AFTER A FEW PINTS of Guinness, just about everyone thinks they can do a jig exactly like the folks from “Riverdance.” But kicking and prancing around a pub doesn’t have much in common with the highly intricate and disciplined dances prized on the emerald isle.


» WHAT IT IS: The Culkin School, founded in 1997, promotes the idea that learning how to keep your upper body stiff while your legs entrance observers with lightning-quick movements is great exercise and entertainment. And it’s also your invitation to a world of competition. Adults (and kids, who make up the majority of the school’s 450 students) can kick up their heels and start attending meets within a year or two.

» MOVES: Virtually every step requires that your hips be turned out with one knee in front of the other. So ballerinas will have a leg up for that part — figuring out how to loosen the hips can be tough for beginners. But the steps themselves are thoroughly different from ballet. The two most basic moves — and the ones you’re likely to encounter in the first class — are “skip-two-three” (which brings you forward) and “seven” (which takes you from side to side in a grapevine-esque motion).

» LINGO: First on the lesson plan are the three main forms of solo, or “step,” dancing. Assistant instructor Megan Moloney says the jig is about bounce, the reel about power and the slip jig about grace. Once you grasp these concepts, you’re ready for group, or “ceili,” dancing (pronounced kay-lee). Then you might compete in your first “feish” (pronounced fesh).

» WORKOUT: Your upper body may feel neglected, but your lower body — which handles most of the kicking, stomping and prancing — will feel get more than enough attention. “See how they have calf muscles to die for?” boasts Moloney, referring to some of her fellow adult team members. Core muscles will get some love, too.

» CROWD: We know what you’re thinking. These people must be Irish, right? But with a few exceptions, they’re not. They’re your average multiethnic crew, with an interest in other forms of dance, a love of the music or a strong desire to upstage other wannabe dancers at pubs. And like in most dance classes, the participants are mostly women. But there are a few guys hoping to steal that “Lord of the Dance” title from Michael Flatley.

» GEAR: When you first start to learn, you don soft shoes — gillies for women and reel shoes for men. Because you’re pounding the floor so much, though, some students prefer to wear sneakers for the extra padding. By the end of a year of class, some may be ready to progress to the hard shoes, which are kind of like tap shoes, but with fiberglass toes and heels.

» The Culkin School’s 2006-2007 session kicks off Sept. 16. The adult beginner class starts Sept. 18 at 7 p.m. (Trinity Church, 7009 Wilson Lane, Bethesda). Call 301-593-9600 or see culkinschool.com or culkinadults.com for more information.

Photo courtesy Culkin School