Irish Symbol - Irish Dance Shoes

Irish Dance Shoes

The popularity of Irish Dance is increasing! Irish dance teachers all over the world are teaching second, third and fourth generation Irish girls and boys traditional jigs and reels. The outstanding success of productions such as Riverdance has encouraged even more children to learn to dance just like their ancestors. Irish dancers compete in dancing competitions regularly, all hoping to qualify for the world championships which brings together competitors form all over the world to be recognised as the best!

Learn about the different types of Irish Dance Shoes and discover the benefits of Irish dancing?

Gaelic: Brógaí  English: Shoes

Irish Dance Shoes - History
The origin of Irish dancing is subject to much debate,  Travelling dance masters in the 18th and 19th century are believed to have introduced step dancing to Ireland. Immigrants keen to continue their heritage and culture brought Irish dancing to to America, Australia and England as they were forced to leave Ireland particularly after the Great Famine of the 1840's.  Irish step dancing has changed over the years, step dancers in the 18th and 19th century wore their 'Sunday best'. Dancers would simply wear the outfit that they normally wore to church and dance bare foot. For dances such as the Hornpipe which required hard shoes, metal panels and even nails would have been attached to the sole of the dancers own shoes to allow them to make the 'bangs' and 'taps' required.

The Irish dancing commission known as 'An Coimisium le rinci Gaelacha' was established to promote Irish dancing and the World Irish dancing championships (Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne) began in 1970. Until the year 2000, the world championships were held annually in the Republic of Ireland. However in 2000 the world championships were held outside the republic for the first time in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Since then they have been held all over the world due to the global popularity of Irish dancing.

Types of Irish Dance Shoes
Irish dancers require specialist dance shoes and the shoes are made specifically for Irish dancers. Hundreds of pairs of dance shoes are made each day and shipped all over the world to satisfy the growing demand from dancing schools from Ireland to America and England to Australia. There are two types of dance shoes worn by female solo Irish dancers, hard shoes also called heavy shoes and soft shoes which are also called light shoes or ghillies. Male dancers wear 'Reel Shoes' which are similar in appearance to Jazz shoes.

Irish Dance Shoes - Hard Shoes
Irish dance hard shoes are very similar to tap shoes. They are however much bulkier and the toes and heels are made of fibreglass to increase the sound level. Hard shoes are used when dancing traditional Hornpipes or Treble jigs and the click made by the shoes is an important part of the dance.

Irish Dancing - Irish Dance Shoes

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Irish Dance Shoes - Soft Shoes
For a selection of pictures showing the different types of dance shoes go to our desktop site. Soft shoes are worn by female Irish solo step dancers. The shoes are know by a variety of different names including ghillies, light shoes and pumps. They are very similar in design to ballet shoes but tie with laces instead of elastic.

Many young dancers use ballet shoes when they first start solo Irish dancing lessons, this allows the parents to see if their child is keen to continue with lessons as ballet shoes are much cheaper than soft shoes. It is generally a good idea to check with your child's dance teacher to see if they keep a stock of second hand ghillies.  Children's feet grow so quickly, it can be very expensive to buy new dance shoes every few months.

Ghillies are also worn by women in Scottish Highland dance and men in Scottish Country dancing! Soft shoes are made in leather with long laces that criss-cross across the front of the shoe, often wrapped around the sole of the foot before being tied like a sneaker or trainer in a bow. Unlike other lace up shoes the laces are fed through slots in the leather and not eyelets.

Irish Dance Shoes - Reel Shoes
Men competing in solo dancing competitions wear 'Reel Shoes'. Reel shoes are similar in appearance to jazz shoes but have a hard heel which allows the dancer to make a series of 'clicks' during traditional soft shoe dances. The soles of the reel shoes are much more flexible than jazz shoes.

Irish Dance Shoes - Why do dancers wear wigs?

Irish dancers have to keep their body rigid whilst dancing, this does not apply to their hair! The bounce of curls can emphasise the height of the jumps and allow the dancer to be more expressive. Traditionally girls hair was kept long and those with straight hair always had their hair styled into ringlet curls in advance of a dancing competition.

This was often the worst part for the girls, having to sleep with uncomfortable 'rollers', 'curler's' or 'rags' in their hair overnight. Nowadays wigs are commonplace and worn by Irish dancers performing at competitions all over the world. Wigs are a very popular choice for those with short or naturally straight hair and preferred in place of the uncomfortable curlers. The dancing wigs are very realistic and can be made to suit the color of the dancers individual hair color.

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