Recognized worldwide thanks to
shows such as Riverdance, Irish dance has become both a competitive sport and a
means of artistic self-expression.
Over 3,000 years ago, the
Celtic people immigrated to Ireland, bringing with them a new type of dancing
now commonly known as Irish dance. Irish dance is recognized by its emphasis
on intricate footwork and technical jumps or kicks.
Dancers generally perform with
a stiff upper body in order to accentuate the complexity of their footwork and
dance in conjunction with musical instruments such as the fiddle, accordion or
an Irish drum called a Bodhrán.
Luanne Schlosser is a certified
Irish dance instructor and owner of the Blakey Irish Dance school here in Saskatoon.
She says that there are several theories as to why Irish dancing uniquely showcases
an individual’s footwork while the dancer maintains a rigid upper body.
“My education on the matter
is that dancing was forbidden in Ireland for a period of time, and so dancers
would keep their arms down while dancing so that the local priest couldn’t see
what they were doing through the windows as he made his rounds,” Schlosser
Another belief is that a group
of Irish dancers were forced to perform for the sitting Queen of England at the
time, who is believed to have been Queen Elizabeth I. These dancers kept their
arms down as a sign of subversion to her authority and the English people.
Such defiance may be attributed to the fact that in the 14th century, Irish
culture was outlawed by the Statute of Kilkenny.
Despite Irish dancing’s
timeless and distinctive features, Schlosser believes that the sport has
changed as it has grown in popularity.
Modern Irish dance is rooted
in three early forms of 16th century dances — rince fada, trenchmore and Irish
hey, each of which have influenced present-day jigs. In the 18th century,
dancing grew more disciplined and was taught by dance masters, each with their
own unique set of skills.
“Irish dance has become
increasingly athletic and commercialized in the last two decades. Many see the
emergence of shows like Riverdance and Lord of the Dance as the driving force
behind the popularity of what once was more of an artform practiced amongst
those of Irish origin,” Schlosser said.
The teacher and business owner
also noted that the rise of social media has contributed to the exposure of
the sport. Dancers across the globe compete to attend world class competitions
such as world championships and North American championships, each of which
are regarded as the Olympics of Irish dance.
Dancers dedicate hours of
their week to the sport in pursuit of a title and trophy though there is no
For those of you intrigued by
Irish dance in all of its Celtic glory, there are many ways to get involved
with Irish dance today. There are several Irish dance schools in Saskatoon,
including River City, Brady Academy and Blakeyl.
Each school has their own unique
style of costuming, dancing and performing. They also offer both competitive
and recreational programs available to those interested in learning the sport.
As for the benefits, Schlosser
believes that Irish dance provides students with skills that dancers will carry
with them for the rest of their lives.
“Of all the dancers I have
taught, there is a strong correlation between the highly competitive dancers
and those who go on to become leaders in their field of study and work,”
After being involved in the
sport for 26 years, Schlosser feels that Irish dance increases an individual’s
athleticism, ability to work as a teammate and time management.
“As some say, ‘for the love of Irish dance!’ because at the end of the day, there is nothing more,” Schlosser said.