Irish Dancing and its Language Implications

I recently started an Irish dancing evening course because I have always been fascinated by this discipline. Rapid, precise and yet beautiful feet movements in (usually) 9/8 cheerful time, colourful dresses, fancy curly wigs… and all those things that collective imagination commonly associates with the word “Ireland”. Well, that is indeed what Irish dancing looks like, but a little bit more light needs to be shed on the topic.

The name “Irish dance” can have a very broad meaning since it includes different dance varieties: Ceílí, Set dancing and Stepdance (with the respective subcategories). The most famous among these is Stepdance, which has become popular thanks to Micheal Flatley´s show Riverdance.

This is an ancient dance, descending directly from sean-nós (old style) stepdancing, whose very first roots may be found in Pre-Christian Ireland. In the 19th century it crossed the borders of its home country Ireland to spread in the U.S. and Canada with the Irish diaspora.
Today there are Irish dancing schools in almost every country of the world, meaning not only that the tradition has not died but also that it actually enjoys good health.

Of particular interest for us language lovers is that the survival of this dancing tradition is closely related to the survival of the Gaelic language. Nowadays, the Irish dancing terminology used all over the world includes many Gaelic words, such as “feis“ (competition) and “bodhrán“ (Irish frame drum).

If you are curious about how Gaelic sounds, you could check out this video of a weather forecast broadcast by an Irish TV channel.


You might also like: