
Last updated: 5:46 PM 8/13/2004