Irish Set Dancing Introduction



These Notes were developed in response, first of all, to my own need to recognise the pattern structure of the sets so that I could remember them more easily and then to requests from those of my dancers who felt the same need.

The Notes are published here principally to help those who are interested in learning to dance the sets. They are NOT INTENDED TO BE DEFINITIVE of any set, as several different versions of the one set may exist, and all equally valid, due to the 'folk-process' in operation. They simply describe each set as I received it from the source credited at the end of the Notes.


It is my experience that learners have enough to cope with in relating our peculiar vocabulary to the movements we actually dance without being faced with different names for the same movement in different sets.  So I have tried to use standardised terminology throughout the whole series of Study Notes, with an exception here and there which I’m sure you will notice.  While this may annoy some cultural purists, it does, in my experience, make it much easier for those learning the dances to follow instructions if the one movement is called by its own unique name in every dance in which it occurs, or at least in most of them.

A Glossary of terms is included for both set and figure dances. This explains the meaning attached to the terminology I have used to describe the dances.

If you’d like to see what the description of a set in its local terminology looks like then I would refer you to Larry Lynch’s excellent book “Set dances of Ireland Tradition and Evolution”. Larry’s meticulous recording of the sets is of considerable value and has many admirers, I being one of them, but you’d never learn a set from it!

Sources and Steps

The source from which, or whom, I obtained each set is mentioned at the end of the Notes for that set. Where the source was a workshop or a demonstration, it was my usual practice to describe each figure onto a cassette recorder as it was being described by the teacher and danced by the demonstration set so that memory played as small a part as possible in the transcription!

I have also attempted to describe the relevant steps, but only where they differ from the normal step for that type of figure. For the more complex steps I have used the form of step notation used by Terry Moylan in his “Irish Dances”. I find that it makes the break-down, and therefore description, of a step a much more precise exercise, although only the more analytically minded are able to follow. I have looked at other systems and found none to better it. If you know of one just as precise but easier to understand then I would be delighted to hear of it from you.

Create Prompts

Prompt cards for dancing, or for calling the set for other dancers, can readily be made from the Notes by copying only the italicised and bold components of each set.


I have tried to make my descriptions of movements as clear and unambiguous as possible. Each movement is described fully the first time it occurs, but is referred to by name only on second and subsequent appearances. Should it change later in the set then the changed movement is described. So if a swing is first described as being done with waltz hold, then you can assume that the same hold applies to all subsequent swings until told otherwise.


Should you find any of the instructions ambiguous, unclear, or otherwise difficult to follow then please e-mail me and I will try to clarify them. Do note, however, that some of the movements are quite complicated and require a certain degree of study before they can be fully understood.