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Irish Set Dances - an introduction

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Irish Set Dances - an introduction


An introduction to Irish Set Dances
Set dances are danced by four couples arranged on the sides of a square. and, occasionally, in “half sets” of two couples opposite each other. Sets are almot always broken up into several (usually 5 or 6, but ranging from 2 to 9) "figures". These “figures” often, but not always, have a common element. or movement. Until recently, there were substantial regional variations in the sets done. Counties Cork and Kerry favored polkas and jigs. County Clare is better known for reels.

History of Irish Set Dancing
The Irish set dances are the descendants of the Quadrilles and Cotillions danced at the French court in the late 18th and early 19th century and other similar dances. These dances were brought to Ireland primarily by dancing masters who adapted them to Irish traditional music .The British military also played a part when it brought to Ireland dances learned on the Continent during the many wars of that period. Landlords familiar with “foreign” dances also played a part. Local areas (parishes, villages, towns), over time, developed their own 'local' set. The 'local' set was danced at local gatherings, often at crossroads or other spaces with some flat “danceable” space. The set dances were not approved of by either civil or Church authorities. There were even some attempts to discourage them by both the Church and the government  with the adoption of Public Dance Hall Act of 1935.

Ceili dances (another form of Irish social dance) were encouraged for both political and religious reasons. Ceili dances are still popular in parts of Ireland – especially in the North. Some Irish organizations encouraged set dancing in the 1950s and 1960s and the 1980's and 1990's saw a massive revival of set dancing not only in Ireland, but worldwide. Today, there are hundreds of set dances and aficiandos often know (“by heart” since the dances are traditionally not called) dozens or more of the dances.

Irish Set dancing web links:
Crooked River Set Dancers

The Joy of Sets
Toss the Feathers - Irish Set Dancing
Pat Murphy, Mercier Press

The Story of Irish Dancing

Helen Brennan, Mount Eagle Publications Ltd., 1999

The Story of Irish Dance
Helen Brennan, Robert Rinehart Publishers, 2002

From other countries
Australian set dance pages:
Set Dancing Australia

Czech set dance page




Date Created

September 6, 2012


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