Irish Step Dancing Costumes: Recent Developments

Figure 1.--.

HBC readers report that there have been major developments in Irish dancing in recent years, especially since River Dance. One impact is that many more boys are interested in participating now. River Dance has also affected dance styles and costuming. These developments have been noted in Ireland, America, and other countries where Irish dance has proven popular, primarily countries like America with large numbers of people tracing their ancestry to Irish immigrants.

Irish dancing going back to basics: To Kilt or not to Kilt

A HBC reader in 2003 submitted this article from an Irish newspaper.

The west of Ireland has always been the backbone of Irish traditions, from Kerry To Donegal, its the place to be found shanos singing. many report that in Irish traditional music and dancing, in recent years traditions have been dying, and worse still distorted from the original. Irish dancing has always been a very popular in the west with a number of schools in most large towns and at least a teacher visiting smaller villages weekly. River Dance has done a lot to promote Irish step dancing. One teacher commented that after river dance she had a record number of boys join her school. However since River Dance a lot of changes have taken place within Irish dancing circles. Steps have been changed, costume have become flashier, and sadly the men's costumes have become very plain and very untraditional. Black pants and a bright shirt is the norm now. Gone to some extent are the smartly tailored jackets, the beautifully pleated kilt, the Celtic pins and broaches and that's just for the guys. The girls costumes have changed--simple black dresses right through to disco day glow colors. This may have modernized Irish dancing and helped with new dancers, but the die hard teachers and dancers are not too pleased.

Luckily the Gaeltacht areas have tried to preserve the traditional costumes. One dancing teacher we talked to said that if a student was buying a new solo costume that the designs and colors and lengths would have to be authorized by her. Kathleen said that most teachers tried to do this, however, overseas competitors have the brightest costumes ever seen. When it come to the guys if they want to dance and train at her school they wear the kilt and jacket. She says its nothing new and frames the legs for the dance moves where pants cover them up. When she is judging fesinna she prefers to see the kilt worn. However, this is not the trend in other parts of Ireland where pants have taken over. As far as Kathleen was concerned, Traditional Irish Step Dancing is as the name implies traditional and to mess around with costumes ruins that image. Kilts are no big deal. "I have two sons that wear them regularly and they would not give them up for pants." A number of the Gaeltacht dance school have joined together and are applying to the Irish Dancing Commission to have kilts reinstated as the only allowed costumes for fesinna.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: January 30, 2003
Last updated: January 30, 2003