Straight Arms During Irish Dancing



“Irish dancing dates back to before the English occupied Ireland. The English supposedly wouldn’t allow the Irish people to express their culture. So, they weren’t allowed to perform their Irish dance anymore. As a result, the Irish people would dance their traditional steps but leave their whole upper body and arms straight so that they could dance in their houses and the English soldiers walking by couldn’t tell that they were dancing. Sometimes, they would dance behind bars as well and nobody could tell because their upper body was so straight it looked like they were just walking around. So even now, in Irish dancing, when you compete, you get scored on how straight your upper body is. Feis means festival in traditional Gaelic. This is where Irish step dancing is usually performed nowadays.”




My informant learned traditional Irish dance when she was 7 years old and competed and performed until she was 16 years old. She was always judged on how straight she could keep her upper body and arms and never really understood why until her mother explained it to her. From then on, she remembers that it was easier to keep them straight because in her mind, she imagined that she was in the days in which she could be prosecuted for moving her upper body too much. This is a great example of a circumstance in which the explanation behind a tradition gives it much more context and allows the person observing the tradition to be more personally invested.