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Irish set dancing is a folk dance form that originated as a social dance among ancient Irish clans. Set dancing is also called ‘country sets’ and derives from the Continental court dance, ‘quadrilles’. The ‘quadrille’ is a dance routine that consists of four couples dancing in a square formation. Originating in the military parade grounds of the 17th century, the ‘quadrille’ borrowed from the special square formations of 4 horse mounted military personnel.
Irish rural communities transformed the quadrille into a unique form of Irish folk dance. Irish set dancing consists of four couples arranged in the middle of the sides of a square. The dancers will dance a sequence of dance figures involving complex dance steps and movements. The structure of the dance figures will have a common theme, which every couple will dance separately. All the dancers in the set dancing routine will begin and end the dance together.
In Irish set dancing routines, the couple whose back faces the traditional Irish band is called the ‘First Tops’. The couple who faces them is termed ‘Second Tops.’ On the left of the First Tops couple is the ‘First Sides’ couple and the Second Sides face them. Generally, set dancing sees the First Tops dancing the routine first followed by Second Tops and the respective Sides going next.
Elements of Irish Set Dancing
The square formations of Irish set dancing consisting of four couples are a staple of the dance routine. Each region of Ireland has specific set dancing steps and elements. Dancers from the Clare region follow closely Irish step dancing footwork movements. Those from the Connemara region, whose dancing sets are commonly termed Claddagh Set or South Galway Reel Set, display a different formation from the standard. The ‘First Sides’ couple now stands to the right of the ‘First Tops’ couple.
Irish set dancing has no caller to call the dance figures. In other forms of dancing, like line dancing, the caller is one of the participating dancers. The name of the set will define the sequence in which the dancers commence their routines. Therefore the pre-defined progression does not require audible cues.
Irish set dancing is a lively folk dance, which involves four couples dancing in a square formation. The dance movements are determined by the name of the set.