Seacoast Set Dancers

What Is Irish Set Dancing?
It's similar to Square Dancing, a little like Contra and Céilí dancing, but definitely not Riverdance!

Irish Set dancing is a lot of fun and a good aerobic workout. The background information in the following paragraphs might make it sound like it's all too difficult to bother with unless you are some kind of dance fanatic, but when you get it right in a lively dance with a good band, it's worth every minute you put into it!

Briefly, there are 3 well-known types of Irish dancing: Step, Set, and Céilí (pronounced KAY-lee). Step dancing is the kind you see in Riverdance. Céilí dancing is a formal style of dancing that sometimes resembles line dancing and generally involves dancing on your toes, jumps and kicks. (The word "céilí" also refers to a bunch of people getting together and dancing to Irish music.)

Set dancing starts with a "set", which is four couples in a circle or square, so it resembles American square dancing. The set dance itself is usually composed of 4 to 6 figures, which are separate movements danced to individual pieces of music, ordinarily with short breaks in between the figures. The movements in a figure are in a specific sequence and are danced in order. A set performed with all the figures will usually take about 15 to 25 minutes to complete. Set dancing is also called Irish House Dancing, since this is where it originated, in the homes of Irish country folk. There are over 300 documented set dances from various counties in Ireland.

What Are You Getting Into?

If you can walk, you can learn how to have a good time doing this, but it does take some time and effort. Although set dancing does provide a good aerobic workout, the hardest part is remembering what to do in all the figures of a set dance, and in particular, what to do next. The way to learn the figures, sets, and dances is to have a teacher who knows the sets and can "call" them while the music is going and you are dancing. But unlike in square dancing and contra dancing, the sets are usually not called out loud at a dance over a microphone. Instead, people in the set help each other out, with the more experienced dancers taking the lead. After that, the next most challenging task is probably learning the common movements done with your partner, such as housing and swinging, but practice and a good teacher will take care of this. Regarding footwork, the basic steps are, honestly, not hard to learn.


When learning Irish set dancing, it helps a lot to have experienced people dancing in the set who can "pull through" the beginners. This might sound awkward and, to the beginner, embarrassing, but this is really the way we all learn (it's also a great way to meet other folks and laugh a lot!). Everyone who has ever learned Irish set dancing has been "pulled through" by others who already knew what they were doing. Learning can also be helped by studying written instructions, either from handouts or books, or watching videos, but the best way to learn is to get together with other people and dance!

View Set Dancing In Action

Click on the links below to view videos of Irish set dancing in action, with dancing to the various types of tunes that are danced to.

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