The Irish Dance Dictionary
Comprised from different resources and my own basic knowledge. The resources are listed below.
Please note that this is not complete and will probably never be complete. If you have any submissions, please let me know by E-Mailing me.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Resources used for this page can be found in the links section.
ADCRG: Ard Diploma Choimisiuin Le Rinci Gaelacha -- translation is, Highest Diploma in Gaelic Dancing.
Adjudicator: A judge.
Advanced Beginner: A level that some schools use, others do not. It is the level after beginner (see "beginning for more details) and is what some schools have dancers advance to after winning a first, second or third at a feis (see "feis" for more details).
All Ireland Championships of Irish Dance (also - Oireachtas Rince na hEireann): Considered "Mini-Worlds" as it is one of the most elaborate and large competitions. Dancers do not have to qualify for "All Irelands" (short hand name), but to those in Ireland, it serves as another qualifyer for Worlds.
All Ireland and International Championships: The most prestigious competition that An Comhdhail has. Dancers come from all over the World to compete.
An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha: (say it - un com-i-shun leh rin-ki gey-lak-ha)The Irish Dancing Commission. Governs all Irish dancing worldwide, and is based it Ireland.
An Comhdháil na Muinteoiri le Rinci Gaelacha: The Congress of Irish Dance Teachers. Based mainly in the UK and Ireland, it reaches far across the seas, and governs other teaching bodies such as IDTANA.
Ard (pronounced "ord"): (An Coimisiun - Ireland/England) Advanced grade. Fourth and highest level.
Ard Grád (pronounced "ord grahd"): (Associated with CRN) Principal Grade. Also, level four.
You bring both feet to your back side and click them together. A high jump isn't required, but it gives it a better effect. Unlike front clicks, you can do back clicks while turning in the air.
Do these exactly like the sevens (see "sevens" for the details), but go in the opposite direction of the foot in front (ie. if your right foot is in front, go left).
Beginner (in Australia): The first level. The dancer must perform standard steps. The dancer moves up if s/he places against eight or more competitors. Teachers can choose to move the students up if their standard is good enough.
Beginner(in England and Ireland): The very first level. Dancers must win a first, second or third to move up to the Primary level.
Beginner (in North America): Open to those who have never competed before or hadn't won a first, second, or third place at a feis. This level is also for dancers who have not begun to take lessons, or have not been taking them for at least a year.
Beginners A (in UK and Ireland under An Comhdhail): Dancers who win a 1st in this level can then move up to Beginners B.
Beginners B (in UK and Ireland under An Comhdhail): The second level, for those who have been dancing longer and know more steps which have a higher degree of difficulty. To move up, a dancer must place first.
Bird Leap: Much like a hop23 (see "hop23" for more detail), except you hang in the air for a second or more before going down.
Box: In hardshoe, when you step on your heels one at a time, click your toes together, and then step down inward one at time, then click your heels together.
Treble front, but do not treble back. It should make more of a loud "brushing" sound than a tap or stomp.
Bun (pronounced "boon") (An Coimisiun - Ireland/England): Beginner grade. First level.
Bun Grád (prounounced "boon grahd") (Associated with CRN): Beginner Grade. Also, level one.
A butterfly is a jump where you keep your feet underneath you; your feet either move to be equal (one isn't any more forward than the other) or switch. Keep your feet close together. Sometimes you flicker your feet while switching them, and sometimes you flatten your feet as you switch. These are advanced steps, and quite difficult to master. You should use two weighted-down chairs when practicing butterflies. Hardshoe uses the "flat" version, with a heel click while switching feet.
Ceili (pronounced "KAY-lee"): 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 standardization 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! Ceili dances were designed to keep the dancer "dancing all night", but, ironically, they are the most aerobic of all the dances!
Craobh Grád (pronounced "crave grahd") (Associated with CRN): Championship Grade, Also, level five.
Cumann Rince Náisiúnta (pronounced "koo-mun rin-ka now-shun-tuh"): The National Dance Association of Ireland.
Damhsa (pronounced "dow-sa"): Irish Gaelic for "dance". See also, Rince.
Diochra.com: The website for Irish dance information. It includes everything an Irish dancer needs, and will ever need, and then some. In the past it has included the infamous Webfeis (see 'Webfeis' for more information), as well as many other interact features. Also famous for the witty, "You know you're an Irish dancer when..." series. Visit it here: Diochra.com.
Jump up and move your feet to be equal in front. You click your heels together on the way up and on the way down, VERY rapidly.
Double Cuts: Double Cuts are more advanced steps that takes months to perfect. It involves a rapid double flutter of the leg that is brought up waist high and in front of the knee, while hopping only once on the foot on the ground. See "hop" for more detail.
Double Jig: A traditional jig in 6/8 time. Sometimes referred to as a Treble Jig or Heavy Jig.
Elastics: Black elastic bands that wrap around hardshoes (see "hardshoes" for more detail) to keep them on securely.
Elementary (in Australia): To move up, a dancer must place against eight or more competitors.
Federation of Irish Dance Professionals (FIDP): An organization no longer in place. They did not require their teachers to be certified and relied on the honors system in regardes to each instructor's background in Irish dance.
Feile (pronounced "FAY-lay" or "FAY-luh"): A competition with only dancing.
Feis (pronounced "fesh"): a festival that includes figure (group) and solo step dancing, crafts, instrumental, vocal and Gaelic language competitions. The plural is feiseanna (also: feisianna, feisanna), pronounced "fesh-ah-nah".
Feis Syllabus: a listing of the competitions in a feis by age, gender, and skill level as well as the rules of the feis, fees, and where to send entries. The competitive levels are beginner, novice, open, preliminary championship, and championship. Sometimes an advanced beginner category is added. Competitions at feisianna differ depending on the site, but the major categories are uniform.
Figure Dance Forwards: Instead of travelling to the side with one foot always in front, you whip (see "whip" for more details) forward (1 count) then step two more times on each foot, then you hop forward and step two times on each foot, then to change directions, you get ready to hop foward, but hop back and step twice, instead, then repeat again. When counted it goes like this: Whip foward, foward, and back, and back, whip forward, whip foward, and back, and back.
Figure Dances: Dances that involve more than one dancer. There are dozens of figure dances. The most frequently seen in competitions are the 2 hand reel, 3 hand reel, 4 hand reel, 6 hand reel, and eight hand reel. Though they go up in size to more than 16. "Hand" refers to the amount of people dancing. For example, the 6 hand reel has 6 people. They allow more freedom and creativity than Ceili dancing, which is more traditional, especially in competition (see 'Ceili' for more information).
Figure Dance Sevens: In figure dancing (see "figure dancing for more detail), the sevens (see "sevens" for more detail) are quite different. You do not whip or switch feet when you start a figure dance seven. Instead, you jump up and then land for the count of one, then travel the direction in which the foot in front is. For example, if your right foot is in front, go right. When counted, the sevens go like this: Jump234567.
Figure Dance Threes: In figure dancing (see "figure dances" for more detail), threes (see "hop23" for more detail) are a little different. Okay, very different. You hop back, but make one sound when landing. So jump as soon as you hop back. Then step once on each foot. When added to the figure dance sevens (see "figure dance sevens" for more detail), the counts are like this: Jump234567, back23, back23.
Flutters (butterflies, entrechat, ballet jumps):
This step is done in Reels and Slip Jigs, and sometimes in hard shoes. This step needs a lot of height, pointy toes, and legs together. You bring your front foot around twice. This is an EXTREMELY quick move that requires lots of practicing and patience. Beginning dancers need not worry about flutters.
A front click is basically where you step with your first foot, then swing up the second foot, and then immediately swinging up the first foot trying to get a click from the heels of the hard shoes. If you have correct turnout, these are much easier to do. Practice low, holding onto a chair. You can later move on to no chair, and then higher.
Ghillies (soft shoes, pumps, pomps, light shoes, gillies): These are the name for the standard soft shoe worn by women dancers. They are distictive 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.
Half Click: Begin by doing a regular front click (see "front click" for more detail), except after making contact, one leg goes into a whip accross the other.
Hard Shoes (hornpipe shoes, heavy shoes, jig shoes):These shoes consist of fiberglass, plastic, and rarely 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.
Heavy Jig: See also, Treble Jig.
Place your heel out, and drag your other foot to it. This is a common step in a lot of shows.
Place your heel on the ground in front of you. This is usually combined with a whip and a "sevens" style walk. In the single jig at my school the count would be like this: Whip, toe step, heel step, toe step. Toe step being just like a regular "sevens" step.
You bring your first foot's tip back to strike against the heel of the second.
Hop23 (leap Overs, threes, leap23): A basic Irish dance move that is the basis for all of the other dances. It involves the first leg going straight out, while the back leg kicks the bum, and then is set down in front of the leading leg.
Hop Backs: This step is nothing more than hopping backward instead of forward.
Hop Jig: See also, Single Jig.
Hops: Another basic move where the leg is brought up waist-high in front of the opposite knee while you hop on the foot that is on the ground.
Hornpipe: It 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.
Beginners usually dance a fast/traditional set, while advanced dancers use a slower/contemporary rhythm that requires more intricate movements to fill in the music.
Independant: A dance teacher or school that is not officially affliated with any organization. Teaches may or may not be certified.
Intermediate (in Australia): One of the most difficult levels. More complicated and intricate steps are performed. To move up, a dancer must place against eight or more competitors.
Intermediate (in England and Ireland): To move up, dancers much place first again five other competitors to move up. These dancers may compete in the Premier Competitions if they want.
Irish tap: Often a case of mistaken identity, Irish tap is the term used by teachers attempting to cash in on the Riverdance phenomenon by offering a mixture of traditional tap and Celtic tunes. Beware the school that offers this.
Jig: 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), treble (aka - double or hard) and slip jig. The music is 6/8 time (the emphasis on beats in a jig is: ONE-two-three four-five). Slip jigs are in 9/8 time (ONE-two-three four-five). 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.
Kilt: A pleated "skirt" that can sometimes be worn by boys. They were popular a few years ago, now boys usually wear slacks and a nice shirt and vest and/or cumberbund and coat.
Lead Round (or lead-around): The first step in any dance that most of the time involves any step repeated eight beats in a circle, ending up where you started from. This varies on the teacher, dance or level you dance in.
Mean (pronounced "man") (An Coimisiun - Ireland/England): Intermediate grade. Third level.
Mean Grád (prounounced "man grahd") (Associated with CRN): Middle Grade. Also, level three.
Non-Certified (also, "uncertified", "unregistered", etc.): A dance instructor who has not received his or her certification. This does not necessarily mean they are not qualified to teach, but students under an uncertified teacher cannot compete. (Beware! Some uncertified teachers may not be real Irish dancers, only learning from videos.)
Novice: This level is for those who have placed first, second, or third as a beginner in that particular dance (reel or jig).
Oireachtas (pronounced "o-rock-tas"): A type of super feis: Often referred to as the "Big O" or the Regionals. In North America, they are organized by regions, having begun in 1976. Competition is by age category and gender, but there is no separation of skill levels. Dancers placing highly qualify for the World Championship in Ireland (Oireachtas na Cruinne). A North American championship competition began in 1969. Locations vary from year to year. Both the national and world championships are also called Oireachtas (plural is Oireachtasai).
Open (in Australia): The highest level of competition. Dancers may now compete in Premier and Championship competitions.
Open (in England and Ireland): The highest level. In competition, dancers compete in solos, as well as a championship competition. If a dancer wins a championship judged by more than three Adjudicators they may not move back down to Intermediate. Dancers who have not won at such a competition may move back to Intermediate at the start of each year.
Open (in UK and Ireland under An Comhdhail): This level is open to dancers from all levels. Most of the dancers, however, are Champions who have won a majority of firsts in the other levels.
Open Championship: The most advanced of solo competition, is for those who had previously won two first place awards in the Preliminary Championship(see "Preliminary Championship" for more details) level at a feis (see "feis" for more details).
Preliminary Championship (in North America): This is the level that Prizewinner (see "prizewinner" for details) dancers move up to placing first in both a soft shoe (reel, slip jig) and a hard shoe (hornpipe, treble jig, set dance) at a previous feis (see "feis" for details). This is normally the only level of competition where boys and girls dance in the same events. Dancers must perform one soft shoe dance and one set dance in hard shoes.
Pre-Open (in UK and Ireland under An Comhdhail): Dancers who have won a first in Beginners B.
Primary (in Australia): Dancers perform more complicated steps, and must win against eight or more competitors to move up.
Primary (in England and Ireland): Dancers may now compete in all of the dances. To move up, the dancer must win a first place against five other competitors in that dance alone.
Prizewinner (Open) (in North America): The level that Novice (see "Novice" for details) dancers advance to after placing first at a feis (see "feis" for details).
Quiver (a. Hop-to-the-knee, double cut, double hop - b. wiggles, fishies, shakes) A.) A rapid "double hop", where your foot hops (or quivers) twice instead of once, in one beat. B.) A rapid "shaking" of the foot only, seen in more advanced dance steps.
Reel: The reel originated around 1750 in Scotland and the Irish dance masters brought it to full development. The music is 4/4 time and it is danced at a relatively fast tempo (ONE-two-three, TWO-two-three). Both men and women dance the reel. For women, it is a light, rapid soft shoe dance that allows for plenty of leaping and demands an energetic performance from the dancer. Men often dance the reel in what appears to be hard shoes without the toe "tap" up front.
Often a feis will include a special competition in the treble reel. Here, dancers in a single line dance right and left leg. Some separate out age groups, some combine the age groups into one competition. Usually, audiences are extremely enthusiastic in their appreciation for this exciting performance.
Rince (pronounced "rin-ka"): Irish Gaelic for "dance". See also, Damhsa.
Riverdance: The show that could have started it all. Originating on the Eurovision song and dance contest in 1994, the seven minute segment starring Jean Butler and Michael Flatley, both American Irish step dancers, and a troop of several dozen, was soon expanded into a full-length show on Broadway. It branched into several groups now touring the world, each named after a river in Ireland.
A case of mistaken identity. The term used to describe Irish step dance by those who don't understand that Riverdance is a show, not a verb, and combines not just Irish step, but flamenco, tap, modern and tango.
Riverdancing: A case of mistaken identity. This term is often used to describe the form of dance popularized by the show Riverdance by those who aren't familiar with Irish step dance. A word to the wise: use this term and most dancers will immediately flog you with their hardshoes. The correct thing to say is "Irish dancing" or "Irish step dancing".
Rocks: A more advanced "step", a rock is when the dancer crosses his or her feet and places pinky toe to pinky toe and rocks the ankles back and forth. This creates the illusion of rubber ankles, and is amazing to watch.
Scissor Kick: Exactly like a front click (see "front click" for more detail), except make no contact with your heels, unless you are a boy, in which case, you do.
Set dances: A list of advanced dances (all in hardshoe) that is added to yearly at the An Coimisiun meetings. They are named according to the music they are "set" to. Some examples are "Orange Rogue", "Planxty Drury", "St. Patrick's Day", and "King of the Faeries". As with most hardshoe dances, set dances are done in fast and slow times, with traditional steps and contemporary steps. They can be jigs or hornpipes.
Sevens: This is a sidestep movement taught right away. It's simply like walking sideways. If your right foot is in front, you walk like this: right step, left step in behind, right step, left step in behind, and so forth. These are usually mixed with a whip (if you're on your right, whip with your right and set it down for count "2"), so that counting the sevens goes as follows: "Whip 2 3 4 5 6 7". You see this step in many of the "side downs" in reels.
Siamsa (pronounced "SHEEM-sa" or "SHAHM-sa"): The forerunner of Irish dancer websites. Was packed with humorous information about the world of Irish step dancers. Some highlights included Soft Spike stories (see 'Soft Spike Curlers' for more information). If it still exists and I can find the link, it will appear here and in the links section.
Side Down (also, side step): The step directly after the lead round, usually involving hoping or sevens in a straight line on both right and left foot, but this, as always, depends on the teacher, dance or level.
Single Jig: A traditional jig in 6/8 time. Sometimes referred to as a "hop jig" or "double jig", but has a slightly different ending than the latter. A single jig is no longer danced once a dancer reaches championship level.
Slam (Slap, bang, stamp) Turn your foot out and slam it full force to the ground.
Slip Jig: Slip jigs are in 9/8 time (ONE two-three four-five, TWO two-three four-five...). The slip jig is danced in soft shoes and is the most graceful of Irish dances. It features light hopping, sliding, skipping and pointing. This dance is reserved for mainly females only.
The Slightly Insane Teaparty for Webfeisers with Diaries: The former playing ground where certain Webfeisers (see 'webfeiser' for more information) would meet and plan what happened in their Webfeis (see 'Webfeis' for information) dancer's diaries. Was popular between 2001 and 2002. Visit it here, SITWD.
Soft Spike Curlers: A brand of soft, foam curlers used a lot in competition. Visit their site, here: Soft Spike Curlers.
TCRG: (Certified Instructor) Teasgicoir Choimisiuin Le Rinci Gaelacha--translation is Gaelic Commission Dancing Teacher.
Tip Step (tip change):
Tap forward like a treble (see "treble" for more details), but instead of tapping back, step onto your foot. Step loudly though. Judges want that noise to be heard.
TMRF: Certified ceili dance instructor.
To do proper toe stands, your hard shoes need to be broken in to the point where they can bend in half (toe to heel). Go up on your toes and balance yourself on the fiberglass tip. You must have strong knees and ankles before doing toestands, or you could seriously injure yourself. Toe stands are sometimes done with rocks in hardshoe.
Toe Walks: Instead of walking flat on the ground, the dancer walks "en pointe" - on toe stands.
Treble (shuffle, rally, emerly):
Take your shoe and make a tap in front of you. Repeat when going back. There are many different ways to treble. You can hop back after a treble, go whip (see "whip" for more details) after a treble.
Do a treble (see "treble" for more details), and then stomp onto your foot.
Treble Jig: A hardshoe dance in 6/8 time. As with the Hornpipe (see "hornpipe" for more details), the Treble Jig can be danced in fast/traditional for beginners and slow/contemporary with advanced dancers, offering more time for intricate movements to fill in the music. See also, Heavy Jig or Double Jig.
Tús (pronounced "toos") (An Coimisiun - Ireland/England): Primary grade. Second level.
Ullmhúchán Grád (prounounced "Oowl-Voo-Kahn Grahd") (Associated with CRN): Preparatory Grade. Also, level two.
Webfeis (the bed of insanity): An online role-playing Irish dance game that brings with it total insanity created by Ashe in 2001.
Webfeiser: Technically, any participant in Webfeis. It used to describe one who has become insane either by having a dancer diary, or by simply meeting Laurie, Erin, or Sarah (that'd be me). Those three have since retired from Webfeis, and much of the insanity waned.
Whip (cut, cut-up):
Whips are the "cutting" movement that has one leg bend and its foot move to the other legs' side of the body. Whips do not end any lower than the knee. They are preferred to be as close to the opposite leg as possible. There should be no gap between the "whipping" leg and the leg that remains on the floor. The perfect whip is one that hits the hip.