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Irish Dances: What Will You Learn?

While watching the advanced dancers in awe at an Irish dance school performance or competition, a parent may wonder, “How long will it take for my child to learn to do those amazing steps?”

Individual dancing skill is a progression and there is no “normal” time line for this progression. The degree of skill developed depends on the dancer’s age, talent, commitment, practice intensity, and desire!

Irish dancing is performed both as an individual dance (solo) and as a group dance (figure, ceili, choreography). Both kinds of dance are taught at Erickson Academy, with the students first mastering the solo dances before moving on to the group dances.

Solo Dances

There are five basic Irish Step Dances: the Reel, Jig, Slip Jig, Hornpipe, and Set Dance. There are many variations of these dances, and each Irish dance school choreographs its own version of the steps. Students begin by learning the soft shoe dances – Reel, then Jig, then Slip Jig.  Students progress to the hard shoe dances – Treble Jig and Hornpipe – during their second or third year of Irish dance.

Reel: This is the first dance a student learns at Erickson Academy. It is in 4/4 time and danced in soft shoes.

Jigs: The Light Jig is usually the second dance a student learns. It is danced in soft shoes and is in 6/8 time. The Treble Jig is also in 6/8 time but is danced in hard shoes in order to beat out the rhythm.

Slip Jigs: The Slip Jig is a very graceful dance performed in soft shoes in the complex 9/8 time. This dance is taught to all students but it is performed only by females in competition.

Hornpipe: This is danced in hard shoes and in 2/4 or 4/4 time with a different structure from a Reel.

Set Dance: When a student advances to Preliminary Championship and Open Championship Levels, s/he will learn a Set Dance (Set Piece). This is a hard shoe dance performed to a specific piece of music. There are 38 different set pieces that are choreographed by the teacher specifically for each student. The set dance has two parts, which are referred to as the step (first part) and the set (second part). In a set dance, the dancer is performing to a prescribed tune, so the footwork and rhythm of the dance are expected to interpret the tune.

Irish step dancing is complex art form that demands a significant level of commitment and dedication — we are constantly amazed at our dancer’s passion for Irish dancing. If a dancer wishes to compete, there is no substitute for class attendance and practice! We find that our dancers (on all levels, from the Beginners to the Champions) desire to be the best s/he can be!