No doubt the lively jig dates back to time immemorial.
The jig is essentially a measure which must have seized the imaginations of peoples of all nations. The jig, giga, gigue, or German geige is, in fact, cosmopolitan. One of the earliest dance tunes of which any evidence survives dates back to 1300, and is assumed to have been a jig. This irresponsible, gay measure was equally popular in England and Scotland in past years, and more particularly in Ireland, where it must be regarded as the national dance.
Shakespeare mentions several dances of his time, among them the gaillard, as danced at masques; the cinque pas, and the jigge. At the Tudor Court, celebrated for its dancing, jigs, courantes, gaillards, and brawls represented the livelier measures. It is only reasonable to infer that jigs continued in favour at Court until the succession of the House of Hanover, because there are jigs christened after every successive sovereign from Charles II. to Queen Anne. After her death jigs were no longer first favourites at Court, and dropped gradually out of general use in England.
We find them figuring in the entertainments of masques and revels which were the particular prerogatives of the Inns of Court. The young gentlemen learned in law counteracted their sedentary habits of study by attention to these agreeable movements. It is recorded that the budding judges and barristers were very accomplished dancers. In the preface to Playford's "Dancing Master," the writer commends the "sweet and airy activity of the young gentlemen of the Inns of Court." While in Grove's Dictionary may be found jigs christened after the Inner and Middle Temple, also Gray's and Lincoln's Inn.
Fig. 2. Toe and heel. At the first beat the dancer puts her right toe on the ground, and her heel at beat two, at the same time turning her right shoulder well forward, and looking backwards at her foot
Fig. 4. Rocking step. To the first eight bars, the dancer, with locked hands and lowered head, sways from one foot to the other
There is a marked and comprehensive character about a jig, especially an Irish jig. Dancers could foot it merrily, play it on some musical instrument, and sing a country "round" at the same time. In Shakespeare's day the term "jig" applied equally to a sprightly dance or a merry verse. At playhouses the dancing of jigs was expected from performers. In the early days of the drama, a dancing and singing jig was the regulation wind-up of every play. Often this measure was impromptu - or passed as such - and so did a rhyming tag sung by the clown. Audiences were then in the habit of calling loudly for a "jigge" as a pleasant termination to the performance, whether comedy or tragedy.
But it is to Ireland we must go for the, jig in all its vivacious activity and original charm. The Irish race possess a national taste for both music and dancing; it is an integral part of their character. So it is not surprising that the national jig has a marvellous influence over the Irish temperament.
As Miss Owenson, in her "Patriotic Sketches of Ireland," has illustrated so forcibly, no alien can in any way replace the sons and daughters of Erin at their own lively jigs. The same lady gives ah interesting description of outdoor peasant gatherings in Ireland, whereat the performers, so she says, seem untiring in their ardour for the jig. This is her description of the occasion:
"The piper is usually seated on the ground, with a hole dug near him into which the contributions of the assembly are dropped. At the conclusion of every jig the piper is paid by the young man who dances it. This gentleman always endeavours to enhance the value of the gift by first bestowing it on his fair partner "- a subtle move. "A penny a jig is considered very good pay; but the gallantry or ostentation of the contributor - anxious at once to appear generous in the eyes of his fair lady and to outstep the liberality of his rivals - sometimes trebles the sum the piper usually receives."
This quaint description of the proceedings may not be exactly borne out to-day, but it is a fact that jig-dancing assemblies still take place in parts of Ireland.
It has been stated that dancing has so strong a hold upon the lively Irish temperament that few gatherings take place in the shamrock country without this accompaniment. At the numerous Irish fairs groups of youths may always be seen merrily footing it to the breakdown, with many stirring whoops and much flourishing of blackthorn shillelaghs. In Scotland finger-cracking and kilttwirling are prominent features of national dancing; while in Ireland the jig is incomplete with-out its shouts and shille laghthumping. The way an Irishman flourishes his fearsome blackthorn stickaround his head and "sharpens" it on the turf is an art in itself. An Irish wake is prominent among those characteristic functions where competition runs high in keening dirges, in whisky-drinking, and the prolongation of active jigs. On such occasions the measure of respect for the lamented deceased is testified by the individual energy of the mourners, and their ardour to exert themselves by jig-dancing in honour of the departed. Though the Irish possess a reputation for gaiety and humour, their dancing has not such a variety of popular measures as that of other countries. The strange manner in which an Irishman mixes tears and laughter is typified by the uproarious mirth of jig-dancing in a house of mourning.