Irish Step Dancing

After Ireland achieved independence from England, the Irish government made a conscious effort to save Celtic culture by supporting all things Irish in its Gaelic Revival, which required all students to learn Irish language (it is a requirement for entry in university to this day), as well as support of music, dance, and Gaelic sports. Dance competitions, feisana, were set up and hundreds of dance teachers opened schools.

Step dancing reached back to dim history. There is a reference to an early Norman English traveler to crossroads dancing and "flashing thighs."

The government, in collaberation with the Church, standardized dance. As a result, what was probably a wild form of spontaneous dance became a rigid dance form, constrained by many rules. Dancers no longer moved above the waist, knees were kept together, and toes turned out at the ankle as much as possible while dancing. Originally, only boys were permitted to perform hardshoe dances, while girls performed the softshoe dances. Elaborately embroidered dresses became de rigeur. These dance costumes are stiff and confining. Girls wore their hair in ringlets, and to this day, this hairstyle is still seen at many feisana.

Rules are strictly enforced regarding style and steps, costumes, hair styles, as well as comportment and demeanor during dance. Under the control of the Church, Irish dance was strictly regulated to avoid the appearance of sensuality, especially by female dancers.

Dance competitions are held every weekend in all parts of the world. Besides Ireland, they are held in England, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand. Dancers go to regional contests to qualify for the chance to participate in the World Competition.

"I think step dancing must be an elaborate allegory about conscious suppression and unconscious expression of erotic energy with its impassive head and aggressive legs." Rebecca Solnit in A Book of Migrations.

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