Frequently Asked Questions
How many students are there in our classes?
Traditionally, Irish dance is taught in large classes with multiple levels within the group. At McConnell School of Dance, we prefer to keep class size smaller so we can focus individual attention on each student. We maintain a minimum of 1 teacher for 8 students. Should class enrolment be greater than 8, additional instructors are brought in to assist.
Can I come into class with my child?
Parents are discouraged from coming in to class with their child, as they are somewhat of distraction for other children in the room, but most especially their own. If your child is reluctant to come in to class on their own, please let us know so that we may assist you and your child through the process of their first few classes. Generally, our younger children feel very at home in the studio and with their teachers within the first month of lessons.
What to wear for your first class?
Please refer to our Dress Code for information on what is acceptable attire for Irish dance classes. We recommend students wait to purchase shoes or dance attire until they are certain they are going to continue lessons for the season. For your first few classes dancers should wear dance attire or loose fitting, comfortable clothes which allow for movement. We do not recommend dancers wear runners or go barefoot. Well-fitting socks will suffice as footwear for the first few lessons.
Will I need to purchase shoes right away?
We do not recommend dancers purchase shoes until they are certain they intend to continue with lessons for the season. All Irish dancers will require Irish Soft Shoes & eventually they will require Hard Shoes. Please refer to Student Handbook "Irish Dance Shoes" for more information.
Do I need to purchase a costume?
All dancers wishing to perform are requried to purchase a costume for their current level. Dancers who change levels will need to upgrade their school costume to their new level. Second Hand costumes are a great way to save funds and recycle. We recommend dancers attend our Annual Costume Swap (at the end of September) where they will find a large selection of costumes and shoes for sale. Fundraising is also available to help with costs.
Do I have to fundraise?
Fundraising is optional for our General Division dancers. Some dancers and parents enjoy the opportunity to fundraise for dance related expenses however; we understand not everyone has the time or desire to participate in fundraising efforts. For those who wish to participate in individual fundraising, you will be required to contribute 4 volunteer hours per season. All fundraising is organized through our Students Association (MSDSA) and Performance Division.
What is MSDSA?
MSDSA is our non-profit Student's Association, which offers support and fundraising opportunities for all McConnell School of Dance students. Dancers automatically gain membership with MSDSA upon registration. There are no membership fees or dues. Dancers and parents are welcome to attend meetings (monthly). Meeting notice is posted on the website.
Do I have to perform?
No, performance is not mandatory for any of our levels or classes. Dancers should inform the instructor at the beginning of the season if they do not intend to perform with their class.
Performance or General Division?
Our Performance demands a great deal from our dancers and their family members. Dancers must be dedicated and Performance should be their primary focus (aside from school and work). The benefits of Performance are accelerated learning, higher achievements in dance, and opportunities to perform with a world class Irish dance troupe. If a dancer or parent is uncertain whether they can dedicate the time necessary for Performance, we recommend you enrol in General Division.
General Division students are offered ample opportunities to perform throughout the season and at Folklorama. Our General Program is ideal for dancers who enjoy Irish dance and want to keep involved in other activities.
How many classes a week should I take?
Do you compete at Feiseanna (competitions)?
For first year students we recommend starting off with one class per week. After their first year, some students choose to attend 2 - 3 classes a week. The extra practice results in more rapid progress however, for dancers who simply want to enjoy learning Irish dance; it is perfectly acceptable to enrol in one class only.
McConnell School of Dance participates in Open Platform Feis which are open to all Irish dancers. Feisanna take place in North American and world-wide. Dancers who enrol in our Competitive Division may compete in Open Platform Feis.
Irish Dance Terminology
What is Irish Dance?
Irish dance is an ancient art form with strong ties to the community, religious ceremonies, and rituals. The Irish people created music and dance for weddings, fairs, saints' days, annual festivals and harvests. In Irish step dancing, the dancers hold the upper body very straight and the arms close to the sides. The emphasis is on the footwork, the speed of the quick changes of position, the height of the jumps, and the uniformity of the dancers.
Types of Irish Dance
Irish dancing is separated into the performance dances and the social dances (ceilis)
Central to the Irish dance tradition is the technique of "stepping," which involves a concentration on foot movements close to the floor in which the tempo of the accompanying music is beaten out by the dancer. The four types of Irish music and associated dances are the jig, reel, hornpipe, and the set dances.
Ceili Dances (pronounced KAY-lee) A Ceili is a gathering for music and dance. Ceili dances were derived from group set dances and French quadrilles, but were set to Irish music. They are said to have evolved with the help of the Irish dance masters, many from County Kerry. The Handbook of Irish Dances published in 1902, led to standardization of Ceili dances. Recording the descriptions of these dances occurred through the 1930s. Luckily, many Ceili dances were recorded before being lost in history. Sometimes Ceili dancing is referred to as figure dancing.
Choreography is defined as the "art of making visual structures in which movement occurs." The artists who make these compositions are called choreographers. A choreographer creates a dance by having an idea or vision and then arranging and directing the movements of the dancers. The choreographer works closely with the dancers, the stage manager and musicians during rehearsals. Choreographers work in various settings including fencing, gymnastics and ice skating.
Soft Shoe (Ghillies, Pumps, Light Shoes)The name for the soft shoe worn by female dancers, also called pump, or soft shoe. They are distinctive, with lacing-up from near the toe to up and around the ankle and lower leg. Ghillies are used for all the light dances such as reels, light jigs, slip jigs, and single jigs.
Hard Shoe (Heavy Shoes)Hard Shoes are durable leather shoes with heavy fiberglass, composite or steel tips and heels. The tips and heels emphasize the rhythmic beats in the Irish music. Hard shoes are worn when performing hornpipes, hard jigs, sets and treble reels. Irish dances with hard shoes are generally more difficult to perform and are reserved for later when the dancer gains more experience and abilities.
Hornpipe Originally the hornpipe was danced exclusively by males in hard shoes, but now, both men and women perform. The hornpipe is in 4/4 time, reminiscent of a slow reel with accents on the first and third beat (ONE-and-a two-and-a three-and-a four-and-a). The apparent slowness of the music, allows for many intricate dance elements in a short amount of time.
Jig There are a number of variations of the jig, including the light, single (or soft), double (treble or hard), and slip jig. The music is 6/8 time (the emphasis on beats in a jig is: ONE-two-three four-five-six). Slip jigs are in 9/8 time (ONE-two-three four-five-six seven-eight-nine). Dancers perform single or soft jigs in soft shoes. Normally, only women dance the slip jig, however, increasingly boys learn and dance the slip jig.
Feis (pronounced "fesh")A festival or competition that includes figure (group) and solo step dancing, crafts, instrumental, vocal and Gaelic language competitions. The plural is feisanna.
Oireachtas (pronounced "oh-ROCK-tus") A type of feis (competition). In North America, they are organized by regions, having begun in 1976. Competition is by age category and gender, but there is no separation of skill levels. Dancers placing high qualify for the World Championship in Ireland (Oireachtas na Cruinne). A North American championship competition began in 1969. Locations vary from year to year. Both the national and world championships are also called Oireachtas (plural is Oireachtasai).
Reel The reel originated around 1750 in Scotland and the Irish dance masters brought it to full development. The music is 4/4 time and it is danced at a relatively fast tempo (ONE-two-three-four). Both men and women dance the reel. For women, it is a light, rapid soft shoe dance that allows for plenty of leaping and demands an energetic performance from the dancer. Men often dance the reel in light shoes with a heavy heel to accent the steps with heel beats and clicks. An exciting and modern form of a reel called a treble reel evolved from 1990's Irish dance shows like "River dance" and "Lord of the Dance".
Slip Jig Slip jigs are in 9/8 time (ONE-two-three four-five-six seven-eight-nine). The slip jig is danced in soft shoes and is the most graceful of Irish dances. It features light hopping, sliding, skipping and pointing, and rocks.