Parent Primer on Irish Dance

Irish step dancing is a niche activity. When Riverdance hit the world stage in 1995, it brought to public attention an aspect of Irish culture that previously had been largely confined to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, cultural events and dance competitions. Since then, the popularity of Irish dance has skyrocketed. For those who are new to the world of Irish Dance, this brief introduction may help.

In Irish dancing, a step is a sequence of foot movements, leg movements and leaps, choreographed to fit a certain musical cadence. The sequence is danced through 8 bars of music for the “right foot” and is repeated through 8 more bars of music for the “left foot” of the step.

Steps are choreographed for the various Irish music tempos: reel, light jig, slip jig, treble jig and hornpipe. There are many steps of each dance, varying in level of difficulty. Steps are created by the instructors of an Irish dance school, and are unique to that particular school (with the exception of the traditional set dances and the treble reel finishing step). For example…

For this dance:Here is an example of 2 steps (unique to Teelin School):
Reels (soft shoe dance)“Kyla’s 2 Reel” & “Sammy’s Reel”
Light Jigs (soft shoe dance)“Dylan’s Jig” & “David’s Jig”
Slip Jigs (soft shoe dance)“Molly’s” & “Sliding”
Treble Jigs (hard shoe dance)“Stamp Down” & “4 Batters” (for fast speed music)

“Steppy’s” & “Toe Treble” (for slow speed music)

Hornpipes (hard shoe dance)“Hornpipe 1” & “Hornpipe 2” (for fast speed music)

“Back Front” & “Clicky’s” (for slow speed music)

There are two kinds of dance shoes for Irish step dancing – soft shoes and hard shoes. (Learn more about shoes on this page – Reels, light jigs and slip jigs are performed in soft shoe. Treble jigs and hornpipes are the first hard shoe dances taught, first at traditional (fast) speed and later at a slower speed, which allows for more complicated foot-work. Experienced dancers will also learn treble reels and set dances, both performed in hard shoes.

Dancers at Teelin begin by learning solo dance steps, which are dances that can be performed independently. Figure dances are performed in teams comprised of a set number of dancers, and are often named by the number of dancers in the group (i.e. 4-Hand Team, 8-Hand Team, etc).

An Irish dancer’s basic skills include (but are not limited to):

Good timing (meaning the dance movements match the rhythm of the music).

Pointed toes with arched feet.

Legs crossed (so that it looks like one knee is hiding behind the other) and legs turned out (so that when the legs are crossed, the inside of each anklebone is facing forward, toes outward).

Upright upper body carriage with arms straight at the dancer’s sides, chin level, eyes forward, head evenly balanced atop relaxed neck, with shoulders open (down and back).

Graceful and energetic movement, including high elevation on the toes and snappy legs that kick the dancer’s bum when feet move from behind to in front or vice versa.

Well-executed jumps that incorporate all of the above principles, and an overall sense of “lift” throughout a dance.

Confident and pleasant affect. (Dance is a performance art… please SMILE!)

Some Irish dance enthusiasts choose to dance in competition, which can be a great way to stay motivated while striving to master steps. A feis (pronounced FESH) is a sanctioned Irish dance competition offering dance events for multiple skill levels, each further divided by age groups. Oireachtas (pronounced O-ROCK-TUS) is a regional championship competition, where solo championship events are divided by age group only, and many figure team championship events are also offered. Find additional information about competitions later in this handbook, and much more within the feis info section of the website –

Whether a dancer chooses to compete, perform, or dance recreationally, we’re very glad that you’ve chosen to be a part of Teelin! Welcome to the FUN of Irish dance!