More than Riverdance: What is Irish Dancing?

Top o’ the morning to you.

With the St Patrick’s Day celebrations just a short leap away, on March 17, the team at Karen Hardy Studios thought it was about time we explored and shared with you the wonder that is Irish dancing.

Now, with most of us having been lured to the ballroom at a very early age, we don’t claim to have spent years studying the steps and techniques of dance from the Emerald Isle, but what we certainly have developed is a fascination with what is definitely one of the most thrilling, passionate, high-energy forms of movement on the planet.

Like the majority of people, it first grabbed our attention in a big way when Michael Flatley and Jean Butler burst onto the scene in 20 years ago as an interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest.

That foot-thumping theme music, penned by Bill Whelan and Donal Lunny, saw them camped at the summit of the Irish charts for 18 weeks (keeping Wet, Wet, Wet’s ‘Love Is All Around” off the top spot).

The BBC quickly added the Riverdance Troupe to the Royal Variety Show bill that year, and the rest is a bright green blaze of history.

But Irish dancing can be traced back for centuries and much like Ballroom and Latin, there are different flavours to enjoy. To keep it simple, which we often like to do, you can break Irish dancing down into three distinct forms; Social,  Seán-nós and Step. Here is our quick guide to each:


Social Dancing

Arguably just as popular and practised as Riverdance is céilí, which has become a firm favourite at weddings and parties for many because at a basic level, everyone can give it their best shot. It often involves a group of couples dancing arranged steps to set music on flat feet, and in our experience is often accompanied with many whoops, smiles and laughter. It’s immense fun, is accompanied by wonderful music and embues the Irish culture and spirit perfectly.



Modern Irish stepdance is the style you see practiced in shows such as Riverdance and Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance. But it is also a competitive dance form with many competitions across the globe, including the World Championships which were held in Boston, USA, last year. It can be performed solo, or by troupes, and there are various types including the reel, slip, hornpipe and jig wearing either hard or soft soled shoes. Steps are a sequence of foot movements, leg movements and leaps.


Sean-nós Dance

This is a free-form of Irish dance bustling with improvisation and literally means “old-style” dancing. It is performed low to the ground and involves percussive steps with the feet which bond together the dancer – who will also express himself with the hips, shoulders and arms – with the musician. As with all forms of dance, there is so much to explore, enjoy and take part in, and this St Patrick’s Day, why don’t we make ourselves a promise.


Wherever we are and whomever we’re with at midday on Sunday, March 17, we’re going to have a craic at Irish stepdance.

Please tweet your pictures to us at @karen_hardy, we’d love to see and share ‘em.

See you soon and slainte!

More than a dance studio