Irish dancing or Irish dance is a group of traditional dance forms originating in Ireland which can broadly be divided into social dances and performance dances.
Irish social dancing can be divided further into céilí and set dancing. Irish set dances are quadrilles, danced by four couples arranged in a square, while céilí dances are danced by varied formations (céilí) of two to sixteen people. In addition to their formation, there are significant stylistic differences between these two forms of social dance. Irish social dance is a living tradition, and variations in particular dances are found across the Irish dancing community; in some places, dances are deliberately modified and new dances are choreographed.
Irish step dancing, popularised in 1994 by the world-famous show Riverdance, is notable for its rapid leg and foot movements, body and arms being kept largely stationary. The solo stepdance is generally characterised by a controlled and rigid upper body, straight arms and back, and quick, precise movements of feet and legs. The solo dances can either be in "soft shoes" or "hard shoes". Soft shoes are often called ghillies or pumps. They are constructed of very soft kid leather - similar to ballet shoes in texture. Their laces crisscross across the top of the feet and are tied up either around the ankle or under the arch of the foot. Hard shoes are often called heavy shoes or jig shoes. They are used to create the beautiful rhythmical percussions. They are made of black leather with fiberglass heels and taps on the tips of the shoes with a leather strap across the top of the foot.
Image: Music & dance, Ireland
Irish traditional music
The indigenous music of the island is termed Irish traditional music. It has remained vibrant through the 20th and into the 21st century, despite globalising cultural forces. In spite of emigration and a well-developed connection to music influences from Britain and the United States, Irish traditional music has kept many of its elements and has itself influenced many forms of music, such as country and roots music in the USA, which in turn have had some influence on modern rock music. It has occasionally been fused with rock and roll, punk and rock and other genres. Some of these fusion artists have attained mainstream success, at home and abroad.
In art music, Ireland has a history reaching back to Gregorian chants in the Middle Ages, choral and harp music of the Renaisssance, court music of the Baroque and early Classical period, as well as many Romantic, late Romantic and twentieth-century modernist music. It is still a vibrant genre with many composers and ensembles writing and performing avant-garde art music in the classical tradition.
On a smaller scale, Ireland has also produced many jazz musicians of note, particularly after the 1950s.
Irish traditional music includes many kinds of songs, including drinking songs, ballads and laments, sung unaccompanied or with accompaniment by a variety of instruments. Traditional dance music includes reels, hornpipes and jigs. The polka arrived at the start of the nineteenth century, spread by itinerant dancing masters and mercenary soldiers, returning from Europe. Set dancing may have arrived in the eighteenth century. Later imported dance-signatures include the mazurka and the highlands (a sort of Irished version of the Scottish strathspey). In the nineteenth century folk instruments would have included the flute the fiddle and the uilleann pipes.
A revival of Irish traditional music took place around the turn of the 20th century. The button accordion and the concertina were becoming common. Irish stepdance was performed at céilís, organised competitions and at some country houses where local and itinerant musicians were welcome. Irish dancing was supported by the educational system and patriotic organisations. An older style of singing called sean-nós ("in the old style"), which is a form of traditional Irish singing was still found, mainly for very poetic songs in the Irish language.
From 1820 to 1920 over 4,400,000 Irish emigrated to the USA, creating an Irish diaspora in Chicago (see Francis O'Neill), Boston, New York and other cities. Irish musicians who were successful in the USA made recordings which found their way around the world and re-invigorated musical styles back in the homeland. For example, American-based fiddlers like Michael Coleman, James Morrison and Paddy Killoran did much to popularise Irish music in the 1920s and 1930s.
After a lull in the 1940s and 1950s, when (except for Céilidh bands) traditional music was at a low ebb, Seán Ó Riada's Ceoltóirí Chualann, The Chieftains, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Irish Rovers, The Dubliners, Ryan's Fancy and Sweeney's Men were in large part responsible for a second wave of revitalisation of Irish folk music in the 1960s. Several of these were featured in the 2010 TV movie "My Music: When Irish Eyes are Smiling". Sean O'Riada in particular was singled out as a force who did much to save Irish music from disappearing through programming on Radio Éireann in the late 1940s through the 1960s. During this time he worked to promote and encourage the performing of traditional Irish music, and his work as a promoter of music and performer led directly to the formation of the Chieftains. His work inspired the likes of Planxty, The Bothy Band and Clannad in the 70s. Later came such bands as Stockton's Wing, De Dannan, Altan, Arcady, Dervish and Patrick Street, along with a wealth of individual performers.
More and more people play Irish music and many new bands emerge every year Téada, Gráda, The Bonny Men, Caladh Nua, Cran, Dervish, Lúnasa being some (to name a few).
Classical music in Ireland
There is evidence of music in the "classical" tradition since the early 15th century when a polyphonic choir was established at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and "city musicians" were employed in the major cities and towns, who performed on festive occasions. In the 18th century, Dublin was known as the "Second City" of the British Isles, with an active musical life culminating in, among other events, the first performance of Handel's famous oratorio Messiah. The Ballad Opera trend, caused by the success of the Beggar's Opera, has left noticeable traces in Ireland, with many works that influenced the genre in England and on the continent, by musicians such as Charles Coffey and Kane O'Hara.
Performers of popular music began appearing as early as the late 1940s; Delia Murphy popularised Irish folk songs that she recorded for HMV in 1949; Margaret Barry is also credited with bringing traditional songs to the fore; Donegal's Bridie Gallagher shot to fame in 1956 and is considered 'Ireland's first international pop star'; Belfast-born singer Ruby Murray achieved unprecedented chart success in the UK in the mid-1950s; Dublin native Carmel Quinn emigrated to the US and became a regular singer on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts and appeared frequently on other TV variety shows in the 1950s and '60s. The Bachelors were an all-male harmony group from Dublin who had hits in the UK, Europe, US, Australia and Russia; Mary O'Hara was a soprano and harpist who was successful on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1950s and early 1960s; Waterford crooner Val Doonican had a string of UK hits and presented his own TV show on the BBC from 1965 to 1986.
Showbands in Ireland
Irish Showbands were a major force in Irish popular music, particularly in rural areas, for twenty years from the mid-1950s. The showband played in dance halls and was loosely based on the six or seven piece Dixieland dance band. The basic showband repertoire included standard dance numbers, cover versions of pop music hits, ranging from rock and roll, country and western to jazz standards. Key to the showband's success was the ability to learn and perform songs currently in the record charts. They sometimes played Irish traditional or Céilidh music and a few included self-composed songs.
Country and Irish
With the rise in popularity of American country music, a new subgenre developed in Ireland known as 'Country and Irish'. It was formed by mixing American Country music with Irish influences, incorporating Irish folk music. This often resulted in traditional Irish songs being sung in a country music style. It is especially popular in the rural Midlands and North-West of the country. It also remains popular among Irish emigrants in Great Britain. Big Tom and The Mainliners were the first major contenders in this genre, having crossed over from the showband era of the 1960s. Other major artists were Philomena Begley and Margo, the latter even being bestowed the unofficial title of Queen of Country & Irish. The most successful performer in the genre today is Daniel O'Donnell, who has garnered success in the UK, US and Australia. O'Donnell's frequent singing partner Mary Duff has also had success in this genre and most recently County Carlow native Derek Ryan has enjoyed Irish chart hits doing this type of music.
Traditional music played a part in Irish popular music later in the century, with Clannad, Van Morrison, Hothouse Flowers and Sinéad O'Connor using traditional elements in popular songs. Enya achieved international success with New Age/Celtic fusions. The Afro-Celt Sound System achieved fame adding West African influences and electronic dance rhythms in the 1990s while bands such as Kíla fuse traditional Irish with rock and world music representing the Irish tradition at world music festivals across Europe and America. The most notable fusion band in Ireland was Horslips, who combined Irish themes and music with heavy rock.
Riverdance is a musical and dancing interval act which originally starred Michael Flatley and Jean Butler and featuring the choir Anúna. It was performed during the Eurovision Song Contest 1994. Popular reaction to the act was so immense that an entire musical revue was built around the act.
The 1960s saw the emergence of major Irish rock bands and artists, such as Them, Van Morrison, Emmet Spiceland, Eire Apparent, Skid Row, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Dr. Strangely Strange, Thin Lizzy, Gary Moore, Mellow Candle.
In 1970 Dana put Ireland on the pop music map by winning Eurovision with her song All Kinds of Everything. She went to number one in the UK and all over Europe and paved the way for many Irish artists. Gilbert O'Sullivan went to the top of the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1972 with a string of hits, and the all-sister line-up of The Nolans gained international chart success in the late 1970s. Chris de Burgh achieved international acclaim with his 1986 hit "Lady in Red".
Groups who formed during the emergence of Punk rock in the mid-late 1970s included U2, Virgin Prunes, The Boomtown Rats, The Undertones, Aslan, Gavin Friday, and Stiff Little Fingers. Later in the 80s and into the 90s, Irish punk fractured into new styles of alternative rock, which included That Petrol Emotion, In Tua Nua, Fatima Mansions, My Bloody Valentine and Ash. In the 1990s, pop bands like the Corrs, B*Witched, Boyzone, Westlife and The Cranberries emerged. In the same decade, Ireland also contributed a subgenre of folk metal known as Celtic metal with exponents of the genre including Cruachan, Primordial, Geasa, and Waylander.