The Irish Cengail seems to be cognate with the old French verb, Ginguer (to move the feet,) and the refrain of this dance song was perhaps like that of the Fer Gigaoila, which consisted of a humorous kind of giggling, in short catches of the breath, accompanied by sudden starts of the body. The Jig derives its name from gigg or giga, the name of a short piece of music much in vogue in olden times, which was of a joyous lively character, and consisted of two parts of eight bars each, and these of the shortest notes. It was in great favor as a dance tune at Irish fairs, and from the music the dance took its name.
The "Gigue" borrowed its much disputed name in the seventeenth century from the English Jig, which in turn comes from the old French giguer (to Dance). This verb has been traced to the old hypothetical Frankish Giga to the Old Norse Gigja. The Irish, Scotts, English and Americans all had their own Jigs, but Ireland was it's birth place.
Tradition is that the Jig became a courtly dance in the time of Queen Elizabeth (1553-1603) and was introduced to the Continental
Courts in the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715.) The Jig could have been a couple's dance at one time as, well known as "Gigue a deux" (see clip above), but only at one time (Feuillets Book-1699.) Martins book: "Irish Hayes, Jiggs and Roundelays" (1589) or Heywoods Country measures, rounds and Jiggs (1603), seems to state Jigs were choral or round dances for several people, however traditionally they were not. The jig became very popular in France during the 16th. and 17th. Centuries.
Many fashionable dance figures were set to "Jig Melodies" (6/8), of the time and up till 1843, people were dancing hand in hand, around tables to to the measure of an Irish Jig. The Jig calls for a lively stamping of the heels and rapid footwork with a quiet torso. The Jig may be danced by one or more persons, as a solo or couple.
One, two, or more persons took part in the dance, and he or she who could longest keep time to the liveliest music was considered the best dancer. The males usually carried in their hands a short stick called a 'shillelagh' which they kept constantly whirling to the time of the music, during the continuance of the dance. The singing of ballads was always interspersed with these dances, the dance not infrequently taking the place of our modern chorus. The basic music defines the speed of the dance with the music for a Jig being in 6/8 time and a slip Jig is 9/8. The popular dance shoe for the Jig today is the 'Boynewalk', 'Kelly' and 'Avriel' Irish Jig Shoe.
According to many written articles, Master Juba (William Henry Lane) was the first African-American to dance the Jig in the United States in the 1830s. Johnny Diamond (1823-1857) Tommy Peel, who danced a match with Dick Carroll (AKA Master Marks) at Wallack's Theatre, April 16th., 1862, which Peel won.
The Giga which has also survived as a couples dance in Italy, the two partners make two rounds and then "il suo balletto" (a courting dance). There are also the Muiñeira, which is a traditional Galician jig, The Muñeira: which is the same as the muiñeira, and the Muñeres: which is a traditional jigs from Asturias, Spain.