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Costume making for Irish dancing

Irish dancing is very important part of the heritage and culture of Ireland.

The exact roots and origins of early Irish dancing are lost in time, there is early evidence suggesting a link between early forms of Celtic dance and that of modern Irish dancers. It was said that the Irish people loved dancing and when they were happy they would dance clockwise and when in mourning anti-clockwise.

In the 1970’s a sub division of the Gaelic athletic association organised competitions where teams of dancers from around the country gathered together to share their own style of dancing.  This inspired other communities to foster a pride in their own unique take on Irish dancing.

During the 1980s and 90s there was a huge increase in dancing workshops and set-dancing ceilis around Ireland with every GAA and rugby hall becoming practice grounds for Irish dancing and its pupils as the infectious nature of the craft captured the hearts of many.

Young children learn Irish dancing in school.

The costumes worn for dancing are complicated works of art and have changed greatly throughout the years. Male dancers are usually plainly dressed and wear a shirt, waistcoat, a tie and dark trousers, while female dancers wear specially-made dresses.  Each Irish dancing school has their own specific dress uniform. The dresses are usually just above knee length and box-pleated, with long sleeves and Celtic-inspired designs or embellishment on the chest and back.  In the past girls were required to curl their hair into ringlets or wear wigs but this is slowly becoming less common.

Irish Dancing Costume, Image Credit Geraldine Maguire

The structure of the dresses have recently become more and more flexible and breathable compared to previous times when tough material and elaborate decorations made the dresses very rigid and uncomfortable..

Outside of competitions the dancers dress more simply in plain dresses with straight hair. This allows them to focus completely on the footwork and movement of the dance.

The Circular sat down with Geraldine Maguire. Geraldine is a dressmaker who specialises in Irish Dancing Costumes.  For as long as Geraldine can remember she has been making dresses. She originally made dresses on a part-time basis, almost a hobby.

“I’ve been dress making since I was about 5, I used to sit with my mam, who was a dressmaker and any fabric that fell on the floor belonged to me, that was mine.”

She remembered a time when her grandmother returned from Africa with a piece of beautiful fabric, enough to make dresses for her two sisters and herself, Geraldine had decided that her Barbie needed a dress as well, “every so often I would take a piece of the fabric, the dress didn’t work out I’d take another little bit. By the end there ended up only being enough fabric left to make a top, I had done away with most of the fabric.” These days Geraldine manages to get a full dress out of a piece of material.

Dress Making Process, Image Credit Geraldine Maguire

As a learning dancer  moves from the different levels of dancing, from wanting a class costume to a solo costume; each dancer becomes very involved in the designing process.

Geraldine works on making costumes for classes and competitions and works with the individual dancers on designing and making solo costumes. Geraldine makes every single part of the dress, including the decorations. The dress-making process is long and laborious and each dress has many individual parts. She has recently retired from her permanent career and now intends to concentrate full-time on her Irish dancing costume business.

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