Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jigs n Reels, Are You Confused?

So if you know nothing about Irish Dancing, when the teacher starts telling you your child will learn a reel and then a jig,, you'll be like "Ok", but secretly have no clue what the difference is! For unless you are a trained musician, you may not understand the rhythm difference between the two, and first hearing, much less the dance steps for each.

And it gets worse actually, as you see the jig is not just the jig, it is the single jig, the light jig or the slip jig, for Beginners. And that doesn't include the double and treble jigs they learn later with Beginner II/Novice level.

And there is also hornpipe, aka hard shoe, which has it's own unique steps.

Confused yet??

Courtesy of Pixabay
If you're child is just taking instruction at a performing only school, it will be easier than you think to decipher the dances, as you will learn the more popular music used and be able to better differentiate between them. If however your child is competing in feisianna, it may get really confusing, as your child will learn different steps to the same dance!

dont panic sign
Courtesy of Pixabay

So let's start at the beginning.

I found that it helps to break down the dances in the order that they are generally learned, and starting with the rhythm, to learn how the beat should go, and then attach steps to them. Each dance starts with the right foot, then is repeated with the left foot, doing the steps in the opposite form. 

irish dancing ghillies 2

And it always starts on 8, as you will learn from your child, who will tell you that you are counting wrong- it is not 1-2-3 to start but 5-6-7-8. LOL. This is because the dancers start with turned out feet, and move into a ready position (known as up, see above). So we'll start with listing to a sample, and then talking about each. 



Reels are danced in 4/4 timing, meaning that there are four beats to every bar of music. There are 2 bars, for a total of eight beatts, with four beats to every bar. So it is counted  1-2-3-4   1-2-3-4. Young dancers learn this dance first, as its rhythm is the easiest to learn, as it is the pattern we hear in most popular music and nursery rhymes, including 'Pop Goes the Weasel'. Each reel also consists of two or more parts, each consisting of 2 different step sequences. Beginners typically dance at a speed of 117 beats per minute, which is a faster speed, at feisanna (I know that makes no sense to the beginner dance mom, but in Irish dancing slower=more controlled movements, and is much harder). 

Now that you know the count, it seems easier to decipher what a reel is, right?

Let's try another- the jig.


The second dance that is typically learned is a jig, which is in 6/8 timing with 6 beats to each bar. The main emphasis is on the first and fourth beats each beat is counted in groups of three as 123-456  123-456.  Most jigs are in 2 parts; an A part and a B part,  performed with two different steps, each once on the right foot, and one on the left foot. BUT it is not quite that simple either, as there is no 'basic jig'. Rather there are jig variations.So let's start with the first that is traditionally learned:

 The light jig is the second-fastest of all the jigs, typically performed at a speed around 116 beats per minute at feiseanna. Your dancer might be winded after a quick jg, as their feet are in constant motion, and rarely leave the ground for long, due to the fast rhythm. Included steps will be the "hop, hop back" and the "hop, hop back, hop back 2-3-4".


The single jig is the least common of the jigs, They were once used for the boys at feisanna, primarily to offset the slip jig, which was seen as more of a girls dance. Its movements tend to showcase more power and control by the dancer, hence having the boys perform it. But not all schools include them in their competition learning anymore.It is also in a 6/8 rhythm, and tends to follow the pattern of a quarter note followed by an eighth note, hence the difference you can hear. It is typically performed at a speed around 120 beats per minute at feiseanna, making it the fastest jig. My daughter learned this one last, but picked it up very quickly and actually likes it as well as the slip jig.


The slip jig is the only jig danced in 9/8 time. They can be really confusing to count, hence why it is taught after the reel and light jig. It's accents are on the 5 of the 9 beats, so it is counted ‘and 1-2-3-4-5  1-2-3-4-5’. you may find yourself tapping your foot 3 times per bar. It is a very graceful dance, and has more toe work, and is the slowest of the jigs, danced  at 112 beats per minute speed at feiseanna. It is also ONLY danced in ghillies (soft shoe).


Once your child has gotten these dances down, then they will get to move up into the next level- hornpipe, aka hard shoes. This is the dance that the public will think of when you say Irish Dancing, thanks to Michael Flately's Lord of the Dance. The hornpipe beat is a dotted 4/4 rhythm, with accents  on the first and third beat, so it is counted  ‘ONE,and,a,two,and,a,THREE,and,a,four', but shown as  1-2-3-4   1-2-3-4. It is typically performed at a speed around 138 beats per minute at feiseanna. Hornpipe will introduce your child to new steps and ways of moving, as the hard shoes are heavy, and the point is to emphasis the fiberglass heels and taps, as the hit the floor. 

irish dancing ghillies 1


That was a lot to take in, wasn't it?

Our best advice is to make a copy of the steps your child is dancing and say them as she is dancing at home, and soon you will know the beats and rhythms almost as well as she does! This is helpful in the beginning, when you need to see if she's practicing correctly! But once you get this down, you may be quite surprised at how easy it is to explain to others!

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