Welcome. This page contains links to various Irish and Celtic sites on the WWW, as well as some information about some specific topics related to art, music, and dance. For some general background, you can read a brief history of the Celts taken from The Gaelic Home Page which also gives a great deal detailed information about celtic languages.
Here is a quick summary of the various types of Celtic artwork independent of medium, based mostly on the writings of George Bain in his book, Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction © 1973.
Drew Ivan's Celtica page has a nice bibliography and information about how to draw your own Celtic knotwork. Please let me know if you know where this page has gone. (Formerly http://home.ctnet.com/drew/celthome.html)
Steven Abbot has written a computer program for MS Windows which draws Celtic knotwork. His site contains information for downloading and may eventually include an archive of knot definition files. In a similar vein, Robert Scharein, has a even more impressive site of Sorta Celtic Knots drawn on an SGI machine using a program he wrote and dubbed KnotPlot.
Ceolas has a page with some Celtic clip art. More Celtic clip art can also be found at the commercial site Celtic Art by the Celtic Lady.
Recently been popularized by shows such as the Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, this is actualy a very old art form.
Dances done in soft shoes are meant to look light and elegant; those done with hard shoes focus more on the rhythm and sound. Some dances are traditionally danced to with only one or the other type of shoe, while others are danced to with both, albeit with entirely different steps.
Light or soft shoe (called ghillies) are lightweight black leather shoes which lace up. They bear a passing resemblence to pointe shoes, but without any sort of hard support to stand on in the toe.
Hard shoes resemble heavy black Oxfords with very large fiberglass heels and fiberglass toe taps. (Fiberglass has replaced the traditional leather studded with nails in the last 15-20 years.)
There are hundreds of different reel, jig, slipjig, and hornpipe tunes and each teacher usually makes his or her own steps. A "step" is a sequence of moves which lasts eight bars of music plus its mirror image (with right and left foot swapped in all the moves) for an additional eight bars. Since the starting position is with the right foot pointed in front of the dancer, the first eight bars of a step are sometimes referred to as the "right foot" and the second eight as the "left foot." Failing to start and end the steps with the beginnings of the musical phrase is one of the most blantant ways of being off time to the music.
|Reels||4/4||Light or Heavy|
|Set Dances||2/4 or 6/8||Heavy|
As a further note on hard versus light shoes: the jig is danced as a light shoe dance only at the very lowest levels of competition. The slip jig has traditionally been performed only by women (as men were not deemed graceful enough I was once told) and that remains largely true today. The treble (heavy-shoed) reel, was once traditionally performed on by men, but those days are gone, probably at least partly due to the way girls so vastly outnumber boys in this sport.
Set dances are so named because they have set music, and in some cases set steps (as in the case of traditional set dances like "St. Patrick's Day," "The Blackbird," and "The Garden of Daisies" which have been passed on unchanged for centuries.) Other set dances are clearly more recent (e.g. "Madame Bonaparte" and "Bonaparte's Retreat") and most are choreographed by individual teachers. Set dances are usually in either hornpipe or jig time. The music to set dances does not have equal length phrases. They begin with an eight bar phrase which is repeated, and are followed by a longer phrase, which is also repeated and then the shorter phrase is repeated again. Because this would make for a very long dance, most people usually stop before the repeat of the longer phrase. Because the choreography to the shorter phrase is the same length as a normal shorter phrase, this part of the dance is sometimes referred to as the "step" while the longer portion is known as the "set." The popularity of tunes waxes and wanes, but they all have colorful names. Some that I am familiar with: "The Kilkenny Races," "Ace and Duece of Pipering," "Jockey to the Fair," "Hurry the Jug," "The Three Sea Captains." (See a complete list.)
Figure dancing is step dancing for groups of two, three, four, six, or eight dancers, though six is fairly uncommon. Instead of emphasizing complicated individual choreography, figure dances emphasize precision execution of complicated patterns of people. For example a group of eight dancers (an "eight hand dance") might have the dancers form a cirle, then a cross, then and circle and cross, then half the dancers might interweave themselves in a figure-eight fashion around the other four. Coordination between the dancers is key. While two- and three-hand figure dances are usually choreographed by each teacher, the most common four- and eight-hand dances are contained in a handbook and many are well known across schools are generations. Some of these dances are "The Sweets of May," "The High Caul Cap," "The Cross Reel," and the four hand reel.
Her's a nice overview of all sort of Irish dancing.
The North American Feis Commission maintains a list of all Feissiana in North America; Feis Productions is a website which contains this list as well as the Commission's rules, lists of dancing schools, and some general information (including a glossary). Feis is the Gaelic word for an Irish step dancing competition. (The Gaelic word for dance is "rince." )
The O'Shea/Chaplin Irish Dance Academy teach Irish step dancing to children and adults in the greater Boston area. The current Senior Women's World Champion (1998 & 1999), Noel Curren, is a member of this schoool (and a Boston University student).
Ceili dances bear some similarity to figure dances, but they are usually simpler and more repetitive. Typically, they involve two lines facing each other. Some are also progressive: couples move around the room dancing the same short sequence with successive other couple. Some ceili dances are "The Siege of Ennis," "The Walls of Limmerick," and "The Haymaker's Jig." Square dancers might find this dance looks strangely familiar; upon travelling to the United States with immigrants, it evolved into the "Virginia Reel."
Set dance are are similar to ceili dances. I have been told that they evolved from the French quadrilles, or were at least influenced by them. Indeed, they are sometimes referred to as "country dances" which are is a perversion of the French "contre dance" which refers to dancing in opposing lines. (So there may also be some relation between these and the ceili dances.) Both set and ceili dancing certainly have some relation to contra dancing and American square dancing.
There is an impressive Celtic music archive at Stanford called Ceolas which can probably give far more acurate informtation about all sorts of Celtic music than I. They also have information about a wide variety of current Celtic artists and groups, ranging from the very traditional (like Altan and Celtic Thunder) to Celtic derived artists (like Loreena McKennitt and Enya) to Irish rock (like Sinead O'Connor) to groups that span several catergories (like the Chieftans and Clannad).
My favorite traditional Irish instrument is the bodhran, a frame drum.
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