Being that one of the largest and most prestigious Irish Dance competitions is to be held in Chicago next week (the 2012 North American Irish Dance Championships), it seems a fitting time to learn a bit more about what Irish dance is, where it originates, and what its impact has been on Chicago culture.
Irish dance in general, refers to a group of traditional dance forms originating in Ireland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Irish dance is characterized by rapid leg and foot movements, a straight posture with pulled back shoulders, and arms held stationary at the dancers’ side. This technique is thought to have originated as a result of a ban on dancing by the oppressive ruling classes of 18th-19th century England due to its scornful nature. It is said that soldiers patrolling the streets of Ireland were known to turn-in people for dancing in their houses, so they developed a way of dancing only with their feet so as to stay unnoticed. Dancing was such an important part of Irish culture that this practice was carried over into the schools; where sightings of schoolgirls dancing with their legs under their desks to keep from being noticed were common. These practices allowed for the dancing cultural tradition to carry on without the chance of persecution for disobeying the law.
Irish dance is also characterized by its shoes; its dancers performing in both hard shoes and soft shoes (“ghillies”). Hard shoes are similar to tap shoes, and were originally made of wood, although today they are made of fiberglass. Soft shoes are black lace-up shoes only worn by girls. The equivalent shoes for boys are called “reel shoes” and resemble black jazz shoes with a hard heel.
Irish dance was brought to its American fame in 1996 with the national premier of River Dance at Radio City Music Hall. This performance returned Chicago native and Riverdance creator, Michael Flatley back to the states. Chicago is home to a number of past and present Irish Dancing World Champions. One of these champions is Tim O’Hare who teaches over 600 students at his schools in Northwest Chicago, Lake Bluff, and Des Plaines. His teaching continues the legacy of exceptionally talented Chicago Irish dancers; his students have won Midwest, National, All-Ireland, and World Championships, been invited to the White House for St. Patrick’s Day, and have danced in the popular Irish Dance stage shows, Riverdance and Lord of the Dance.
The Chicago area is now home to more Irish dance schools than anywhere else in the Midwest. There are approximately 60 Irish dance schools in the Midwest – and 20 of them are located in the Chicago area!
For more information on the styles of Irish dance that will be performed during this year’s North American Irish Dance Nationals, visit this page tomorrow!
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Laelle_ChiDanceExmnr for updates throughout the week of competition, and subscribe to my ovalpike.com page to receive notifications each time a new article is produced.
Click the following links to be redirected to the source pages for the information included in this article: Irish Dance, Riverdance, Michael Flatley.