Irish dancing is a central part of Irish culture and heritage, but what do you know about the shoe? Here are some fun facts about the shoes used for Irish dancing.
Irish dancing is an integral part of Irish culture, and let’s face it, since Riverdance captivated the world as the interval act of the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994, the dance has become famous worldwide.
This traditional form of dancing is still widely practised and competitive dancing dates back to the 18th century. It is said to have been influenced by native Irish dance, English country dancing, and French quadrilles.
Irish dancing can be performed as a solo act or in group form. Céilí dancing has become popular over the years, even being part of the school curriculum in Ireland.
Since this vital part of Irish culture is as strong as ever, we would love to share some fun facts about the shoes commonly worn for this dance, which are just as interesting as the dance itself.
So, let’s take a look at some fun facts about Irish dancing shoes. Let’s see how many are new to you.
5. They weren’t always made of the best materials – modern advancements
Believe it or not, the quality of traditional Irish dancing shoes your parents or grandparents once wore were not the shoes we see today. The first shoes were made from belly leather, which was extremely stiff, inflexible, and uncomfortable for the dancer.
These days, shoes for dancers have advanced significantly: they are created to give better performance and flexibility and even have advanced comfort features.
Thanks to modern advancements and better-quality materials, many complex steps can be achieved, and this excites every budding Irish dancer.
4. Antonio Pacelli shoes – a famous manufacturer of Irish dancing shoes
One of the leading Irish dance shoe manufacturers is Antonio Pacelli, who is well-known for his excellent products. Based in Wembley, UK, Antonio Pacelli’s high-end store features everything you can think of, including the ever-popular gazelle dancing pumps.
Competitive dancers, advanced dancers, intermediate dancers, and beginner dancers all turn to Antonio Pacelli when seeking excellent service and superior products.
Selling reels, soft shoes, hard shoes, and special wide-fit shoes, this is one of the main places where long-lasting Irish dancing shoes are commonly bought.
3. There are different shoes for different dances – hard shoes and soft shoes
While you may assume Irish dancing shoes are a general type of shoe, one of the fun facts about Irish dancing shoes is that there are hard and soft shoes to choose from. They type depends on the dance you plan to perform.
Hard shoes are also known as heavy shoes and are used for making noise, as you can assume, so they will be worn for hornpipe and treble jig dances. These are similar to tap shoes but with fibreglass heels and tips rather than metal.
Soft or light shoes, on the other hand, are known as ghillies or pumps and are generally black leather lace-up shoes which resemble ballet shoes. These tend to have split soles and are only worn by female Irish dancers.
2. There are four dance styles for soft shoes – the most common type
Soft shoes are the most common type of shoes worn in Irish dancing. You will recognise the four main dancing styles: the reel, slip jig, single jig and light jig, all of which require the dancer to sport noiseless soft shoes. These quieter shoes are also worn when dancing in large groups.
The reel shoes men wear are similar to the soft shoes of female dancers, apart from the hard heel, which has a function to help the dancer perform the traditional male routines and steps with the use of clicks and taps.
1. Men and women wear different shoes – reel shoes versus soft shoes
One of the main fun facts about Irish dancing shoes is that men and women wear different types. In fact, men tend to wear what is known as reel shoes which resemble a kind of jazz shoe, while female dancers commonly wear soft shoes or hard shoes depending on the dance.
The noiseless soft and reel shoes are the most common in Irish dancing. The men’s shoes feature a hard heel, making an audible heel click, a big part of many traditional Irish dances.
Other notable mentions
Long Legs: Over the years, there have been a few trends, and one of them is the addition of white laces to soft shoes and white tape to the straps of hard shoes to blend in with the sock and give the illusion of longer legs.
Old shoes had nails: Traditionally, old Irish dancing shoes were made with nails hammered into the toe piece to create a louder sound when dancing. Metal taps take the place of these nails in modern shoes.
Innovative insoles: Ryan and O’Donnell created the Noene shock absorbing insoles to support the feet, provide cushioning, and soften impact when dancing.
FAQs about Irish dancing shoes
What shoes are worn for Riverdance?
Hard shoes are worn in Riverdance. They feature fibreglass heels and tips needed for this type of Irish stepdance.
Why do Irish dancers tape their shoes?
Taping the shoes ensures they are tight and neat, covering the laces and giving a more professional appearance.
Why do female Irish dancers wear wigs?
Wigs have several benefits, including saving time when getting ready, adding to the existing costume, and representing the cultural performance. They certainly make for an epic hairdo.
So, as you can imagine, Irish dancing is a significant part of Irish culture and heritage. If you grew up in Ireland, you’ll definitely at least know someone who dances. With so many people practising both socially and competitively, the art will live on for many years to come.