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Poodle Sock It to Me: Irish dance hosiery regulations and origins

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A few years ago, the Irish dance scene was buzzing over a proposed hosiery mandate that would force ladies aged 18 and older to wear black tights in competition, banning adult ladies from feising in the standard white poodle sock. The call to prohibit the popular mid-calf white quilted socks among mature dancers was dismissed, but the discussion opened up a whole can of worms regarding dancers’ footwear.

When it comes down to it, there is no standard sock rule in the An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha list of regulations. The only related entry deals with the density of tights worn by dancers. It states:

“Where tights are worn, they must be of a denier of not less than 70.”


There’s no other mention of sock style or color, so how did the popular white poodle sock become the stocking of choice for CLRG dancers -- and dancers of other organizations, for that matter -- around the world?

“Presumably, they thought of it in Ireland, and it spread like wildfire over here,” Brian Sexton, ADCRG, suggested.

Sexton is one of the few dance teachers who’s taken advantage of vague sock rule wording. For 25 years, dancers from his New Jersey school have been dancing in “lemony yellow” poodle socks in competition and for shows. His thought behind dyeing white socks yellow is simple: yellow socks match the yellow uniform blouse. “That is the costume,” Sexton said. “This is standard.”


The popular poodle sock wasn’t always the standard style, though. Dr. John Cullinane, author of Irish dance history books including “Irish Dancing Costumes, Their Origins and Evolution,” asserts that the white ankle sock was the go-to dance sock before the poodle variety emerged on the scene.

“Socks are nearly always white and tights are nearly always black but by choice and not by legislations.”

Just as Sexton chose to put yellow socks on his dancers, a few other dance teachers have made colored tights part of the uniform. The Claddagh Dance Company of California turned heads when its ceili team captured the gold medal in burgundy stockings at the 2009 World Irish Dancing Championships.


And while some teachers and judges aren’t too keen on the idea of experimental sock hues and non-black tights, Sexton isn’t fazed by a touch of color on the feet. “I think we’re supposed to be judging the dancing,” he said.

Have you spotted any colorful hosiery at a feis or major competition? I’d love to see how other dance schools have interpreted the footwear regulations established by CLRG. And non-CLRG dancers and teachers, do you have more strict rules on socks and tights? Email me, or leave a comment below.

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