Ceili, or social dancing, uses mostly double jigs and reels, though polkas can be substituted for reels in some cases. A few dances use special tunes, and waltzes are often requested at a ceili.
Step dancing requires reels, hornpipes (slow and fast), single jigs, double jigs (slow and fast), slip jigs, and set dances.
For all tune categories except set dances, you should have multiple tunes arranged and practiced ahead of time so you can transition smoothly from one to the next, providing music for a long period as long as 10 minutes for some ceili dances or a "step about" with lots of dancers without stopping. Set dances are individual so there's no need to transition from one to another.
Number of Steps and Introduction
Most step-dance steps are 16 bars long (8 bars on each foot), so a typical two-part, 32-bar tune (A-B format) is enough for two steps. If a dancer plans to do six steps, that means you'll play a two-part tune three times (or play three two-part tunes once each, or some combination).
For both ceili dancers and step dancers, you should almost always play an 8-bar introduction (except on slip jigs) so the dancers can gauge the tempo and know when to start dancing. Usually you play an extra A part as the introduction. This way, the dancer can let 8 bars go by and the dance steps will still "sync" with the typical 16-bar phrases of the music. Slip jigs are an exception, since the length of the A part varies (often being 4 instead of 8 measures). Play slip jigs normally (without an extra A part), and the dancer will simply wait 8 bars and then start dancing.
Tempos for step dancing are precise; the range of acceptable tempos is very narrow for each dance, so it's important to start playing at the right tempo and maintain the tempo throughout. See the attached list of tempos.
Tempos for ceili dances typically range from 110 to 125 and don't need to be nearly as precise as tempos for step dancing. Experienced dancers usually like faster tempos, though the best tempo has to do more with the complexity of the steps in the dance and other factors, such as the dance floor, the temperature, and humidity (play slower when the dance surface is slippery, uneven, or hardlike concreteor when the weather is hot and muggy).
Special Note About Hornpipes
Hornpipes are often written evenly with eighth notes, but they aren't played that way. Each combination of two eighth notes is swung so it's played as a dotted eighth note followed by a sixteenth note. Sometimes you will find hornpipes written out as played.
Adjust tempos, as needed. This chart will provide some ballpark figures to start with.
(Option = polkas for beginners only)
|Light or Soft Jig||Double Jigs||120-122||116-120||112-116 (1)|
|Slip Jig||Slip Jigs||120-122||116-120||112-116*|
|Single Jig||Single Jigs||120-122||116-120||112-116 (1)|
|Double, Treble, or Hard Jig||Double Jigs (regu-lar or advanced)||(Traditional) 92||(Trad. or Adv.)|
92 or 72-76
|Hornpipe||Hornpipes (regular or advanced)||(Traditional)|
76-82 (at two clicks/measure)
|(Trad. or Adv.)|
76-82 or 112-116
|112-116* (at four clicks per measure)|
|Use music for the specified dance.||Dancers set their own tempos on most set dances.|
|St. Patrick's Day||St. Patrick's Day||92||92 (1)||92 (1)|
|Blackbird||Blackbird||(1)||70 minimum*||70 minimum *|
|Job of Journeywork||Job of Journeywork||(1)||76 minimum*||76 minimum*|
|Hurry the Jug||Hurry the Jug||(1)||69 minimum*||69 minimum*|
|Planxty Davis||Planxty Davis||(1)||40 minimum*||40 minimum*|
|Planxty Drury||Planxty Drury||(1)||69 minimum*||69 minimum*|
(1) Not commonly danced in competition.