Sean-nós Dancing

Nov 14, 2014 by

Sean-nós dancing is a traditional style of solo Irish dance. Outside of Ireland, it is not as well known as stepdancing (popularized by Riverdance). On the Emerald Isle, however, sean-nós dancing is a big crowd pleaser.

In Irish Gaelic, sean-nós (sha[rhymes with Da]-nohs[nohs rhymes with dose]) means “old style” and can be applied to singing as well as dancing.  Some say sean-nós dancing originated in the Connemara region, but as the dance style predates modern records, it’s likely that different regions of Ireland had their own, unique sean-nós dance styles.


 Stepdancing is a choreographed Irish dance style, where the costumed dancers hold their arms firmly at their sides and do intricate foot movements and high kicks, using either standard soft ( ghillies) or hard (reel and jig ) shoes.  Sean-nós dancing is almost the direct opposite:  one or two dancers wear casual clothing and street shoes, are free to mover their arms, and impromptu, casual dance steps are the name of the game.  Sean-nós dancers do low to the ground foot movements( as opposed to the high kicks of stepdancers) in rhythm to the music, in style called a battering step, which is similar to tap dancing and Appalachian buck dancing.  Stepdancers move across the entire stage, but sean-nós dancing is meant to be performed on a small, hard surface, such as a table, overturned barrel or a door off its hinges.

Sean-nós dancer Seosamh Ó Neachtain moves to the music of Laoise Kelly’s harp– watch how his steps change to match the tempo of the music:

Sean-nós dancers like to show off their skills by dancing on small surfaces. Click HERE to see All-Ireland sean-nós champion Emma O’Sullivan and Gerard Butler ( no, not THAT Gerard Butler) battering a barrel.

Sure, barrel dancing is tough, but not as tough as sean-nós dancing in a FRYING PAN!


Think you’d like to try a bit of sean-nós dancing? You don’t need elaborate costumes or fancy shoes, so anyone can do it. Here’s an easy how-to video to get you started:

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Is Irish Dancing “Irish” Enough?

Feb 22, 2014 by

Irish step dancing today is a beautiful thing to watch: flashy footwork and costumes, high flying leaps and kicks and athletic, graceful dancers passionate about what they do.

When the cultural phenomenon known as Riverdance burst on the scene in 1994, it gave many people their first look at Irish dance and stirred young people from all countries and cultures to try their hand at this fascinating “new” dance style.  Thousands signed up for lessons, and the Irish dance scene has been jigging along ever since.

All forms of dance change over time, as trends come and go, but the appearance and style of  Irish dance in the 21st century has some asking:

Is Irish dancing still “Irish” enough?



“They are very beautiful, magnificently dressed and first class dancers…”

excerpt of letter from Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy of Ireland, to Queen Elizabeth I, 1569, describing women step dancing in Galway

  Long before the debut of Riverdance in 1994, however, the social and céilí dances of Ireland were an integral part of Irish life, allowing dancers an outlet for their creativity, self expression and national pride within the confines of the Catholic Church’s strict morality and the English Crown’s oppression of Irish culture.

Some say contemporary Irish step dance has lost most of its connections to its Irish roots, instead favoring form–huge curly wigs, elaborately decorated dresses with Celtic, but not Irish designs, and spray-on tanned legs– over substance and tradition.   The comparison between current Irish dance fashions and beauty pageants is obvious and disturbing to those who love traditional Irish dance, because step dancing should be about the art of the dance, not the use of artifice.

The Irish Dancing Commission – an Coimisiun le Rinnci Gaelacha–has heard the rumblings of discontent.  They recently drafted new rules that have banned or limited the use of heavy makeup and false eyelashes in some younger age brackets, but did not ban fake tans or faux curly hair, citing a need to introduce change gradually.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide if and how far afield Irish step dancing has roamed.  You can see my complete list of Irish dancing videos on YouTube HERE, but the following videos should give you an idea of  how Irish step dance has evolved since 1900.


First up is a rare film of the All-Ireland Irish dancing competition of 1926:



Next is a video of a performance of the McNiff Irish Dancers in 1958. The McNiffs helped popularize the Ulster style of Irish dance (known for its more complicated steps) in America in the mid 20th century. Legendary dancer Jimmy Erwin, mentor to Donny Golden (who went on to teach Michael Flately and Jean Butler of Riverdance fame) performs with the McNiffs in this clip. Note that the men are all wearing solid color (no tartans) kilts, a style of dress once common in Ireland.



John Cullinane, from County Cork step dances the Liverpool Hornpipe in 1963:



Clip from 1972 featuring Celine Hession & Donncha O Muimhneacháin dancing two slip jigs: Fig for a Kiss and Kid on the Mountain. Their footwork is so fluid and graceful, it looks as if they are floating on air. Again, note that the female dancer doesn’t have a fancy up-do and spray-on tan, just her natural hairstyle and pale Celtic skin:



A clip of Green Fields of America from the 1981 Milwaukee Irish Fest, including brilliant dancing by Donny Golden and Margaret O’Brien. In 1972, Donny opened The Donny Golden School of Irish Dance in New York, where he has taught many award-winning Irish dancers, including Jean Butler:


The All Ireland Irish Dancing champions of 2013:



What does it take to be an Irish dancer? Dancers from the Dunleavy Shaffer School of Irish Dance talk about the intensity and athleticism of Irish dancing, the desire to perform on championship levels, and the behind-the-scenes details of being an Irish dancer:



Last but not least, a bit of humor from Conan O’Brien, who is certain he can Irish step dance:


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Mar 15, 2013 by


30 Day Eurovision Challenge
day 22 – your favourite interval act

Dublin 1994: Riverdance

Many have tried, but few (if any) have ever replicated this brilliance. Also I was waaaaaay obsessed with Riverdance when I was a kid and then I relapsed on it at 13 and never really shook it. Hence why this is the only 8 gif photoset of the challenge.

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Feb 12, 2013 by


Irish dancer

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Jan 27, 2013 by

Irish dance

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Apr 13, 2012 by

Kilfenora Ceili Band—great video  for trad music and dance lovers

Kilfenora is the home of the Kilfenora Ceili Band, one of Ireland’s most famous céilí bands. The band formed when group of musicians came together in 1909 with the intention of raising funds for the local church and to play at local houses or cross road dances. They went on to become a household name in Ireland and beyond. The 1950’s were the golden era of céilí dancing in Ireland. In the 1960’s the band played regularly throughout Ireland and England Huge, crowds turned out to hear them.

There popularity diminished in the ’70s with the growth in popularity of the dance halls and show bands. During this quieter period their fiddler Gus Tierney was passing the music on to the next generation during his classes all over North Clare. Many of his pupils went on to turn professional and now several formed the basis of the present Kilfenora band. They present Band gig the length and breadth of Ireland and travel regularly to Britain, Europe and the United States. Their performances are no longer confined to playing for céilí dancers and they regularly entertain at the larger U.S. festivals for audiences of thousands. In 2007 the Kilfenora Céilí Band celebrated 100 years in existence.

Albums include a live recording; Live in Lisdoonvarna as well as other favourites, Set on Stone, Clare Céilí and The Kilfenora Céilí Band.

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