Fig. 7. Shaking fist. At this step the dancer advances with heel extended and her fist raised. The feet are then closed together, and the step repeated to the left side
It has been said that if the girls of Dublin did not dance they would soon become cripples, for it is not the fashion to walk in the Irish capital, because of the badly paved streets. Even the barefooted, ragged little urchins who swarm on the quays and in the slums may be seen twirling imaginary shillelaghs and skipping merrily round in the jig.
Besides the jig, Ireland possesses many other dances, interesting because of their antiquity and their connection with similar measures in other countries. The most popular are the Circular Dances. In Ireland, May Day is still celebrated by a circular serpentine dance round a tree; the steps of this measure have been handed down from generation to generation, and form a genuine survival of olden times. Another dance, almost as old, is the espringall, corresponding to the German springendetantz. This is a dance-song, in which one performer sings the melody, and the others join in the chorus.
The music of an Irish jig is a strange mixture of gaiety and melancholy, typical of the country and people. Bagpipes belong to Southern Ireland as well as to Scotland, and are often mentioned in ancient Irish poems, between the sixth and tenth century. The modern Irish bagpipe has the sweetest sound of any instrument of that description. But the harp is really the national instrument, most of the best and most effective Irish music being especially composed for harps. In describing Irish national dances, as in Scotch, it is impossible to give a detailed description of every step, or of any complete or particular jig. A jig may contain any number of steps from five to twenty-five, and even more, depending on the endurance and ability of the performers. There are a few characteristics steps which may be found in all jigs throughout Ireland, but beyond those the steps vary according to the ingenuity of the dancers and the locality. Therefore, illustrations are given of a few of the most general steps suitable for teaching quite small children. In this country these steps are collected under one heading, and known as the "Washerwoman's Jig," because of the name of the music. They are typically Irish, but, at the same time, quite simple, and can be mastered by small children without difficulty.
Figure i. Springing Step. With both hands on her hips the dancer faces the audience, and takes eight springing steps straight forward, raising each foot in turn against the other leg (see illustration 1). On the eighth step she turns sharply and repeats the steps, travelling back to her place, and turning to face the audience on the eighth step.
Figure 2. Toe and Heel. This step, in some form or another, comes into every national dance in Great Britain. The dancer places her right toe on the ground at beat one, with a spring, and her heel at beat two, turning her right shoulder well forward, and looking backwards at her foot. The same thing is repeated eight times with alternate feet.
Figure 3. Skirt Step. Holding her skirt in both hands, the dancer points her right foot four times, giving a spring with each point. The same thing is repeated eight times with alternate feet, the skirt being swung to the reverse side with every change of foot.
Figure 4 and Figure 5. Rocks. The rocks occupy sixteen bars of music, and form two steps. During the first eight bars the dancer, with locked hands and lowered head,
" rocks " in position from one foot to the other. In the next eight bars she turns slowly, raising her arms as if stretching and yawning, until they meet behind her back.
Figure 6. Beckoning Step. Raising her right hand, as if beckoning somebody, the dancer points her right foot in front, and then sharply behind. This movement is repeated eight times with alternate feet.
Fig. 8. "Bob" curtsey. The last step can be taken like the first step, with a " bobbing" curtsey, or eight cuts taken in a circle to the left and right
Photos. Martin Jacolette
Figure 7. Shaking Fist. In this step the washerwoman is angry, and advances with her heel extended and her fist raised. At beat two the feet are closed together, and the step repeated to the left side.
Figure 8. Last Step and Bobbing Curtsey. The last step may be either a repetition of the first, with a bobbing curtsey on the last beat (see illustration 8), or eight cuts taken in a circle to the left and right, finishing with a similar curtsey.
In Ireland jigs were universally taught not so very long ago. Small tradespeople were the instructors in villages, and the result proved well worth the pains. There is a famous story of an Irish carrier who was once summoned to attend to some luggage which was needed urgently, and returned answer that he could not come, "being busy teaching the jig" ! Which implies that this casual race once thought more of their dancing than of their trades.