Irish Set Dancing

What is Set Dancing?

Irish set dancing, also referred to as "country set dancing", is a form of social dancing which has been popular in Ireland for over 150 years. These dances are based on French quadrilles (which were brought to Ireland by the British army in the nineteenth century), that were adapted by the Irish by integrating their sean-nós (old style) steps and Irish music.

The distinguishing characteristics of Irish set dancing is that it is danced in square "sets" of four couples (eight people), and consist of several "figures," frequently repeated throughout the set. These "sets" are danced by people in a formation similar to that of American square dancing. Each part of the set dance (figure) is danced to a music tempo, mostly reels, jigs, polkas, hornpipes and slides. 

In set dancing there is less emphasis on footwork and more on the figures (the formation/movements of the  dancers within the "set"). The basic footwork can be described as a low, ‘sliding’ movement. There are many different styles, from  basic steps to very elaborately embellished steps. 

Another Irish social dance is ceili dancing. This is a different, separate repertoire of dances which are commonly danced in Northern Ireland, England, America and Australia, but uncommon in the south of Ireland. The dances are in many forms, for couples or threesomes, in lines, squares and circles, including several in four-couple sets.

Carol Ann Bower teaches the Set, and céilí dance classes (if there are students interested in Sean-nós we will bring back this class) (

Caitlin Crockard teaches Solo dance classes (

Dance classes (due to COVID dance classes are not currently being held)

  • Set Dance: Regularly held set dance classes will resume when there is sufficient demand. If a group (8 or more) wish to learn how to set dance, please feel free to contact us.
  • 7:00-8:30 pm: Solo Dancing.

Dance notes/books

An excellent book describing the history of set dancing, the steps, the terminology and 64 of the most commonly danced sets is "Toss the Feathers" by Pat Murphy, published by Mercier Press.

Here you can link to Joe O'Hara' s "Study Notes for 80 Sets and 11 Figure Dances."


Set Dance Glossary

Figure Dance Glossary

List of Set Dances 1

List of Set Dances 2

Videos of dances 

The troupe of the Moscow Irish Folkdance Club has made superb recordings of two of the most common dances played at our Ottawa Branch ceilis, the Antrim Square and The Clare Dancers. Check each video and practice if you wish so you can dance them at the next ceili.

Antrim Square, Fig 1 (YouTube)

Antrim Square, Fig 2

Antrim Square, Fig 3 

Clare Lancers Set. Figure 1  

Clare Lancers Set. Figure 2 

Clare Lancers Set. Figure 3 

Clare Lancers Set. Figure 4 

Clare Lancers Set. Figure 5  

A very good resource to view dances like the Kilfenora, Cashel, Claddagh sets, and others, is Mike Didkovsky's YouTube Channel for the Moscow Irish Folkdance Club.

Videos of dance steps

If you are curious about the types of steps used in set dancing, here is an example on how to do an Irish reel step: This is a 4 part reel step for set dancing - (1) left heel; (2) right push: left 3-right 4: (3) right heel; (4) left push: right 3-left 4.

Here are some helpful dance guidelines: Irish Set (and Ceili) Dance Etiquette

Remember, you do not need to know how to dance nor need to have a dancing partner. 

Everyone is welcome!