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Dancing in the Streets...Irish Style

By Joan Rapaport / August 18, 1992



WHEN you walk down the street, do you ever break into a skip or a hop? Or notice that sometimes you walk to a beat? Well, that means you've got rhythm. And if you've got rhythm, you're one step away from dancing.

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Dancing is a special way people show how they feel. And when people dance, they usually feel good. Try dancing to a song and at the same time try to feel angry or sad. You may be surprised to find that you have to be happy to dance, and dancing can even make you happier!

In countries throughout the world, people have danced in their own special ways for many years. In some countries, it might be called "native dancing" or "folk dancing," and that means everybody dances, not just people who have special training.

In Ireland, children are taught to dance as part of their regular study program in school. When dancing is taught in school it becomes a skill and not just a hop, skip, and a jump!

First, the children learn to stand up straight, eyes forward (not down at their feet), and arms straight at their sides. Then they are taught a series of steps that keep exact time with each note of the music. This is called "step dancing." As the steps are learned, the children usually develop quick timing so that their dancing is fast, precise, and snappy. After a child masters certain steps, he or she dances with a partner or group in perfect time with other dancers and the music. This develops team s pirit along with the lively grace of body movement.

Because so many Irish people have settled in the Boston area in the United States, you can see their dances performed on special holidays and at celebrations. The pictures on this page show a group who take classes with a professional teacher named Rita O'Shea, who grew up in Galway, Ireland.

"How long have you been dancing?" I ask one of the step-dancers in the group, Melissa Deans, now 12. "Since I was four years old," she says. "My sisters took classes." Some of the girls followed in their mothers' dance steps, and several boys also join in the family tradition. Another dancer, Stephanie Griffin, 13, says, "I practice at least one hour a day at home. We have tapes of the music that's played in class."

The music is traditional, too. The pattern of the dance may include reels or jigs, as well as solo performances by some of the leading dancers. A reel is a dance in which the group moves in a circle; a jig is a jumping step and usually involves crossing the legs at knee height.

Even the musical instruments are the same kind that were used many years ago. Fiddles, flutes, and bagpipes were played to the call of a dancing master who traveled from county to county and taught popular steps. Some of the dances act out stories, usually based on history.

The costumes make the whole performance very colorful. You can see by the ones shown here that they are quite traditional. And although each is unique, they are all similar. Each makes use of embroidered patterns drawn from designs found in "The Book of Kells," a manuscript made about 1,100 years ago in a monastery at Kells, Ireland. The motifs are adapted to the dresses, usually made of velvet and fine silks, and sewn in Ireland or England.

You may notice the girls wear two different types of shoes - soft ones laced to the ankles, and hard-soled shoes for tap routines. Both types are also made in Ireland.

In 1991, the group pictured here traveled to Moscow and performed for dancers there. "I liked meeting [the Russians]," Ann Cadogan told me. "We exchanged steps and costumes, and took turns dancing for each other." Now that's good foreign relations! `Kidspace' is a place on the Home Forum pages where kids can find stories that will tickle imaginations, entertain with a tall tale, explain how things work, or describe a real-life event. These articles appear twice a month, always on a Tuesday.