The earliest social dances were circular and linear chain dances, dating to 1400-1200 BC, of these the ‘ring’ dances, which used a sacred tree or stone as central focus - are most likely the oldest. Couple dances arose in the twelfth century as a break up of the line into pairs in procession, and/or in response to the ‘courtly-love’ concept in the songs of the Troubadours, which developed within the courts of Europe presenting differentiation from court and folk dance. In particular, French cotillions - a ‘square’ dance for four couples - developed and moved to England, America and Ireland as did the later quadrilles (sets).
In Irish dance history specifically: haye, rinnce fada and rinnce mór are the three names used to referring to the action in old literature. The first reference to dance in the Irish language is 1588. Rinnce appears first in 1609 amd ‘damhsa’ ten years later. HB15 It is not until the 17thC that we have any real documention referring to dance - not just confined to Ireland - worldwide. Citm: The common people in Ireland may have been dancing more free-form, simple dance, to fiddle and pipes. As well as courting, dancing had important social ritual functions. Rinnce fada is described as being performed on May-eve and dancing is associated with other important times are the year, e.g. Bealtaine, births, weddings, wakes.
It is a matter of speculation whether country dances had an identifiably Irish form, but seems highly likely that group dance was part of the native Irish tradition in this period.
Step dance itself is an accurate, rhythmic performance genre that focuses chiefly in predetermined leg movements. Done either in group or solo. hard shoes enhance the percussive nature of the treble reel, jig, hornpipe and solo set dances whereas soft shoes emphasise the graceful, airborne nature of the reel, slip/single/light jig.
The primary solo Irish step dances are the jig, reel and hornpipe.
The jig is first mentioned in Ireland in 1674.
Four variants exist within Irish dance traditions: double, single, slide and slip, the most common of these being the double. Double: most common dance tune after the reel. 6/8 time characterised by rhythmic pattern of groups of three quavers. While jig tempo is generally lively when played solo, competitive dancers usually call for a greatly reduced tempo in order to execute their complicated footwork. Single: either 6/8 or 12/8 time. Crotchet followed by quaver. Associated with specific soft-shoe solo dance still performed in competitions today, usually by female dancers. A fast version of the tune is referred to as a slide and is used in the dancing of sets. Slide: essentially dance music. Long-short rhythm of tune is echoed by movements of dancers. Dancing of sets and, along with the polka is particularly associated with music and dance traditions of Sliabh Luachra, where it is brisk tempo of 12/8 tunes that dominates. Slip: 9/8 time. Distinct from other jig types - usually in single form, continues to be danced in competitions usually by females in soft shoes.
The reel is done to the music of tune type with same name and given its present dominance in music and dance, it may seem surprising that the reel is a relative latecomer to the Irish scene. Scholars are agreed that the reel as a dance tempo with its associated faster figures and stepping did not attain universal popularity in Ireland until the late eighteenth century, whereas across the water in Scotland it had long existed in many forms.
The hornpipe originates from the mid eighteenth century and has maritime connections. The later, common time version made its way to Ireland where it was adopted by the...