English Elizabethan clown Will Kempe dancing a jig from Norwich to London in 1600
The term jig was probably derived from the Frenchgiguer, meaning 'to jump' or the Italiangiga. It was known as a dance in sixteenth-century England, often in 12/8 time, and the term was used for a post-play entertainment featuring dance in early modern England, but which 'probably employed a great variety of dances, solo (suitable for jigs), paired, round, country or courtly': in Playford's Dancing Master (1651) 'the dance game in ‘Kemps Jegg’ is a typical scenario from a dramatic jig and it is likely that the combination of dance metre for steps and non-metrical passages for pantomime indicates how a solo or ensemble jig might have been danced by stage players.' Later the dance began to be associated with music particularly in 6/8 time, and with slip jigs 9/8 time.
During the seventeenth century the dance was adopted in Ireland and Scotland, where it was widely adapted, and the jig is now most often associated with these countries. The jig is second in popularity only to the reel in traditional Irish dance; it is popular but somewhat less common in Scottish country dance music. It is transcribed in compound meter, being 6/8 time. The most common structure of a jig is two eight-bar parts, performing two different steps, each once on the right foot, and one on the left foot. As with most other types of dance tunes in Irish music, at a session or a dance it is common for two or more jigs to be strung together in a set, flowing on without interruption.
A light jig is the second-fastest of all the jigs. The performer's feet rarely leave the ground for long, as the step is fast, typically performed at a speed around 116 at feiseanna. There are several light jig steps, varying with each dance school, but one step is almost standard in all light jigs. This step is known as the rising step, or the rise and grind. This is the right side version of it: Put your weight on your left foot and lift your right foot off the ground. Hop on your left foot once. Hop on your left foot again, bringing your right foot back behind your left foot and then shift your weight onto your right foot, leaving your left foot in the air. Dancers use the phrase "hop, hop back" for these three movements, and there is a slight pause between the hop, and hop back. The next movement is a hop on your right foot. Then you shift your weight on your feet, left-right-left-right. The phrase for this whole movement is: "hop, hop back, hop back 2-3-4." To do the step on the left foot, reverse the left and right directions.
Slip jigs are in 9/8 time. Because of the longer measures, they are longer than the reel and the light jig, with the same number of bars to the music. The dance is performed high on the toes, and is often considered the "ballet of Irish dance" because of its graceful movements that seem to slip the performers across the floor. Slip jigs are performed at a speed of 112 at feiseanna.
Single jigs should not be confused with slides; they are the least common of the jigs, performed in ghillies, in a 6/8 or less commonly a 12/8 time. Musically, the Single Jig tends to follow the pattern of a quarter note followed by an eighth note (twice per 6/8 bar), whereas the pattern for the double jig is three eighth notes twice per 6/8 bar.
Treble jigs (also called the Hard or Heavy jig) are performed in hard shoes, and also to a 6/8 time meter. They are characterized by stomps, trebles, and clicks. Many set dances are performed in treble jig time, a few being Drunken Gauger, Blackthorn Stick, The Three Sea Captains, and St Patrick's Day. Two types of treble jigs are performed at feiseanna: the traditional and non-traditional (slow) treble jigs. Beginners will do a treble jig at traditional speed (92 bpm), while more advanced dancers will dance the non-traditional (slow) treble jig at 72 bpm.
In 19th-century America, the jig was the name adopted for a form of step dancing developed by enslaved African-Americans and later adopted by minstrel show performers. Danced to five-string banjo or fiddle tunes in 2/2 or 2/4 meter played at schottische tempo, the minstrel jig (also called the "straight jig" to distinguish it from Irish dances) was characterized by syncopated rhythm and eccentric movements. Jig dancers employed a repertoire of "hits" on the heel or toe, ""hops" on one foot, "springs" off both feet as well as various slides and shuffles. The most famous early jig dancer was Master Juba an African-American who inspired a host of white imitators, many of whom performed in blackface. John Diamond, an Irish-American who competed with Master Juba in a series of "challenge dances," was among the most prominent of these white minstrel jig dancers. Minstrel jigs, as well as clogs and breakdowns, were crucial to the evolution of 20th-century tap and soft-shoe dancing.
A variant of the straight jig was the "sand jig," performed as a series of shuffles and slides on a sand-strewn stage. The most prominent "sand jiggers" of the late 19th century were two women, both born in New York in 1855 - Buffalo native Kitty O'Neil and her Mannhattan-born rival Kitty Sharp. The form survived into the 20th century mainly among African-American tap dancers, including John Bubbles, Sammy Davis, Jr., Harriet Brown, Howard "Sandman" Sims and Gregory Hines.
^Ling, J.; Schenck, L. & R., A History of European Folk Music. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 1997, p. 194.
^Wilson, C. R. & Calore, M., Music in Shakespeare: a dictionary (Continuum International, 2005), p. 233.
^Clegg, R. & L. Skeaping, Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs: Musical Comedy on the Shakespearean Stage - Music, Scripts & Context (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 2014), p.10: ISBN 978 0 85989 878 2
^Clegg, R. & L. Skeaping, Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs: Musical Comedy on the Shakespearean Stage - Music, Scripts & Context (Exeter: Exeter University Press, 2014), p.8: ISBN 978 0 85989 878 2
^Lee, J. & Casey, M. R., Making the Irish American: History and Heritage of the Irish in the United States. New York: New York University Press, 2006, p. 418.
^Raven, Michael, ed., One Thousand English Country Dance Tunes; 2nd ed. Market Drayton: Michael Raven, 1999, p. 106.