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The Feis Look
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How to match your hair color to your wig for Irish dance

One of the more unusual aspects of Irish dancing costuming is the wigs. What’s even more unusual is that many dancers will wear a wig that doesn’t match their natural hair color. This is done for myriad reasons, such as a certain color looking better with the color of their costume e.g red hair with a green dress. It could be done to stand out on stage e.g. going platinum blonde instead of regular blonde. It could also be done because some teachers prefer the uniform look of all dancers in the same hair color for team dancing.

Changing the front of your hair to match your wig is not as tricky as it may seem. First of all, from a distance on stage it doesn’t need to match perfectly. Once your hair is styled in the pre-wig stage – your bun is done and your poof/quiff/braid at the front is ready – you simply spray the colored hairspray over the front of the hair, gently avoiding the forehead and ears. Once the spray is dry, put on the wig and hair accessories.

Hot tip: For a more vibrant result, use a white spray as a base, like the Jerome Russell Platinum spray, and then spray the color on top. This works particularly well for creating a red shade.

With thanks to Erin Kouridakis from Not My Reel Hair, and Camelia Rose for partnering with us on this video.

 

 

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Ceili
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Training winning ceili teams

While there is a lot of time and effort devoted to solo dancing, ceili dancing takes centre stage at many schools in the lead up to Oireachtas and Worlds. Producing top teams is tough work though. Following on from our last story about putting a strong team together, we asked our experts how they train their teams, and get them to work as one cohesive unit.

Placing couples

Putting together a team is not an easy task. According to Conor Ayres, ADCRG, from the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing, there are a variety of factors to take into consideration when placing dancers into couples and various positions, including their age and experience. “In senior teams, we like to keep our teams the same where possible, as they are used to working together. It ensures consistency, and gives them a goal to achieve i.e. they may have won a championship last year. They will then work towards trying to retain that title for the next competition. In younger teams, height, dedication i.e. regular class attendance, and abilities are all factors.”

Team spirit and leadership

One of the best ways to build team spirit and encourage team work is through dancing ceili. Dancers learn skills that are valuable for life, and make friends in the process. But teamwork doesn’t always come naturally. Marie Moore, ADCRG, from the Marie Moore School, notes, “We feel teams are an important part of a dancer’s life – it creates team spirit, morale and bonding with other class members. It also helps with the overall fitness of the dancer.” Ayres adds, “Bonding comes naturally through being in teams all year but it’s always nice to encourage some after class social interaction.”

Another way to foster teamwork is through assigning a team captain. Colleen Schroeder, ADCRG, from the Lynn O’Grady Quinlan Connick Academy, relays her experience, saying, “Usually the team is in charge of selecting the team captain. It’s the first thing they need to do as a team. I feel it is so important that the team cares enough to allow a member to be in charge of leading the team in the right direction. When the team members stop arguing amongst each other and start listening to the team captain it shows the teacher that this team is serious and wants to work together. The duties of a team captain are to call the counts to the team and to point out little things that are wrong that need to be corrected. They are also in charge of the group text messages that go out to the team and will sometimes even schedule practices outside of regular ceili practice with the TCRG!” This cooperation can start at an early age, with Ayres mentioning, “We assign a team captain in younger teams. It’s a nice encouragement for them, and we usually assign that position to a dancer who may need a boost in confidence.”

Drills drills drills

When it comes to hands and feet, it’s all about drilling the pieces before it all comes together. Schroeder explains, “We drill the teams in different formations depending on what we are working on. There are times where dancers will just stand in a straight line facing the mirror so they can see themselves and other times when it’s important to stay in their group.” Moore echoes this, saying, “We do plenty of drills on footwork, hands and arms in lines, and then follow through in the team formation.”

Ayres points out the importance of drills in helping to put teams together. “We start with drills early in the year, to not only make sure everyone is on the same page with footwork and arm work, but also monitor who’s working well together, then after we put the teams together we work in formations.” When it comes to drilling though, Schroeder has the final word, saying, “More important than drilling is the desire of the team members to want to work on and fix what they are doing. If the dancers on the team don’t want it bad enough they will not correct their feet and stay in a straight line no matter how much the teacher drills. Making the dancers understand that it’s up to them to fix corrections is the first thing that needs to be drilled!” Truer words were never spoken.

Do you teach teams? Are you a team dancer? What do you like about dancing on a team? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Ceili
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How to train winning ceili teams – part 1

While there is a lot of time and effort devoted to solo dancing, ceili dancing is an integral part of not just competition, but the heritage and culture of Irish dance. Not every school sends ceili teams to competitions, but anyone who has ever danced on or taught a team knows how much work and dedication they require. For this two part series, we talked to three of the leading ceili teachers to learn from them what it takes to train top teams.

What makes a good team?

If you’ve ever watched a ceili competition, you can always identify the really good teams. There’s something about their lines, their arms, or the way they move that just makes you say ‘wow’. According to Marie Moore, ADCRG, from the Marie Moore School, “A good team is a team that dances as one unit, meaning that each movement flows into each other and that no one dancer stands out. A good team has excellent lines, good spacing, good footwork, and a team that is aware of every other member in the team and where they are in relation to each other.” Putting together a good team is no easy feat though. Colleen Schroeder, ADCRG, from the Lynn O’Grady Quinlan Connick Academy explains that “In order to make a good team you need 8 dedicated members who are willing to work hard and work together! If you have one dancer that does not want to be there, then the whole team will be thrown off. It’s very hard to find, but when you get these 8 dancers together, the sky’s the limit!”. Conor Ayres, ADCRG, from the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing, adds that, “A good team is made up of a lot of essential factors such as dedication to training, the ability to work together, the ability to communicate effectively to other team members and their teachers, and willingness to take criticism on board.”

Solo vs Team

There’s a common saying amongst teachers that not all good solo dancers make good team dancers, and vice versa. But is this true? Moore thinks so, saying, “Not all good solo dancers make good team dancers – it is a totally different ballgame. Good team dancers are aware of the other members in the team and sometimes great solo dancers don’t have that ability. But there are some great solo dancers that make great team dancers.” Schroeder agrees, pointing out, “A good team dancer does not try to stand out. Their dancing is equal to everyone else on the team and they don’t try to out dance the others. A good solo dancer would do the opposite and do their best to shine on stage and stand out.” On the flip side, Ayres doesn’t necessarily believe the old adage to be true, stating, “I don’t think there is a difference. Good dancers, whether solo or teams dancers, care about dancing, and embrace every opportunity to do well. They also have good school spirit, as well as support their fellow team mates. The best part about team dancing is that it gives an opportunity for some dancers who may not do so well in solo to do well in teams.”

Putting a team together

When it comes to putting a team together, you want to fit in to stand out. In a perfect world, dancers are the same height, skill, and style, where no one dancer draws the attention to them. Some schools go as far as putting all the dancers in the same color wig for uniformity. But is matching really important? Moore explains, “Heights do play an important part when putting teams together – but not having heights exact does not necessarily mean the team cannot be a winning team if they don’t quite match up. Teamwork is number one. Usually we place the taller students in the boys position and sometimes we have to adjust wig heights to match them up.” An easy solution when you don’t have eight dancers who are all magically the same height. Schroeder has another solution when it comes to matching sizes, adding, “When a dancer is significantly taller or shorter than the others it throws off the overall look of the team and is harder to keep the same height when catching hands in a chain or performing a lead around. In the past, I have moved taller dancers up an age group in order to keep them in a team with dancers of similar height.” Sometimes though, you just work with what you have. Ayres describes, “Heights are very important. The whole objective with teams is blending them together and having a group of people dancing as one. No one should stand out at all. Having said that, obviously this doesn’t happen all the time, especially in younger teams where kids are growing at all sorts of different rates! That’s why ensuring hand and footwork is seamlessly executed, so that height issues could be forgiven!”

Do you teach ceili or regularly dance on a ceili team? Do you agree that good solo dancers don’t always make good team dancers? Are heights really that important? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. Be sure to check back in two weeks for part two of our ceili story when our experts talk about lines, footwork, and drilling (everyone’s favorite).

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Fitness and Conditioning
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How to deal with ingrown toenails

It’s not sexy. It’s not glamorous. It’s not exciting. Unfortunately, it’s a topic that comes up time and time again with Irish dancers. Ingrown toenails. Between super tight soft shoes, and the repetitive banging of hard shoes, we are doing plenty of damage to our toenails, which can cause painful ingrown nails. We asked Dr Mariola Rivera, podiatric surgeon, how to care for nails to prevent this painful condition.

What causes ingrown toenails?

According to Dr Rivera, “Generally ingrown nails are caused by improper trimming of the nail, narrow shoes, repetitive pressure, and hereditary shape of the nail.” She goes on to add, “In dancers, constant trauma can cause damage to the nail bed, therefore abnormal growing of the nail. In dancers with long toenails who wear tight shoes or pointe shoes with narrow toe boxes, this can create excessive pressure on the toenails.” Tight shoes? Repetitive pressure? Sounds familiar.

Cutting your toenails

It isn’t as simple as just snipping your nails when they get long. Dr Rivera recommends using nail clippers to keep toenails the correct length. “Cut the nails straight across or in a square shape, and avoid cutting too far into the corners. Also, keep the medial and lateral nail folds clean without any residue, for example nail polish or nail debris. Avoid tearing the nail corners or any round shapes. The nail should be at the length of the tip of the toe.” In a nutshell, keep the edge of the toenail straight, and the corners square.

Dealing with the pain

If you do get ingrowns, there are some quick and easy ways to deal with the pain. “I recommend soaking the affected nail for 10 minutes with Epsom Salt to soften the nail. Do this for 5-7 days,” Dr Rivera explains. “Apply over the counter triple antibiotic to the affected nail twice a day, and keep the area protected and covered with a bandage.” Dr Rivera goes on to say, “If there are no signs of infection, insert a tiny piece of cotton tip under the nail to help the nail grow away from the skin.”

What if they get infected?

The best advice is to always see a professional. Dr Rivera advises, “Avoid picking at the nail, or using unsterile tools to try to remove any ingrowing pieces because it can cause an infection.” Additionally, “if the surrounding skin is red, warm, swollen, with or without discharge, you should see a podiatrist to aseptically remove the ingrowing nail via a partial nail avulsion or treatment with oral or topical antibiotics.”

Most importantly, look after your feet because you need them to dance! Do you get ingrown toenails? Leave a comment or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Mental Preparation
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The top 5 ways to be a good student in dance class

You go to class every week, do your steps, get some corrections, and then you go home. This is fine and all, but are you making the most of every class? Are you walking out feeling accomplished, and like you’re making progress with your dancing? If you’re not focused, ready to work, and learning something, then you’re not making the most of your time in the studio. We asked teachers and adjudicators how to be the best student possible in class, so that every lesson is a valuable lesson.

Be prepared

More than filling a water bottle and making sure your shoes are in your bag, preparation is mental as well as physical. According to Lizzie Ellis-Parr, TCRG, “A dancer’s preparation for class should include everything from making sure your dancing bag has everything you need, to having done the practice your teacher has told you was needed to make necessary improvements.” Going to class ready to learn should be a conscious decision so that you can maximise the time with your teacher. A favorite quote of Linda Martyn, ADCRG is “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” – definitely something to remember!

Have a good attitude

Hand in hand with preparation is going into class with the right attitude – ready to be a good student. Ellis says, “Your attitude has to be right – you need to attend each class willing to work hard and take feedback, which will not always be the easiest thing to accept. If a dancer in a class is having a bad day, this could not only hinder the individual but the rest of the class too, which is very frustrating for a teacher and unfair to the rest of the class, especially when in the run up to international competitions.”

Be open to correction

It’s not always easy to be told that you are doing something wrong or that your dancing needs improving. “Good students take corrections and use them constructively,” says Bronagh Kelly, ADCRG. “It can sometimes be difficult to be told you are doing something wrong or told how to perfect it, but a good student takes the correction, works on it and comes back to show you their improvement.” Your teachers are there to help you and guide you, and they only want you to improve. Use their wisdom and experience.

Work at home

Learning and improvement don’t end when you walk out the studio doors at the end of the night. “In order to make the most out of class time, you must work on each note you are given by your teacher at home before coming back to the next class so that it is fixed or at least improved upon. If you are coming back to class with the same issues or mistakes every time, you are only holding yourself back,” explains Emma Cross, TCRG. If you’re working on the same four bars every single week, you’re not making the most of your class time.

Watch and learn

If you’re only focusing on yourself in class, then you’re missing out on valuable learning opportunities. “Good students watch…watching your peers dance and take correction is invaluable. It is amazing what you can learn from watching someone else dance. It gives you insight into different techniques and styles and helps a dancer set their own goals,” says Kelly. That small piece of advice your teacher gave someone else, or the way they executed something you haven’t been able to master, might just be the key you needed to nail your own step.

Are you a teacher? What makes a good student in your class? Share your thoughts below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Fitness and Conditioning
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6 essential pilates exercises for Irish dancing

These days it’s not just enough to go to class for a couple of hours a week – if you’re serious about your dancing, you’re cross training and stretching outside of class too (and regularly reading Ready to Feis, obviously). If you’re tight on time but still trying to make the most of your dancing, these 6 pilates exercises are the ones you should add to your daily routine. Why pilates? According to TCRG and pilates instructor Caitlin Golding, “It is important we know how to properly care for and respect our bodies as they are our tools of expression.” Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility, coordination, muscular endurance, balance, and good posture, all essential for Irish dancing. According to Golding, “If you have begun to recognize any muscle imbalances, are prone to injury, or want to prevent the onset of either, practicing Pilates 3x a week (at least) can greatly improve your overall strength, mindset, and Irish dance technique.”

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Below, Golding demonstrates and explains the 6 essential pilates exercises for Irish dancing, so that you can add them to your daily routine.

1. Treading

Start standing with your body in total alignment. Shoulders over hips, hips over knees, knees over ankles, feet in parallel. Make sure that your core is engaged and you are neither sticking out your chest or your glutes.

Take a deep inhale and on this breath raise your arms overhead feeling the energy course through your fingertips. Exhale and begin curling your fingers towards the ground. Begin rounding your spine by pulling your navel back towards your lumbar vertebrae. Scooping all of your abdominals as you get closer and closer to the ground- visualize your body as a candy cane. Once your hands reach the ground, walk them out in front of you while keeping your heels pressed firmly down. Sink back into your pelvis and release any tension in your wrists, neck, and shoulders. Continue to deepen this stretch by alternating gentle bends in the knees, always keeping the opposite heel pressed firmly into the ground. After 16 alternating reps, walk your hands back up to your feet and begin articulating up to standing- rolling through every individual vertebrae, navel pulled back to the spine, and energy flowing through your fingertips. Once you are standing reassess your body alignment to make sure you are neither sticking out your chest or glutes.

2. The Hundred

Begin by hugging the knees into the chest. Take a deep breath inwards and on the exhale curl your upper body off the floor until only the tips of your shoulder blades are grazing your mat. Release the arms from the legs and reach them long beside your body at shoulder height. Extend your legs out on either a 45 degree angle or straight up to the ceiling. Turn your legs out with your heels together forming a “pilates V”. Your spine should be in neutral – imagine a blueberry underneath your lumbar vertebrae that you cannot crush! Once in this position, take 5 short and deliberate inhales and 5 exhales while pumping the arms by your sides. Repeat 10 times or until your take 100 individual breaths. In this exercise you are meant to be squeezing the stale air out of your lungs, don’t be afraid to be a little loud on your breathing!

Concentrating on your breath while performing the correct form and technique of this exercise can directly translate to your dancing. If you know when and where to breathe during your competition or performance steps, your stamina, focus, and mindset will greatly improve.

3. The Rollup

Begin by laying down, arms extended overhead and legs long with heels in a Pilates V. On your inhale, raise your arms towards the sky and lift the crown of your head, chin, neck, shoulders, and articulate through the spine – exhale until you reach all the way down towards your toes. Hold for a count of 3 and then inhale to begin rolling back up through the spine, sitting tall on your sitz bones, with arms stretched strong out in front of you. Imagine you are sitting with your back against a wall and you must sit as tall as you can – like a string is attached to the top of your head and is pulling you to your tallest form. Exhale and scoop out the abdominals as you contract your core – pulling your navel to your spine – and roll back down all the while reaching towards your toes. Bring the arms back overhead. Repeat 6x.

Always keep reaching through your hips during this exercise to feel a stretch along those hip flexors. Irish dancers tend to develop tendonitis in their hips among other serious hip injuries and this exercise is all about using the core to lift instead of pulling through your very tiny hip flexors! They are not muscles, and as Irish dancers we must learn to relax them and use our core to lift instead. This one is my fave!

4. Leg Circles

Begin by laying down, legs extended and arms by your side. Pull the right leg into your chest, left hand just below your inner knee cap and right hand by your outer ankle. Take a breath inwards and on the exhale pull your leg deeper into your chest. Inhale and extend the right leg towards the sky without shortening your hips – keep the right and left hip squared. Give your right leg a tug either on your calf or your hamstring, never behind the knee – it is a hinge joint and has limited mobility. Release your leg and place your arms long beside your body.Turn both legs fully out and point through your toes. Inhale, and circle the leg towards the midline of your body, down to perfect hip alignment, and then gently outside the frame of your body on your exhale. Repeat 5x and then reverse directions – start by circling the leg outside, then down, then across, then up. When you are finished fold the right leg into the chest and switch legs. Repeat 5x each direction.

The key to this exercise is to keep both sitz bones (basically your butt bones), hips, core, and shoulders on the ground without movement. Do not allow your shoulders to creep up like earmuffs – remember the tips of your scapula (shoulder blades) should always be in the center of your back. If you draw this connection and feel the engagement of your core and upper body while executing the leg circles with minimal movement, this exercise will help you greatly improve your posture and carriage while dancing.

5. Scissors / Single Leg Stretch

Begin the same as leg circles by folding the right leg into your chest and extending it to the sky, grabbing either behind your calf or hamstring. Keep the legs in parallel during this exercise to work different muscle groups. Irish dancers tend to overdevelop certain muscles and under develop others – it is important to condition your body in all forms to maintain balance, strength, and overall health. Take an inhale and raise your upper body off of your mat until your gaze meets your lower belly. Gently pull the right leg twice and switch to pull the left leg twice. Inhale and exhale on the double “pull” alternating between right and left legs. Finish by folding the legs into the chest and resting your head.

This exercise is a perfect example of dynamic stretching. With every contraction comes a stretch. This a great exercise to warm up and lengthen the legs for overhead kicks and front clicks while maintaining a strong core and spine.

6. Lion Drinking

This is a fundamental exercise used to increase upper body strength and awareness. Despite not using our arms much in competition dancing unless we are doing ceilis, we need to balance our upper bodies with our typically overdeveloped lower bodies or we will suffer back injuries or poor posture.

Start on all fours, knees hip distance apart, hands directly under shoulders, fingers facing one another, and spine in neutral or slightly exaggerated like in “cow” exercise in yoga. Begin by inhaling and bending through your elbows, lowering only your upper body to the ground. Your head and neck should be neutral and your gaze straight ahead. Imagine yourself as a lion drinking out of pond, always keeping a lookout for potential danger. Once your chin reaches your hands, begin straightening your arms through your elbows, curling up through your thoracic spine, dropping your head and neck, and pushing through your shoulder blades to feel a deep stretch like “cat” in yoga. Once your arms are back to full extension, release the spine back to neutral or “cow” and lift the head and neck.

I love this exercise because it is serious tricep workout and also keeps me aware of all of the muscles in my body. Your core should always be engaged and your belly button pulled back toward your spine. The complexity of this exercise is similar to the thought process we go through while dancing and it is challenge to always be mindful and conscious in the moment! Great practice to manage the influx of thoughts or bodily feelings.

Do you do pilates? Do you have any favorite exercises to keep your body in shape? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

A special thank you to Silpa Sadhujan of Rince and Repeat for her incredible photography for this story. Silpa is a professional portrait and dance photographer based in New York City, as well as an Irish dancer. Silpa is available for dance photo shoots. Be sure to check out her Where We Dance photo series.

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Mental Preparation, Performance
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Stage presence – how to get noticed by the judges

It’s a story we hear over and over again – a dancer who is flawless in class, unbeatable in class, fantastic at home. Then they get on stage and the judge barely notices them. You can have all the talent and skill in the world, but if you can’t sell it then no one will want to buy. Standing out, whether in competition, an audition, or in a show, is all about stage presence. Are you born with stage presence, or is it something you can be taught?

What is stage presence?

According to six-time world champion and Riverdance cast member John Lonergan, it’s “that little ‘something’ that someone has to make your eye draw towards them. That little glimmer of extra confidence and a poise about them.” Natasia Petracic, lead dancer of Riverdance, adds, “It’s all about confidence within yourself. If you are passionate about what you are doing it will shine through”. So confidence, poise, and passion. What happens if you’re not confident or poised?

Can stage presence be taught?

“It can and it can’t,” says Lonergan. “Having it naturally obviously is a great help, but it can be taught with the right direction. If you’re told what to do and watch others around you, you pick up on little details that they do that make them stand out.” Petracic echoes this, saying, “It can be taught through experience. Take every moment for what it is and build from that”. She goes on to explain, “Not every performance will be the same, so learn to adapt and evolve within the performance. Eventually something will click and you will find that happy place every time you step on the stage.”

If you’re not naturally blessed with stage presence, the first step is to watch some competitions or a stage show, and see who your eye is naturally drawn to. What is it about them that makes you want to watch them? Observe the little things – how they smile, how they hold their head, whether their chin is up or down, how they walk on stage. See what works for them and adapt it for yourself. And if you don’t feel confident, fake it until you make it. This is where feis experience comes in – the more you do your dances onstage, the more confident you’ll be. Meagan McGough, TCRG and Director of the McGough Academy, notes that gaining experience is essential, “We encourage our dancers to attend as many feisanna and International majors as they can, as we believe practice makes perfect!”

How do you practise stage presence?

Beyond attending feisanna, what else can you do to gain stage presence skills? For Ciara Sexton, five-time world champion, leading show dancer and Choreography Director at McGough Academy, it’s all about allowing space in the choreography for stage presence to shine. “We make sure our dancers visit every judge during their routines, and that their special show stopper pieces within the steps are executed to their full potential. When our dancers are training in class, we focus on their direction and map out a floor plan for each of their dances. Our choreography is specific to stage direction. We often say ‘photo finish’ to really reiterate the emotion, hold and poise we need to get from them in their routines!” Lonergan emphasises this, saying, “You have to map out exactly the way you’re going to perform in order for it to be successful. Obviously with experience comes the ability to improvise but to begin with it’s important to have a routine and stick to it, until you’ve grown enough in yourself and in confidence to be able to change things up a bit.”

Essentially, it’s the same as practising for a drama performance, where you would practise your stage direction, your lines, your actions, and your facial expressions. You should practise your steps, practise how you move across the stage, and what you will convey with your facial movements and posture. Specifically, Lonergan points out, “I think it’s very important (more so in shows) to practice your facial expressions and how your body reads to the audience. Obviously if you’re tense and have a strained look on your face, that won’t read well to the audience and will make you appear quite ‘cold’. A very natural look of a pleasant smile, relaxed yet rolled back shoulders conveying a strong upper body, gives an impression of enjoyment in what you’re dancing.”

Petracic sums it up best, with the reminder that “Ultimately you are on stage for a reason; make them remember you.”

Do you practise your stage presence at home or in class? For dancers who don’t feel confident in their stage presence, what would you recommend they work on? Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image courtesy of Milton Baar, Media Images
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Fitness and Conditioning, Mental Preparation
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10 things Olympians do that Irish dancers should do too

In this guest post from Suzanne Cox, TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) with the Australian Institute of Fitness, she outlines 10 things we can all take away from the Olympics. Irish dancing might not be an Olympic sport, but we can certainly train like Olympians.

1. Mental Preparation

Olympic athletes know that mental practice is as important as physical practice. They practice mental preparation techniques continually and are prepared for any situation. Michael Phelps incorporates training without goggles into his routine in case he needs to race in a major event this way. He has won major events with his goggles falling off, not being able to see where he is going but being so well trained and prepared for anything that it didn’t affect his performance.

2. Taper

You won’t find any Olympic athlete doing heavy loads of training in the week leading up to their event at the Olympics. In fact up to a month before their event their training volume will be significantly reduced in an effort to be fully recovered when they need to be so they can perform at their best. After all, the hard work should be done at that point and any last minute heavy training sessions won’t help you beat the athlete that has been working solidly and consistently up until that time for years before that.

3. Follow a yearly periodization plan and schedule your week

An Olympian works with strength and conditioning coaches who tailor a periodized plan for them. They have programmed recovery periods throughout their year, periods of high volume, periods of more specific preparation, and periods of high intensity work.

Athletes follow a highly scheduled week. Meals, training, appointments, homework etc are all covered in their weekly plan. They schedule down time. They schedule mental preparation time. They know exactly when they will be training and for how long.

4. Cover each element of performance

Every sport has different elements of performance and the athlete that has nailed each one of these elements will be the most successful. A hockey player has elements of aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, agility, mobility, strength, accuracy and mental capacity. If even one of these areas isn’t catered for in training the performance is not at its optimum.

5. Fuel your body and set a sleep routine

Athletes know that great nutrition equals a great performance. Part of their training plan is how they eat for years before the event not just the night before. They fuel their body adequately every single day. Loading your body with carbohydrates even a week before the event will do nothing if you have been eating terribly all year!

Lack of sleep can have a massive impact on performance. Quality sleep is paramount for any athlete wanting to perform at their best. Some studies suggest that hours of sleep missed can’t be made up so make quality sleep a part of your weekly routine!

6. Focus on themselves

No athlete trains exactly the same and prepares in exactly the same way. Some athletes train at 5am, others perform at their worst at this time. Olympians focus on themselves and commit to their own training pathway. This doesn’t mean they don’t follow what the best athletes are doing, it just means they can determine what is right for them and trust their own pathway.

7. Understand progress over perfection

Olympians focus on their own progress, this is the largest thing that they can control. They set small goals that will lead them to their bigger goals. They look for ways they have progressed in an event in their physical performance or their mental performance. They understand that a performance will probably never be perfect and that a result they are not happy with in an event is not a sign that they haven’t made progress.

8. Move on from setbacks

Every athlete suffers setbacks whether it be injury, poor performance, or a bad competition day. No athlete is immune to this. The Olympians that get the Gold medal are the ones that push past this and realize that one race is just one race and doesn’t determine the rest of their career.

9. Celebrate success

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles celebrates her successes with a pepperoni pizza after a major event. Whether they walk away from an event happy with their result or not, they take a moment to celebrate that they competed, they worked their hardest in the preparation, and at the very least they learnt something from the experience.

10. Be a good person

Good athletes are good people. They appreciate the support from their family and friends, thank their Coaches for their dedication to their success, and want the best for the athletes around them. They don’t talk about the athlete that beat them as being undeserving, in fact most of the time they are quoted in the media applauding the amazing athlete they were up against. You can be great at the same time as others. There is plenty of room in the world for lots of amazing people!

Image via: Marty Lochmann Photographer
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Mental Preparation
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How to get back into training after the summer break

After the rest and relaxation of a summer break, coming back to dance class can be tough. Even after just a few weeks off, it can feel like starting from scratch. Where did all that hard earned stamina go? Why aren’t kicks getting as high as they were? The Oireachtas is how close?! Before diving straight back in and pushing too hard too fast, it’s important to think about your plan.

Step one: Set a goal

“It can be overwhelming heading into the fall dance season with multiple feiseanna, the All-Ireland Championships, and the Oireachtas in front of you. Before beginning any training program, dancers should first set their goals for that year and season.” says Ellen Waller, Founder and Coach at Target Training Dance. Waller explains that goal setting is the key to kicking off a new dance season. “The initial step would be to set a long term goal then set a series of short term, targeted goals along the way that will help you achieve your long term goals. Use the acronym SMART to help guide your goal setting: S – specific, M – measurable, A – attainable, R – realistic, T – time based.”

Step two: Make a plan

Once you have set your goal and thought hard about what your focus will be for the upcoming dance season, it’s time to hit the floor. But where to start? “With regards to strength and conditioning training, you should begin with a preparatory period that establishes a base level of strength and prepares you for more dance-specific training ahead.” explains Waller. “The preparatory period includes high volume/low intensity, non-sport-specific, total-body workouts. Like your smaller, targeted goals, your overall training plan (a macrocycle = about 1 year) is broken down into shorter training cycles (mesocycles = 1-4 months & microcycles = 5-30 days) that prevent overtraining and optimize your performance by allowing you to peak at the right time.” What this means is that you won’t achieve your goal in your first week of training, and you shouldn’t expect to. Start by slowly building stamina, focusing on anaerobic training.

Step three: Stay focused

In two months time when you’re in the thick of Oireachtas training, having these goals written down can be a great reminder of why you are working so hard, and what you want the outcome of that work to be. Setting small, medium, and long term goals means you can break off chunks of your goal every week and stay focused, rather than one big pie in the sky goal e.g. setting a goal like ‘I want to nail the toe move in the second step of my hornpipe’ vs ‘win worlds’. As you tick small wins off each week, your bigger goals can feel more easily achievable. But you need to start somewhere.

How long was your summer break? Are you struggling to get back into the swing of things? Or are you in the southern hemisphere where it’s winter right now? Leave a comment, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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The Feis Look
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Trend watch: New Irish dancing hair trends

If you’re in the competitive Irish dancing scene, one of the most fun parts of the majors circuit is seeing people unveil new competition looks – what’s on trend now, who is pushing the envelope, and what look will everyone be copying by the next feis. While it takes a while for dress trends to filter down – you can’t exactly buy a new dress from major to major – it’s easier and more affordable to jump on the trend bandwagon with a fresh hairdo. We asked hair expert Donna from Australian dance vendor Irish Dance Diva to weigh in on what we’re seeing on heads now.

The Short Wig

This trend is being driven by Ciara Loughran (pictured below), who styled a Robyn wig for the 2016 World Championship and cut it into a long bob. In fact, Ciara is such a trendsetter here that Camelia Rose named this brand new short wig after her! “The hottest new look is the Camelia Rose Ciara wig. This variation of their Robyn wig is approx 3″ inches shorter. I love this look as it is clean, modern and perfect for both solo and teams”, explains Donna.

The Double Bun

The higher the hair, the closer to God? Perhaps. we have seen bun wigs get taller and taller over the last year, as dancers have gotten creative in their styling (forget donuts, it’s all about the socks in the wig for extra height). According to Donna, “Another new wig trend is the Camelia Rose Clodagh bun wig. It is the same loose curl as their best selling Alliyah bun wig but double the size. Perfect look for teenagers and older dancers.” The danger with this trend is looking a little too Marge Simpson – proceed with caution when styling it.

The Fabric-Backed Tiara

Everything old is new again! This trend was first popular in the mid 1990s, when dancers would sew a triangle of fabric behind their tiara to match their dress. Cut to 2016 where the tiaras are bigger, but the trend is right back in play. Donna says, “The new look of fabric backed tiara’s has followed the trend from dress makers to supply fabric headpieces to match dancers dresses. Camelia Rose has collaborated with dress makers Rising Star to come up with the clever idea of selling a fabric piece that can be attached to one of their tiara’s.” In the photo we see double backed fabric which pick up the colours of the dancers dress perfectly.

An Accent Piece to the Side

First spotted on Amy-Mae Dolan, this asymmetric look is not for the faint-hearted. While not a tiara and not a flower, it’s an intricate hair piece in the style of a fascinator, placed to the side and often nestled amongst curls. This look definitely works best with an up-do, but is also stunning with the new short wig style. “We have seen lots of gorgeous lace pieces worn to the side of the dancers head. This replaces the need for a tiara and creates a more soft, natural look. Here the dancers have customised side pieces to match their dresses.”

Have you spotted any other new trends? Do you like to experiment with your hair? Share a picture of your new look on our Facebook page.

Check out the Facebook Live video with did with Rosey from Camelia Rose talking about hair trends at NAIDC2016, and the Facebook Live we did with Jason Hays talking dress trends.

For Australian dancers, be sure to check out Irish Dance Diva for all your wig and hair accessory needs.

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