The lively Hornpipe is really very characteristic of the English in nature and is a very old Celtic solo dance that is very much based on the sailor's abilities during the dancing with the sailors originally performing it with folded arms. The steps are clearly ship wise such as hauling in the anchor, climbing or rigging ropes etc. The Sailor's Hornpipe was most popular during the 16th to 18th Centuries but the original (Hornpipe) goes much farther back and was originally done by men only.
It is said that the English sailing ship and Royal Navy Captain James Cook (1728-1779) thought dancing was most useful to keep his men in good health during a voyage. When it was calm, and the sailors had consequently nothing to do, he made them dance --
usually the hornpipe -- to the sound of a fiddle; and to this he attributed much freedom from illness on his ship.
Today, mainly due to competitions, there are basically two kinds of hornpipes - 'fast or traditional' and the 'slow or advanced'. It is somewhat difficult to master this dance as a beginner and usually is taught dances like the light and Slip Jig and some reels before progressing on to the Hornpipe.
... There is much written on the net about the origins having to do with the ancient Wind Instrument called the' Hornpipe' which I will leave to the other music sites to detail.