Irish Dance Styles

Irish Ceili Dancing.

This is the kind of dancing that our Coulan Sona Irish Ceilidh Band usually play for. It is a highly social form of dancing, designed for large groups of people who can form into sets and dance to set sequences under the instructions of the caller. This means that the dancers don’t have to be expert in the dancers, as with other types of Irish dance, as the moves are relatively easy and they are guided by someone who knows the dancing well, (the caller).


Dancers in groups of six or eight, if this is a village dance, birthday party or wedding reception, dancers can form different groupings of people throughout the evening, so that by the time things wind down, perhaps three hours later, everyone will have dance with everyone else. A great way to socialise. 

Irish Sean Nos Dancing

This is rarely seen outside of Ireland. It is not a group dance, but a solo exhibition. The wording ceilidh means “all style” dancing and is most often dance by men. It is a form of improvised dance. However this is not necessarily so, and I can recall taking my fiddle to a pub in southern Ireland whilst on holiday, to join a session that was going on made up entirely of local people. They were of course, in true Irish style, welcome the making of myself and my wife. It was predominantly an instrumental session, but occasionally one or two people would get up and dance or someone would sing, but as I said predominantly an Irish instrumental session. Towards the end, one lady, who is probably in her 70s, announced that she had bought some new dancing shoes and want to try them out. She produced these beautiful silver shoes, put them on and performed a solo dance to the dozen or so musicians who are a session. Her dancing was perfect. She could have been seventeen not seventy. It was a real treat.

This form of Irish dance has had elements of it integrated into other dance styles, from French Canadian to clog dancing and tap dancing. 

Irish Two Hand Dancing.

This is the Irish equivalent of ballroom dancing, and includes polkas and Irish forces as one would expect of ballroom dancing, but also Irish jigs and all types. In Ireland, two hand dancing is often slipped in between every couple of ceilidh dances, as they are somewhat more gentle and relaxed, and let the dancers wind down a bit from the wildness of the ceilidh. But in England, this is not very common, and it would be more usual for the band to play some music to listen to while dancers sat down and had a drink. Perhaps it is that the Irish are more determined and probably fitter than the typical English dancer, and can stay on their feet all night without a problem. 


Google is a wonderful facility, but searches can sometimes cause confusion if an ambiguous search term is used. Here are some examples: 


Google search term: Irish ceilidh music

This is ambiguous. Are they asking for an instrumental or session band that played the kind of music they have heard when they have been to a ceilidh, perhaps when it somebody else’s wedding ceremony or when attending a St Patrick’s Day celebration somewhere outside of Ireland? Or are they asking for an actual Irish ceilidh for them and their friends dance at? This must be established. 


The same sort of issue applies when we get request for Irish dancing music or Irish dance songs. Irish dance songs is a particularly tricky request because do they mean songs (a song in its original meaning of the word meaning something that is song of vocally, i.e. words, human being uttering those words, but not in the normal speaking voice but at a variety of pictures that constitute a tune. Words, sentences, set to a tune.)


This might sound rather stupid to be saying, that the meaning of song has changed somewhat. What used to be a tune i.e. a sequence of varying pitches that are pleasing to the year and constitute music and can be harmed by the human voice most certainly, but is normally performed on a musical instrument, that thing that was once called the tune is now called a song by many people. Goodness knows why?

So once upon a time we had two words, we had “tune” and “song”. Nowadays the word “tune” seems to have been deleted from vocabulary, and “tunes” only seems to be the trade name of a brand of mentholated cough sweets. All we have left is “song”, leading to ambiguity and the need to search one’s mind to try to identify the context of the word in order to make sense of the sentence it is part of. Often this is impossible. I suppose the same sort of thing has happened with the word “gay”. It used to mean happy, jolly. It now means people of a certain sexual orientation. The word “gay”, though still in the dictionary against happy and jolly, has effectively been deleted from language for those meanings.


In a village not far from where I live there used to be a thriving pub with the name “The Gay Dog”. About fifteen years ago it started to struggle because of the in the usage of the word, and they changed it to “The Dog”. This didn’t save it as everyone knew it as the Gay dog. Really rather stupid, but they go. Languages and the meaning of words, and new words altogether have always been in flux, so problems will always arise. Natural language is not precise like computer language. Its ambiguities cause many problems through misunderstanding’s. There is one group of society who make lots of money out of the illogicality and ambiguity of the English language, and that is contract lawyers, indeed lawyers in general.


Contract law is very much about trying to eliminate and guard against the double meanings, the multiple interpretations, the omissions and additions that can be read into English-language statements. A lawyer can spend days or weeks working on a contract to try and identify any loopholes in the meaning of that document. When it gets to contracts for intangible things, such as intellectual property rights, the problem can get even more difficult. There are computer programs now to analyse contract meaning, that use Boolean algebra, the logic of language, to look for incorrect meanings. I remember in the maths department at University going through exercises of analysing standard contractual documentation that was in use, by big companies or by governments, whereby analysis with Boolean algebra loopholes could be found.

Anyway, how do guys deviate from Irish dance and Irish ceilidhs to lawyers and Boolean algebra. Certainly, lawyers and mathematicians do go to Kayleigh’s, and often they’re very good at it because of the logic of the dancers appealing to their logical minds, but still, I think I’ve gone quite a long way off track in my ramblings. I must get my mind back to what I should be talking about! 



Search term: Irish barn dance

There is really no such thing as an Irish barn dance. Barn dance is the English and American terminology for a country dance with folk music and sets and the Irish term is the Celtic Ceili spelt with an eye at the end (the Scottish equivalent is spelt ceilidh). However, the result is the same, they are fun dances to the relevant nationality of traditional music.



Search term: Irish musicians

When we get this request we have to establish whether the person is looking for an Irish ceilidh band i.e. dancing to Irish folk tunes, all whether they are looking for an Irish session band i.e. instrumental music as one might hear in a pub session in Ireland, very often they would be thinking in terms of folk singing i.e. the well-known Irish ballads.

Print Print | Sitemap
© 3 Counties Barn Dance