The Irish reel is a folk dance, surprisingly of Scottish origin, that gained popularity in Ireland around the 1800s.
The Irish reel is essentially any Irish dancing that can be danced to Irish reel music.
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What Is the Irish Reel?
This traditional Irish music is notated with a 4/4 time signature. Sometimes it's notated with a 2/4 or 2/2 time signature as well. To see a simple example of the dance, slowed down and explained, check out this great, short tutorial by the Trinity Dancers.
Since its first introduction into Irish Culture, the reel has been a long-time dance tradition. Still, it can vary from region to region. The popularity of reels in Irish dancing has given rise to many variations on what constitutes an official reel.
Some styles involve a hop or a kick at some point, while others involve a simple step-hop combination. While these steps may vary from region to region, there is no hard-and-fast rule about what constitutes an Irish reel step.
Any combination of steps will work as long as it's rooted in the same vein and you're having fun!
History of Irish Reels
Curious about the origin and history of Irish dance like the reel? As mentioned, the first documentation of this traditional dance was noted in the 1590s in Scotland - although it possibly originated long before. It gained more notable popularity in Ireland and Britain around the 19th century. It's said that dance was taught throughout Ireland and other countries by "traveling dance masters"—especially in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Irish dancers often perform at St. Patrick's Day celebrations. They are even set up as competitive dances where usually female dancers can share their advanced steps on the dance floor and show off their team skills.
In the early Celtic traditions, it was performed initially for important events like weddings, funerals, and holidays. And certainly still can be if desired.
Otherwise, country-wide competitions and traditional celebrations keep the tradition alive to this day. Irish history is rich in culture and will always include this traditional Irish dance!
Irish Reel Resources
Where to start for absolute beginners? While it may be obvious, take to Google! It really depends where you're located because in-person classes may not be available near you (primarily if you're in the United States).
If you are fortunate to find one, you are sure to have so much fun and possibly even make new friends along the way. However, if there's nothing of the sort near you, visit a website like Youtube!
Often Youtube is an excellent place for tutorial videos; whether you want to do your makeup or learn an Irish jig, someone on their platform has surely got you covered.
Take, for example, this Irish Dancing Beginner Reel. There are many more where that came from. Just take a look and see which instructor works best for you. Youtube is a great place to learn the basic steps of Irish dance if a local class is unavailable.
Other Irish Dance Blogs
Here are other dance blogs you can find on my website:
Other Popular Irish Dances
There are different dances like an Irish step dance, a light jig, a slip jig, a heavy jig, a single jig, a treble reel, and so much more.
Some require a heavy shoe, while others require a strict light shoe. Learn more about the fascinating history of Irish Dance, styles, steps, music, and more at Danceus.org!
Irish dancing briefly took the world by storm in popular culture around the 1990s. Irish-American dancer, Michael Flatley, charmed his way into the hearts of people across the country and beyond. He was known explicitly for his dance shows like Riverdance and Lord of the Dance.
The 1990s were a popular time for various dance movements. As some of you might recall, this was the same time the beloved macarena took the world by storm. While it wasn't an Irish dance, it quickly became a staple of the time's dance culture, just like Michael Flatley and his innovative Irish dance styles.
Have you ever practiced Irish dance or the Irish reel? I don't think you're ever too young or old to appreciate the cultural depth dance can bring to your life.
Maybe you've even seen Michael Flately live himself. Wouldn't that be something?
In the comments below, I'd love to hear about your experiences with Irish dancing or your culture's traditional dance!
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Mairéad -Irish American Mom
Pronunciation - slawn ah-gus ban-ock-th
Mairéad - rhymes with parade