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Irish Dance

CCE Japan sponsors Irish Set Dance classes every week, in the Tokyo area. Beginners' classes are held every three months, on the first Sunday of January, April, July and October. For information about set dance practices in the Osaka area, please click here.

We also sponsor a ceili (Irish for 'dance party') every three months.

People often inquire, "Do you teach Riverdance style dancing?" There are several different styles of Irish dance. At present, CCE Japan regularly sponsors group dance lessons, both set dance and ceili dance. Also, we occasionally organize step dance lessons. (Details below.)

Different Styles of Irish Dance

The summary of dance styles given here is based on information from Rieko Yamashita's book "Feel the Beat of Irish Dance" (Tokyo Shoseki, 1998) and conversations with Irish dance master Patrick O'Dea.

Just as Japanese dance is classified according to its various styles into Bon-Odori, Lion Dance, and Folk Dance, Irish dance is also classified into three styles: Step Dance, Set Dance and Ceili Dance.

Step Dance

Step dance is further divided into three styles: Sean-nos, Old Style and Modern Style. The order in which they are listed here actually shows the development of step dancing. In other words, old style developed from sean-nos, and modern style developed from old style. In Gaelic, "sean-nos" means "old style", but in English, "old style" came to refer to the newer style.


Sean-nos, basically an ad-lib style, originally comes from the Connemara area. In the later styles, the upper body does not move (hands are not used), but in sean-nos, there is no such rule. Irish dance masters gradually spread sean-nos throughout the entire country. During this process, the style was refined, and old style developed. The choreography became fixed, and the 'no hands' rule was recognized.

Old style

When competitions started being held, modern style was established. Its characteristics are: hands lightly clenched, arms straight along the sides, knees crossed, high jumps and high leg lifts. The music for modern style is a little slower than old style, because there are more steps. Another characteristic of modern style dance is syncopation. Moreover, because of the success of Michael Flatly, this style of Irish dance has become world famous. Generally, modern style dance is very impressive.

Originally, it was only men who wore hard shoes, which make a clacking sound while dancing. Women danced reels and jigs wearing heavy boots or barefoot. After some time, soft dance shoes were introduced from Scotland and started to spread. From 1950, a soft shoe style developed. At the same time, women started wearing hard shoes too. Presently, there is no gender distinction in Irish dance styles. (However, some customs remain. For example, men do not dance slip jigs.)

Modern style

* CCE occasionally reserves rooms for old style and modern style step dance practice. (These are for individual practice. There is no instruction.) Please refer to the schedule.

Ceili Dance / Figure Dance

These are dances for groups of four or more people. In some cases 'ceili dance' and 'figure dance' are considered to mean the same thing. In other situations, the two terms are distinguished. In competitions, the term 'figure dance' refers to 'ceili dance', and is used to distinguish the style from set dance and step dance. In other words, the term 'ceili dance' is not used in competitions.

When the terms are considered different, 'figure dance' refers to a complicated choreography. Figure dances are especially choreographed for celebrations. This is the precise distinction, but in general, the two terms are hardly distinguished.

Céilí dancing

* CCE sponsors ceilis (an Irish word meaning party) every three months. At these events, the dances are explained, so beginners can participate.

Set Dance

Set dancing is done in groups of 8 people. This is the kind of dancing which CCE members do during Sunday evenings at Nakano. Set dancing developed in the 19th century when quadrilles from France were adapted to Ireland's own indigenous dance. After Ireland became independent, set dances were banned, because of their foreign origin. In recent years, however, such restrictions have become rare, and set dances are now danced at ceilis.

Set dancing movie(QuickTime format)

Takuji Yamamoto