Out & About

March 14, 2013

Giving reels, jigs and hornpipe the old soft and hard shoe

St. Patrick's Day Hoolie features traditional Irish music, dancing and food

PLATTSBURGH — It’s high-stepping March madness for the Champlain Valley Irish Dance group instructed by Marie Short.

Catch the Irish-dance troupe at the St. Patrick’s Day Hoolie at the Elks Club in Plattsburgh on Friday. After a traditional meal of corn beef and cabbage, watch the young dancers reel, jig and hornpipe.

“They will be wearing traditional Irish-dance costumes,” Short said. “They are unique to each Irish-dance school, and they usually have knot work, some Celtic design.”

Her students will also perform solo dances and ceili, or group, dancing.

“In soft shoe, (which is) like a black version of a ballet shoe, and hard shoe, which is a slightly modified tap shoe that is specific to Irish dancing. Hard-shoe dancing is quite rhythmic and has intricate footwork, where the soft-shoe dancing is more about movement and extension,” Short said.

The dancing tradition began in Ireland in the 1700s.

“Where there will be dance masters traveling from village to village in Ireland, and (then they) stay for a few weeks at the time and teach the traditional Irish dancing. These were extremely respected individuals. They not only taught dance, but discipline and composure. They were under English control, but Irish culture was part of life. It was later that the English put a ban on all Irish culture — on music, song and dance,” Short said.

The Irish had to keep the top portion of the door open so patrolling Englishmen could look inside to make sure no Irish cultural activities were going on.

“Traditionally, they usually take place in a church hall or someplace like that. Irish dancing spread to North America very gradually in the last 30 years. There has been a huge increase in the number of Irish-dance schools in North America, where you can find Irish-dance classes pretty much in every city,” she said.

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