Irish Step Dance Shoes

There are two kinds of Irish step dance shoes, the soft shoe and the hard shoe, depending on the type of dance being performed. Before I get into modern dance shoes, first I have to give you a little history about shoes in Ireland.


Walking barefoot to town

In Ireland in the eighteenth century, when modern Irish dance had its beginnings, through the early twentieth century shoes were considered a great luxury. They were expensive for families just trying to keep food on the table. Some parents made certain sacrifices to buy shoes for their children and themselves, since shoes were not easily made in the home. These shoes were simple and practical in design. Some people prized their shoes so much they went barefoot most of the time to save wear and tear on them. They wore them only for special occasions such as dancing and going to church. Some walked to a town carrying their shoes only putting them on just before entering the town. Shoes were considered a status symbol.


The Irish Dance Soft Shoe

Soft shoes or Ghillies

Irish step dance shoes for reels and slip jigs are made of soft durable leather. These shoes for the men are of a simple style with soft leather uppers and thin leather sole, they do have a heel. They are made for the lighter dances such as reels and light jigs.

The women wear dancing pumps or ghillies for the lighter dances such as reels, slip jigs, light jigs and single jigs. These again are made of thin pliable leather but without as much of a pronounced heel as the men's. The soft leather lets the dancers point their toes. (See the picture above)

I want to thank my sister and her daughter here for all the great shoe pictures on this page. They're well worn shoes, as you can see. They earned every scratch and scuff mark on them.


The Irish Dance Hard Shoe

Jig Shoes
Beginners Jig Shoes
Superflexie hard shoe
More advanced Flexie Soles
Hard shoe soles
Top: Jig Shoes with stiff soles,
Bottom: Flexies with swede soles
These Irish step dance shoes are worn by both men and women for what are called the heavy dances. Heavy dances include the hornpipe, treble jig, treble reel, and traditional set dances (St. Patrick's Day, Blackbird, Job of Journey Work, etc.) and also for original choreography set dances (These are seen in the upper level dancers. Usually at the preliminary champion or champion level).

Hard shoes or Jig shoes have plain leather uppers and leather soles with built up toe pieces. This way a dancer could get better sound with their beats. Up until recently these toe pieces were made with several layers of leather and tapered at the back. Some dancers use to pound many nails into the toe piece for better sound. The use of any metal on the shoe is strictly prohibited in competition today.

One of the recent improvements for the jig shoe is the use of fiberglass for the heel and toe pieces. These are much lighter Irish step dance shoes compared to leather and they have a better sound. These have a stiff sole and are usually used by beginning dancers.


More advanced dancers use a newer improvement to the hard shoe. It’s called a flexie sole. This shoe has the same fiberglass parts but the spine is removed from the sole and it gives the shoe more flexibility. This allows a dancer to get up on their toes. Some of these shoes have a slightly squared toe so a dancer came stay up on their toes longer. You can just make out the squared toe in the bottom picture of the Flexie sole.

One more thing, you may have noticed the dancers for “Riverdance” and other similar Irish dance shows have metal on their hard shoes. This is not a competition shoe and is used only for theatrical reasons and for a more intense sound. Some of these dancers also use a radio microphone in the toe piece to amplify the sound and rhythm.


Where to Buy Irish Step Dance Shoes

Most of the time you can get new shoes at the Feis. There are always vendors to buy from. Many schools also order directly from the shoe companies to supply their students. There are several makers of dance shoes Corr's, Antonio Pacelli, Hullachan Pro and Rutherford . It just depends on the dancer's preference. My niece likes Rutherford. You can buy these brands online also.


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