Set dance

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The set dance ( Irish seitrince , damhsa leithleach ) is the most popular form of Irish folk dance that has been around for at least 150 years. The persecution of the social set dance by the church and thus by the Irish state until the 1970s caused many sets to be forgotten and the set dance itself became very unpopular. In the 1980s a revival started, especially through the dancer Connie Ryan, and many sets that had not been danced for 40 years were reconstructed or new dances were choreographed . Today there is a rich dance scene not only in Ireland and the rest of the Commonwealth , but in many other countries as well.

The sets are based on the French Quadrille that was brought to Ireland by the British Army in the 19th century. Irish dancers adapted the figures to their own music and steps to dances with great speed and fun, so that the baroque court dance became a unique form of rural dance culture.


The set dance is a fast dance that is often accompanied by rhythmic tapping steps (battering). In general, the foot is moved relatively flat, jumps, etc. are avoided.

Shramore set, 2nd figure, swing with "Céílí-hold"

As a rule, four pairs line up in a square (exception: half sets, which are danced with 2 pairs). All eight dancers involved as well as the dance itself is called a set . The dance then consists of a certain choreographic sequence of three to nine dance figures (four to six are common) with a short break in between. In the set, the couple with their backs to the band (music) are traditionally referred to as first tops and the couple opposite as second tops. The pair to the left of the first tops is usually referred to as the first side, and the pair opposite is referred to as the second side. These terms are also used outside of Ireland.

Set dance is danced to reels , jigs , polkas , hornpipes , and more rarely to mazurkas .

There are numerous regional variations in set dance, such as B. the South Galway Set or the Clare Set. Sets from one area usually have similar elements. For example, sets from the Connemara Region (such as the Connemara Reel Set, South Galway Reel Set, and Claddagh Set) have the first sides to the right of the first tops. Sets from the Clare region place more emphasis on footwork (battering).

The set dance usually differs from square dance and round dance in the lack of a caller (or cuer), who specifies the respective dance. Should you still be called, this is only to be understood as an aid for beginners or inexperienced dancers. The order of the figures is not - like e.g. B. Square dance - determined by the caller. They are determined in advance.

The dances are predominantly regional dances and often have names of cities or regions in Ireland and are referred to as a set: Aran, Ardgroom, Armagh, Auban, Ballyvourney Jig, Ballyvourney Reel, Ballinascarty Half, Ballycommon, Black Valley Jig, Borlin, Caledonian, Caragh Lake Jig, Cashel, Cavan Reel, Clare Lancers, Clare Orange and Green, Connemara, Corofin Plain, Derradda, Down Lancers, Down Quadrilles, Dublin, Dunmanway, Durrow Threshing, Fermanagh, Fermanagh Quadrilles, Frères Nantais, Gillen, Glencar Polka, Jenny Lind, Keadue Lancers, Kenmare Polka, Kildare, Kilkenny Lancers, Kilkenny Quadrilles, Labasheeda Reel, Leitrim, Limerick Orange and Green, Longford, Mazurka, Melleray Lancers, Monaghan, Newmarket Meserts, Newmarket Plain, Newport, North Kerry, Paris, Plain Polka , Plain, Portmagee Meserts, Roscommon Lancers, Shramore, Skibbereen, Sliabh gCua, Sliabh Luachra, South Galway Reel, South Kerry, South Sligo Lancers, Televara, Tipperary Lancers, Tory Island Lancers, Tubbercurr y Lancers, Valentia Right and Left, Waltz Cotillion, West Kerry.

Solo dances

As for the solo dances in set dance, there are four more solo set dances that are danced with hard shoes in competitions or as demonstration dances and are step dances. These are very old and you can't dance them to any other music. The choreographies are fixed, but there are regional deviations in individual steps. The solo set dances as well as the ceili dances are heavily commercialized due to the strict regulations. The best known is " St. Patrick's Day (in the Morning)", but the other dances ("Blackbird", "Garden of Daisies" and "Job of Journey Work") are also very common. Other set dances (or by O'Keeffe & O'Brien (1934) also called figure dances) are:

Rub the Bag, The Stucaire, Funny Tailor, The Downfall of Paris, Buonaparte's Retreat, Rodney's Glory, The Three Sea Captains, The Jockey through the Fair, The Blackthorn Stick, The Killicrankie, Lady Cucool, Rocky Road to Dublin , The Girl I Left Behind Me, Ace and Deuce of Pipering, Drops of Brandy, Cover the Buckle, Short Double ( County Cork ), Single, Maggie Pickins ( County Donegal ), My Love She's but a Lassie yet (Donegal).


Set dance meetings are known as Céilí (pronounced: Keeli). The word céilí stands for the actual dance evening with set dance or céilí dancing or both. Sometimes other dances such as the waltz , quickstep and jive are danced. "Céilí and old time" is a mixture of sets, céilí dances and waltzes.

Such céilithe take place regularly across Europe. Mostly they are hosted by local set dance groups, which often also organize annual workshops where Irish set dance teachers teach selected sets. Such workshops last several days, and Céilithe will take place again as part of them.

The largest set dance get-together is the Willie Clancy Summer School held annually on the first Saturday in July in Miltown Malbay , County Clare , Ireland . Sets are taught there in the morning for a week, and in the afternoons and evenings, large céilithe with live bands are held at different locations in the area.


  • Pat Murphy: Toss the Feathers - Irish Set Dancing . Mercier Press, ISBN 1-85635-115-7
  • Pat Murphy: The Flowing Tide - More Irish Set Dancing . Mercier Press, ISBN 1-85635-308-7
  • JG O'Keeffe, Art O'Brien: A Handbook of Irish Dances . 1st edition, O'Donochue, Dublin 1902 [1]
  • Helen Brennan: The Story of Irish Dance . Mount Eagle Publications Ltd., 1999, ISBN 0-86322-244-7

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