Irish dance was seen throughout the countryside from the 16th to 18th centuries. Dancers would perform on the docks while ships sailed in, welcoming English soldiers and travelers to the country.
Dancers also performed at wakes and funerals. It was not uncommon to have Irish dancers dance in a circle around the coffin to bagpipe music.
During the 18th century, Irish villages became home to traveling "dance masters". These men traveled from village to village within a county, teaching the peasant children and adults Irish dances. These dance masters, dressed in brightly colored clothes, would spend a few days in villages throughout a county, living in the home of a peasant and teaching the rest of the village his own set of Irish dance steps and dances.
To help keep the attention of his students, dance masters often developed group dances that could be performed by the peasants. Also to accommodate individual, solo dancers, villagers would often take doors off of their hinges in order to provide these people with a more stable dancing surface.
Each dance master has his own distinct district within a county. No dance master was allowed to teach in another’s territory. They often challenged each other to dance competitions at fairs and gatherings. The winner was, literally, the last man standing.
Dance masters are the beginnings of today’s Irish dance teachers and schools. Just like each dance master had his own distinct district, many schools have their own areas in which they teach. It is amazing that something as simple as modern-day Irish dance teachers developed from 18th century dance masters. It just goes to show how truly timeless the basic concepts of Irish dance are.
Flynn, Arthur. (1999). Irish Dance – The History of Irish Dance. Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.irelandseye.com/dance.html
Lynn Academy. (2005). The History of Irish Dance. Retrieved March 10, 2008 from http://www.lynnacademy.com/history.htm