Frequently Asked Questions - Explanation of Irish Dance

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Explanation of Irish Dance
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Explanation of Irish Dance

Irish dance consists of two different dance forms: soft shoe and hard shoe. Irish dance can also be divided by the three main rhythms: Reel, Jig, and Hornpipe. The reel and certain jigs are performed in soft shoe, whereas other jigs and the hornpipe are performed in hard shoe. The following lists the types of dances associated with soft shoe and hard shoe.

Soft Shoe Dances: Reel, Light Jig, Slip Jig, Single Jig (Sometimes called "Hop Jig")

Hard Shoe Dances: Treble (or double) Jig, Hornpipe, Treble Reel.

Beginner through Prizewinner dancers will dance all of these dances, except for the treble reel. There may be a special for Novice/Prizewinner dancers to dance against one another in a treble reel special, but that is up to the school hosting the feis. The treble reel is often a special competition for Preliminary and Open Championship dancers. It is also the most common dance used in professional dance shows.

Champion dancers will dance one soft shoe round, one hard shoe round, then the final solo, set dance round (done in hardshoe). Ladies can choose to compete in either the Reel or the Slip Jig for the first round, Treble Jig or Hornpipe for the second, and must have their set dance ready for the final round. Gent dancers must do the Reel for their first round, Treble Jig or Hornpipe for their second, and a set dance of their choice for the final round.

Both males and females learn and dance all these rhythms except the slip jig. The slip jig is the only dance that is considered a feminine dance, and is often referred to as the "Irish ballet." That is not to say that gents are discouraged from learning the slip jig. They should learn the slip jig, especially if they wish to sit their teacher's exam.

The speed or tempo of these dances also varies once a dancer moves up into the higher levels (Novice-Open Championship). The music for the soft shoe reel and slip jig, and the hard shoe treble jig and hornpipe becomes slower as the dancer becomes more and more advanced. This is to allow the dancer to perform quicker, more complicated steps to the slower tempos. Sometimes, but not always, the hard shoe dances will be referred to as the "slow treble jig" (vs the fast treble jig, for beginners) and the slow hornpipe (vs the fast hornpipe, also for beginners).

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