The standardisation of style that defines modern dancing took place in the late 1920s/ early 1930s. In 1929 the Gaelic League commissioned an inquiry to establish a set of governing rules regarding teaching, classes, competitions and adjudication. This led to the formation of An Chóimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha, The Irish Dance Commission, a body that controlled many aspects of Irish dance and that survives to the present day. In existence prior to The Irish Dance Commission was the Irish Dance Teachers’ Association, Comhdháil na Muinteoirí Rincí Gaelacha, known as An Comhdháil. Whereas they were an integral part of the Commission from the outset, differing opinions led to their eventual split in 1969, and now the two bodies exist separately. An Chomhdháil organises its own competitions and classes and has its own independent constitution. Both organisations are responsible for the interest in feis dancing today.
All institutions have their own set of rules, and one such rule that was gravely offensive was the Commission’s rule which banned any member, dancer or teacher, from participating in any dance other than Irish. So interest in other dance forms, ethnic or popular, was forbidden. Furthermore, dancers were only allowed to enter competitions if their garments were made in Ireland.
Another strain of local competition dancing is festival dancing (see the Irene McCann dancers, right). Formed through links with the Festival of Britain, competitions, classes and championships are held in many towns throughout the north. The style is perceived to be more graceful with more movement across the floor and simpler steps than in feis dancing. The costume for competitions is certainly of a plainer style and unlike feis competitions, no wigs are worn. The main competition is the Northern Ireland Championships.
No article on Irish dancing in the modern era can not mention Riverdanceand Lord of the Dance. The Riverdancephenomenon started out life as an interval act in the Eurovision song contest in 1994 and grew to become one of the most lavish and successful stage productions of the modern theatrical world. It still plays to healthily attended venues in Europe and American today and has earned countless millions from its ticket, video and CD sales. The music for the show was composed by Bill Whelan, and it was produced and directed by husband and wife team Moya Doherty and John McColgan. Central to Riverdancewas its first male lead, Michael Flatley. An extraordinary dancer with showbiz chutzpah, he left the show to produce his own dance spectaculars Lord of the Dance, and Feet of Flamesthat also earned many millions. All these shows gave employment to scores of dancers (and musicians) and without doubt fed into a global resurgence in Irish dance that will echo for many years to come.
Speaks to Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin about his thoughts and experiences regarding dance competitions
Modern Solo Feis Style
Footage of a girl dancing in a competition - watch her slow the music down
Heavy Shoe Hornpipe
The Irene McCann Dancers from Portadown dance a heavy shoe hornpipe - festival style
Light Jig (festival style)
The Irene McCann Dancers perform a light jig - accompanied by Gerry Lappin on the box and Aidan Pronty on flute
Slip Jig (couple dance)
The Irene McCann Dancers, festival style, accompanied as before
Four Hand Reel (festival style)
Irene McCann Dancers dance a four hand reel, accompanied as before