Dancing is not only a form of expression but, for many, it is also a way to appreciate and recognize their heritage and culture.
The Irish Ceili dance is not unlike other cultural dances, with many ties to the heritage of the Irish people. In this article, you will learn what the Ceili is, its history, and how it is used and performed today.
WHAT IS CEILI DANCE?
To put it simply, Ceili dances are a type of folk dancing that employs the use of a varying number of dancers to celebrate Irish culture. There are about 30 dances in an official dance book created by the Irish dancing commission in Dublin. It is said that dance teachers in Ireland are required to learn and teach all 30 of the dances before they can be certified to teach dance!
The dance requires the performer to remain pretty rigid from their waistline and above, with the majority of movement taking place in the legs. The steps are precise and sharp, often performed with a hard or soft shoe that brings the steps to life audibly.
Many have come to recognize the uniqueness of Ceili dance thanks to the popularity of Riverdance. Riverdance was a musical by Bill Whelan that debuted in 1995. It featured mainly traditional Irish music and dance. The intricate lines and skilled dancers paired with toe-tapping Irish melodies attracted people from around the world. Thus, the popularity of Irish dance increased, leading to a bigger spotlight on this cultural art form.
THE HISTORY OF CEILI DANCE
The history of Ceili dance dates back to the Celts and the druids who inhabited Ireland in the 1500s. While this dance form was pretty popular European Mainlands, the dance that we now recognize as Ceili was somehow pretty different from the dances of the time.
These step dances were usually accompanied by singing or some sort of instrumental music and, like many line dances, was usually the main event of local celebrations in Celtic communities. One of these celebrations, the Feiseanna, was held yearly and is still celebrated by some cultural communities who now use the festival as a dance and music festival.
Irish dancing became more disciplined in the 18th century, when a dance master would travel to different towns to show villagers how to perform the various Ceili dances. The Irish dancing commission was founded in 1930 to help preserve the dancing culture within Ireland and abroad.
Ceili is something that is passed down from generation to generation. Many families teach their newest generations the dance to keep it alive for the years to come.
HOW CEILI IS USED AND PERFORMED TODAY
Obviously, the world has generally moved away from mass gatherings or balls where Ceilis were traditionally performed as a social art form. However, that’s not stopped the continuation of Ceili dancing around the world!
Ceili has become quite the competitive sport. Children and people of all ages enter into competitions where the unison of the steps and timing with the music are closely judged. Performances and competitions are also held at Irish folk festivals to see which group will reign supreme on the dance floor.
The style of dancing is still very formal, but costuming has become more intricate over time. For competitions or showcases, men usually don dark pants and a shirt, but women and girls tend to wear pretty and ornate dresses. During practices, however, movement is key, so these groups will be in more relaxed outfits that accommodate the movements. If not performed at competitions or showcases, it can still be seen occasionally at gatherings and parties.
While there are still 30 by-the-book Ceili styles, there are competitions where the creation of unique Ceili dances is welcome. The music has pretty much stayed the dame, with traditional tunes playing a big hand in setting the stage for a great Ceili performance. Sometimes music is actually performed live, which adds to the deeply rooted culture and history of the dance form.
Because of its popularity and cultural significance, the teaching of Ceili has spread to people outside of the Irish heritage. It’s become a popular dance style that many enjoy learning.
Now you know pretty much everything you need to know about Ceili, the Irish dance form that’s still alive and well today. There are a ton of videos online, and resources across the internet, to help anyone interested in Ceili and other aspects of Irish culture learn more.