Céilí (kay-lee) dancing has a relatively short, interesting and contrary history. Born out of the Gaelic League’s desire to create a clear Irish cultural and social identity, the League created a form of modern Irish step dancing in 1893 that would be an indigenous and codified form of dance: clearly Irish.
Sadly, as part of the ban on “everything English”, they also banished the round dances, country dances and quadrilles, which were loved by many dancers.
In 1929, the Irish Dancing Commission (An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha) re-created some of those popular dances and they called them céilí dances. They were adopted to complement modern step dancing , and were also danced in social settings with gusto, particularly by Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland. Some examples include The Walls of Limerick, The Siege of Ennis and The High Cauled Cap to name but a few.* READ MORE DANCE HISTORY
The style of céilí dancing for performance and competition is UP: danced high on the balls of the feet with pointed toes and hands held high. At social dances, you would see a mix of styles including the UP style and also a more relaxed flat style – READ MORE.
Céilí dances remained popular as social dances until around the early 1960’s, when competition from dance bands and modern dancing overtook the more traditional forms of dance.
They continued to be danced for competitions and performance, and of course, when Riverdance came along in 1994, there was a great upsurge in Irish step and céilí dancing, which continues today.
What are your favorite 3 céilí dances? I have put together a list of about 66 dances that I could find – some of them are different formations of the same dance.
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Easy Irish Dance
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*Source: Pat Murphy (1995) Toss The Feathers, Mercier Press.