Irish dancing refers broadly to a group of traditional dance styles that originated in Ireland centuries ago, which includes both group social dance as well as solo dance styles. Irish social dancing styles include set and céili (pronounced KAY-LEE) dancing. Irish set dances are called quadrilles, which are always danced by four couples in a square arrangement. Unlike Amercian square dancing that requires a caller, sets progress through a predetermined sequence of figures. Céili dancing is similar in this regard, except that the figures and the number of participants are more varied.
Irish step dancing is a more formal style that is likely more familiar to most people, owing to the popularity of stage shows like Riverdance that feature this style. Step dancing can be performed by male and female dancers, either solo or in groups, and includes both percussive (heavy shoe) and non-percussive (soft shoe) dances. Step dancing is distinctive from other traditional Irish dance styles in that the dancer's upper body is kept rigid while performing quick and complex footwork (See it here!). Although they have evolved considerably from their traditional roots, the costumes worn by male and female stepdancers are designed to show off the dancer's footwork and typically feature intricate celtic-inspired motifs.
Dance teachers are certified by a governing body, An Coimisiún Le Rinci Gaelacha (CLRG; which in the Irish gaelic language translates to: The Irish Dancing Commission), that is responsible for maintaining adherance to high standards. CLRG is also responsible for qualifying and certifying Irish dance teachers through a grueling examination process that tests both their knowledge of traditional Irish dance and their teaching ability. Those that pass the exams are awarded the certification of TCRG (Teagascóir Choimisiún le Rinci Gaelacha, meaning "commissioned Irish dance teacher"). TCRG's that meet additional requirements and have acheived a level of mastery in teaching Irish dance may be qualified to sit for a higher examination for the certification of ADCRG (Ard Diploma Choimisiún le Rinci Gaelacha; the Irish dancing equivalent of a doctoral degree), which qualifies these certified teachers to also adjudicate CLRG-sanctioned Irish dance competitions.
Competition has been associated with Irish step dancing for more than a hundred years. Irish step dancing competitions are hosted at the local, regional, national, and international level, in which dancers compete against one another before a panel of adjudicators. Like teacher certifications, competitions are also sanctioned by CLRG, which requires hosting organizations to adhere to strict standards and follow a defined syllabus. There are seven grades that dancers can acheive in competitive Irish dancing, which are akin to the belt system used to recognize levels of mastery in martial arts. Dancers start competing as beginners and, by their continued study of Irish dance and meeting placement requirements at CLRG-sanctioned competitions, they may aspire to attain the highest grade of competiton, or "Championship" level- the equivalent of the "Black Belt" in martial arts. A dancer's skill level and previous performance in competition qualifies them to compete at regional, national, and international Irish dance championship events. Only dancers registered under a CLRG-certified teacher are eligible to compete. In addiiton to competitions, our dancers enjoy performing before audiences throughout the Pittsburgh metro area, including the Pittsburgh Irish Festival, and participating in Pittsburgh's annual St. Patrick's Day Parade, famous for being among the largest in the U.S.
To learn more about Irish dancing, we recommend this resource.