A Modern “Hornpipe” Dance Phrase

This is a little phrase I created years ago that I’ve enjoyed bringing back in modern classes during March, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Its inspiration is a piece on James Galway’s “Dances for Flute” — the “Belfast Hornpipe”, #10 on the CD — but other Irish dance pieces might be fun for it, as well. (And there’s much more rhythmic complexity within that piece than addressed here, if you choose to use it in other ways!)

The piece is in simple meter, with binary trochaic rhythms within its subdivisions. So if you tried this with a compound-meter jig, for example, the even “step-hops” would need to be treated as uneven “long-short” trochaic skips.

This is the first time I’ve tried to notate a dance phrase for others to interpret (I have lots of notebooks of my own peculiar stick figures, abbreviations and rhythmic notation), so please do let me know whether my attempts at clarity have been successful or not! (I haven’t included arm or other upper body movements here, except for one “throw” near the end — but ask me and I’ll provide those details as well!)

For ease of interpretation, I’ve conceived of the piece in two beats per measure. (It’s a traditional piece, and probably could be written in different ways — I’m going on what I hear in the music.) Each of the horizontally-divided rectangles in the chart represents one measure: the first beat in the upper half, and the second beat in the lower half. So the top is “1,” the bottom is “2.” The rhythmic notation for the movement of each measure is written beneath. Mind you, it’s fast! (More explanations will follow.)

Galway Dance

First a disclaimer, and then a few explanations:
Disclaimer: If you try this or any other physical activities from MusiKinesis, you do so at your own risk! The author assumes no responsibility for any results, injuries (or embarrassment) to teachers, students or others caused by following these directions. (I hate to say that, but my sister is a lawyer and I’ve been well-advised!)


This was designed for a “turned-out” position (legs rotated outward from the hip).

“L” is left, and “R” is right. (You knew that.)

“Plie” refers to a bent standing leg. (Yes I know it needs an accent mark. So do “fouette” and “passe” and “chasse.”)

“Rond-de-jambe” in this case (a terre) has a pointed foot describing part of a circle on the floor, with the leg straight — with the leg’s rotation from the hip.

“4th position” has one foot in front of the other — in this phrase, it’s like a “lunge” with the front leg bent.

“2nd position” has feet at least hip-width apart (wider in this case).

“Facing” directions, or directions on lines of movement, are separate from directions in relation to the body itself (in other words, if you’re facing the “back wall” and you brush your leg “forward,” you’re brushing it toward the back wall).

I describe diagonal directions like parts of an “X” — there’s a right half and a left half, a “front” (top) half and a “back” (lower) half. (Dancers: the “top” or “front is downstage, the “lower” or “back” is upstage.)

A “hop” or “step-hop” has two parts: a lift from the floor (whether from a standing leg with the other leg “brushing” or swinging, or with a step followed with the other leg brushing/swinging) and a landing. It’s like a rhythmically-even skip.

“Fouette” involves shifting your facing position, rotating an extended leg in the hip socket. In this case, a leg extended to the back becomes extended to the front when you switch your body’s position in the air during the hop.

“Demi-pointe” just means you’re “on tiptoe.”

“Chasse” is a sliding step that leaves the ground (like a gallop in which one foot meets the other in the air) — in this phrase, it’s sideward, so it starts and lands in 2nd position plie.

If you have questions or want arm/upper body movements, email me.

Finer Points:

If all of that made sense, here are details to consider (especially if you want to use this in teaching).

The idea of this simple phrase involves changes of energy and direction. In particular, it combines sustained movement (the first two measures), step-hop elements inherent in Irish dance (3rd, 5th, and 6th measures) and little moments of “suspension” (the end of the turn in measure 4, and the “throw” in measure 7). Two key technical spots: arresting momentum in measure 7 to move sideways rather than forward (which will be the inclination), and the shift of weight from the “throw” in measure 7 to the other leg in an aligned, balanced passe.