Tuesday Trivia #13: Irish Dancing

Ever wonder why Irish dancers keep their hands totally still at their sides when they dance?

Many sources attribute this custom to the Traveling Dance Masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For a fee, this Dance Master would teach Irish children jigs, reels and hornpipes. Accompanied by a fiddler and/or piper, the Dance Master taught a very high standard of dance with emphasis on the steps, and had the children hold the rest of their bodies perfectly still.

But legend has it that the practice was common for two hundred years before that, when the advent of enforced Protestantism included the restraint of dancing. So how were Irish parents going to teach their children traditional dances, a central part of their culture? Well, where dancing was prohibited, jumping was not. A dragoon looking through the window of an Irish cottage could not object to children simply jumping up and down, even if it was done rhythmically.

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