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Why Irish Dancers Don't Move Their Arms
How this unusual form of dance evolved
Irish step dancing is a unique form of artistic expression. The dancers do not move their arms, at least in the more traditional form of step dancing.
Elaborate steps are made with just the legs, and it's primarily the lower legs that generate the most movements. Some of these steps are very intricate, often leaving you wondering just how these contortions are possible.
A dancer's arms are held flat at her side, and her upper body is stiff as a board. Why is that?
Some history of Irish Dance
No one is really sure why this form of dance evolved the way it did. But I like my daughter's Irish step-dance teacher's explanation. Before every recital the teacher would give a 10-minute talk on the history of Ireland and Irish step-dancing. She concluded with talk with, "If you're lucky enough to be Irish, then you're lucky enough."
Anyway, the teacher is a devout Catholic and according to her account, Ireland was once a strongly Catholic country. The priests at one time had a great deal of influence and people listened to them. Step dancing was permitted, as it also served a spiritual purpose.
But there were a few stipulations. First and foremost, the dancing could not be suggestive. And the clothing had to be modest, with skirts well below the knee. So this is why the girls started dancing with their arms held to their sides like two boards. Any form of hip swaying was not allowed either.
I suspect the dancing costumes worn a few generations ago in Ireland were a little different than what we see now. The skirts probably fell way below the knees and sleeveless costumes would have been unheard of.
Sterling Silver Ghillies and Irish step dancer - Remember your dancer's earliest years
This sterling silver charm depicts the "ghillies," which are the soft-soled shoes all new dancers wear for their first recital. Typically it takes years to graduate to hard-toed Irish step-dancing shoes. Your little girl will love the "ghillies" charm and also the sterling silver Irish step dancer.
Irish Step Dancing Protected Catholics
My daughter's teacher also explained how Irish step-dancing helped preserve the Catholic faith in Ireland, as the Church suffered intense persecution at various times in the country's history.
During the 1600's, for instance, there was something known as Irish Penal Laws. This made it illegal to practice one's Catholic faith. This was also the era of Oliver Cromwell, a rabid Catholic hater who oversaw the assassinations of many priests and nuns. Cromwell also deported many lay Catholics to remote Irish outposts and to the Caribbean.
Therefore, it was sometimes necessary to celebrate the Mass underground, in the lowest level of a village house. While Mass was being offered, several children would be dispatched to stand at the edge of the property to watch for British soldiers. If soldiers were spotted, the little scouts would run inside and tap a message with their feet to alert the worshipers on the lower level.
If the soldiers happened to arrive at the home, they'd find children dancing in the house, while everyone else scurried to hide all evidence that a Mass was taking place.
I do wonder if the soldiers eventually caught on, after finding so many children dancing on Sunday mornings.
Did the dance teacher have her facts right? I don't know, and I have no way of checking, but her story makes a certain amount of sense.
Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day
Your dancer will love this beautiful Christmas tree ornament or St. Patrick's Day ornament.