The elaborate dresses and beautiful slippers are stunning, but the costume for a female Irish folk dancer would not be complete without a head full of big, bouncy curls. To facilitate preparation, young ladies began to sport wigs of curls instead of styling their own hair into the signature ringlets. Why the curly look has become standard is still subject to debate.
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The History of Irish Dance
The Druids were among the first performers of Irish folk dance, or feis. Performing in a circle, the Druids danced to celebrate religious rituals. In the 16th century the natives performed three different forms of Irish dance. The Irish Hey, the Rinnce Fada (long dance) and the Trenchmore were performed in castles for royalty. A letter written to Queen Elizabeth I at that time describe the costumes of the performers as being just as intriguing and beautiful as the dances themselves.
Irish Dance Costumes
The attire required for Irish folk dancing evolved greatly for women. Wearing your best shirt and skirt with a cape changed into the elaborately embroidered dresses we see today. Shoes went from simple black pumps to laced soft shoes with fibreglass tips and heels called gillies. The biggest change of appearance for female Irish folk dancers came in the 1980s, when the addition of big, tightly curled hair would become an Irish folk dancer's defining look.
A Brief Irish Hair History
Depending on who you ask, the tightly wound big hair of the female Irish folk dancers came from a cultural longing. Irish lasses with delicately curled hair abound in Irish lore. Curly hair is also reminiscent of a time when young Irish ladies dressed in their Sunday best with curls to attend religious services. Another functional reason is big curly hair balances out the big stiff dresses the girls wear and accentuates their dance moves.
Irish folk dancing is a way of life for some. Not just an activity for St. Patrick's Day parades, Irish folk dancing competitions and performances now occur year-round. Unless your hair is naturally curly, achieving tightly curled hair is a very time-consuming process. In the past women did their hair in rag curls, sometimes using 150 strips of cloth. Wigs facilitated ladies' prep time and gave a more uniform look during performances.
Wigs Are Here To Stay
Irish folk dance is a beautiful, expressive form of culture, and the appearance of the female dancers is engrossing to spectators. The wigs they wear, made from memory curl plastic, allow female performers ease of preparation. Whether worn for practicality or cultural legend, the headpieces provide a beautiful accessory to the elaborate costumes
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