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Glossary of Irish dance - Helpful guide to those new to Irish dancing

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Term Definition
A.D.C.R.G. Certified Adjudicator

"Ard Diploma Choimisiuin Le Rinci Gaelacha": translation is Highest Diploma in Gaelic Dancing. (see also T.C.R.G)



Beginners' costume

A simpler costumes, for girls usually a skirt and blouse, and for boys usually a dress shirt and dark pants.

Ceili (dances & gatherings) (pronounced

Ceili dances were derived from group set dances and French quadrilles, but were set to Irish music. They appear to have evolved with the help of the Irish dance masters, many from County Kerry. Nationalism, combined with the Handbook of Irish Dances published in 1902, led to standardisation of Ceili dances. Recording the descriptions of these dances occurred through the 1930s. For example, the Sweets of May and A Trip to the Cottage were discovered in South Armagh, being known only to a group of elderly men and women. Luckily, many ceili dances were recorded before being lost in history. Sometimes Ceili dancing is referred to as figure dancing.

A "ceili" is a gathering for music and dance. The Gaelic League sponsored the first Irish ceili in 1897. They borrowed the idea from the Scots and a precedent was set that a piper opened the ceili. Because the ceili dance revival was not widespread at that time, the dances at the first Irish ceili consisted of group set dances and French quadrilles!


"Dow-sa". Irish Gaelic for "dance".


"Fay-lah". Typically, a dance competition that focuses only on dance, without that extra competitions that a feis may have. Also see CRN’s definition.


(pronounced "Fesh") A festival that includes figure (group) and solo step dancing, crafts, instrumental, vocal and Gaelic language competitions. The plural is feisanna. A competition with only dancing is sometimes called a feile, however, most dancing only competitions label themselves a feis.

Figure Dance

see ceili entry for more information

Ghillies (soft shoe)

These are the name for the standard soft shoe worn by women dancers. They are distinctive in appearance, lacing-up from near the toe to up and around the ankle and lower leg. Ghillies are used for all the light dances such as the reel, light jig, slip jig, and single jig. In addition light shoes are normally worn for figure dancing.

Hard Shoe

Black leather shoes with fiberglass heels and taps on the toes. Also called jig shoes, heavy shoes. These shoes consist of fiberglass, composite or steel tips and heels. The tips and heels are used to make a rhythmic drumming sound when performing hornpipes, hard jigs, sets and treble reels. Irish Step Dancing is currently recognized through primarily hard shoe, professional performance shows like Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. However, dances with hard shoes are more difficult to perform and thus are reserved for later when the dancer gains the more basic steps.


The hornpipe was originally danced exclusively by males in hard shoes, but now, both men and women compete. The hornpipe is in 4/4 time, reminiscent of a slow reel with accents on the first and third beat (ONE-and-a two-and-a three-and-a four-and-a). The apparent slowness of the music, allows for many intricate dance elements in a short amount of time. A notable feature is the frequent use of a rocking motion with the ankles.


There are many references to the jig in ancient Ireland. A number of variations of the jig are performed including the light, single (or soft), double (aka treble or hard), and slip jig. The music is 6/8 time (the emphasis on beats in a jig is: ONE-two-three four-five-six). Slip jigs are in 9/8 time (ONE-two-three four-five-six seven-eight-nine). Dancers perform single or soft jigs in soft shoes. Solo competitions occur at the level of beginners, advanced beginners, and at some feisanna, Open. Competitions at all levels also occur in the treble jig which has a slower tempo, but dancers triple beats in hard shoes. Normally, only women dance the slip jig, however, increasingly boys learn and dance the slip jig.

Jig, Double

A hard shoe dance to a slow double jig. Also heavy jig, treble jig.

Jig, Light

A soft shoe ("light shoe") dance to a lively double jig.

Jig, Treble — Fast/Traditional

A beginning hard shoe dance to double jig music.

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