Category : Mental Preparation

5 ways to be a good student in dance class_ready to feis_irish dance
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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irish dance_stage presence_ready to feis
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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10 things Olympians do that Irish dancers should do too_irish dance_ready to feis
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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Mental Preparation
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How to compete without destroying the friendship

One of the greatest joys of Irish dancing is the friendships. Whether it’s the classmates you started with as beginners and grew up together, the feis friends you see every weekend as you travel the countryside together, or those international friends who you chat to online and see once a year, the friendships in Irish dancing are special and long lasting. Many of these friendships stem from competition – the same age group, the same class – so while the friendships are strong, the competitive nature of dancing can sometimes get in the way.

Separation

What happens when competition gets in the way of friendship, or more importantly, teamwork? It can be hard to be friends, be teammates, and also step on stage as competitors. According to sports psychologist Dr. Neal Bowes, Ph.D., the skill we need to be working on is separation. “Friendships and competing are two completely separate things. When you’re competing, when it’s time to get changed and warm up, you’re separated. You’re now in competition mode, and when you’re in competition mode you’re there to to focus on you and what your job is, either as an individual or as a team.” Dr. Bowes goes on to say, “the only thing you should be focused on in that period of time is competing. Once you’re finished, you’re finished, then you stop being a competitor and now you’re a friend. The brain is designed for separation.”

Class Time

But what if your biggest competitors are in your own class? One of the most interesting things about competition is actually the latin root of the word. Dr. Joseph Havlick, Ph.D. explains, “The etymology of the word is working side by side to be the best you can be and having your competition actually push you further. So the whole idea behind competing in the true sense of the word is being rivals but also striving together.” Dr. Havlick also points out what a blessing it is to have competition right in your very own class, but that you need to approach it in the right way. “The mentality should be that it’s a gift to have this person in my life because they are really good. If I don’t bring my A game they are going to do better than I am. So I have to up my game – it increases my focus and my concentration on what I’m doing because I’m going to use that to inspire me to do my best, not to beat them, not to humiliate them, not to hurt them in any way, but to enhance myself and thank you for been there.”

For teachers looking to foster this type of environment, the emphasis needs to be on personal competition – making sure that if you want a competitive environment, then the competition is against yourself. Dr. Bowes points out the need to “cooperate and collaborate rather than compete”. The attitude from students should be “hey can we work on this together as opposed to saying, well I don’t want to work with you and I don’t want to be friends with you or you know I wanted to be friends with you but it’s kind of difficult because everybody compares me to you”, explains Dr. Bowes. “All those things go away when a teacher is saying, hey you know your job is competing against yourselves. That’s the reason everybody comes to the studio and when you work hard to get better yourself, collectively we will all be better. Then allow time at the end to socialize, but within class time there really shouldn’t be a lot of socialization. This line says it’s okay to be friends and be learning and competing all at the same time.”

A Sporting Gesture

Regardless of whether the results go your way, or you have a bad day, Dr. Havlick expresses the importance of the sporting gesture at the conclusion of competition. “Sportsmanship is the ultimate manifestation of being an athlete, and at the end of the day it expresses to each other our appreciation of the hard work that we put in.” Whether this is a hug, a handshake, or a simple congratulations, a simple gesture creates that separation and acknowledges that while competition is good, friendship and sportsmanship are more important.

Do you compete against friends or classmates? How do you separate friendship from competition? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image: courtesy of MJ Collins-Escobar
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Mental Preparation
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What I wish I had known before my first World Championships

Making it to the World Championships is a huge achievement. Only the best of the best qualify, and it’s a huge commitment of time and finances to train and travel, not to mention a huge emotional investment.

It’s also an incredibly daunting experience – big stage, high stakes. The first time on that stage can be very scary when you’re not quite sure what to expect – no matter how much you train, there is nothing that can compare to the world stage – it’s different to the Oireachtas or Nationals. We asked some of the most experienced competitors what they wish they had known at their first Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne, and they shared their advice in the hopes that it helps those who are new to the big stage.

Learn from the experience

I wish I had known to watch more of the top dancers in my competition on the day. I eventually started watching those dancers and studying what they did to become champions which pushed me to work harder towards my goals. – Lexa Hickey, TCRG An Clar School – competed at 9 World Championships for the Broesler School

If I had the opportunity to go back to my very first Worlds in 2010, I wish I had known, or more so, understood the scale of the Championships – the size of the stage, the massive number of people that attend and the incredible standard of dancing. Coming from the most isolated capital city in the world, Perth, Western Australia, it was very overwhelming! – Dara McAleer, age 18, Keady/Upton – competed at 6 World Championships (competing at her 7th this year)

I wish I had understood the level of prestige that the Worlds carries, and with that, how talented the competition is. My first Worlds was only my 3rd “major championship” and I did not understand how high the standard of dancing was at these championships. Looking back on it now, I don’t think I properly trained for the Worlds at all and I’m amazed I still placed decently (no recall but not far off). It was an eye-opening experience and from that Worlds was when I really changed my attitude and work ethic. I started to approach dance differently, allowing more time for practice and really taking more note of what my teachers were saying to me. – Jason Hays, age 24, McTeggart Texas – competed at 11 World Championships, two time World Champion

The one thing I wish I had known is that results aren’t the only thing that matters. Having fun while dancing is the most important thing and if you if stress out about results too much, you’re I’ll miss out on so much. Have fun with your friends and enjoy the little things. – Owen Luebbers, age 17, Broesler – competed at 6 World Championships (competing at his 7th this year)

Preparation is everything

Walking onto the World stage waiting to begin your dance never gets easier or less overwhelming. However, over the years, I have learned to turn those nerves into excitement and adrenaline. When the musicians start playing, I embrace those immense feelings and turn them into positive energy. By the time the music count hits eight-two-three, I’m ready to release that energy into my dancing for a strong first impression. I wish I had known how to channel that energy before my first Worlds. – Gabriella Wood, age 23, Doherty Petri – competed at 11 World Championships, two time World Champion

I wish I had known how detrimental a short break in our incredibly hot Australian summer would have been to my fitness. – Dara McAleer

Own the stage

I wish I had known more about stage presence and how to look like I own the stage. I was very shy looking when I danced and I held back. As I got older I realized how important it is to go out there and act like you are number one even if you’re not. You have to dance as if a for sale sign is taped on your forehead. If you believe you’re the best everyone will believe it too! – Sarah Oldam, age 20, Heritage Irish Dance Company – competed at 9 World Championships (competing at her 10th this year)

There are three things I can think of that I wish I knew before I walked onstage. First would be don’t underestimate the size of the stage. It’s a lot bigger than you think and you have to make good use of that stage. The second would be to make sure all the judges see you! This goes right with using the stage. Your goal is for those judges to look at you and only you. And the last thing I would say is, of course, have fun. Don’t let your nerves get the better of you. You’ve put in all the hours you could and now it’s your time to shine. Remember we love to dance and it’s that love that got you to the big stage! – Joseph Riley, age 25, Heritage Irish Dance Company – competed at 7 World Championships (competing at his 8th this year)

Tan your legs!

I wish I knew I had to tan my legs! At my first worlds I never in my life tanned my legs before. When I got off the stage after my first round my teachers grabbed me, immediately bought tanner and started tanning my legs in between rounds. I’ll never forget that moment! – Sarah Oldam (ed note: thanks for the chuckle Sarah!)

Have you danced solos at multiple World Championships? What do you wish you had known at your first Worlds? Share in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image credit: Milton Baar, Media Images
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How to mentally deal with an Irish dancing injury_ready to feis_irish dance
Mental Preparation
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How to mentally deal with an Irish dancing injury

Injury management is an unfortunate fact of life for Irish dancers – this is a highly athletic sport with lots of jumping, fast movement, and pounding the ground. The body takes a real beating when an injury occurs, but the mind also takes a beating. While a muscle or a tendon might heal, the mental scars can hold a dancer back much more than any physical injury ever does.

According to Sport Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach Talese Fernbach, “When an athlete is injured, the injury can consume their thoughts and threaten their athletic identity.” If you spend all your time focusing on the injury then you can’t focus on getting past it. “It’s incredibly important that athletes realize that there’s a mind-body connection that influences their healing process,” Fernbach explains. “The physiological process of healing and the psychological outlook of an injured athlete are interdependent of each other. It’s well known that cognitive thoughts (mental) affect our physiological behavior and actions. It makes sense that our mental outlook influences our physical healing. What an athlete believes and thinks about their injury is crucial to their physical recovery.”

It’s not just physical pain

So what happens once you are injured? Fernbach describes, “It’s important for an athlete to recognize the mental and emotional components that they are experiencing in relation to their injury. If not addressed, these mental and emotional components can become barriers to the athlete’s healing. Some mental and emotional components to an injury might include:

• Depression
• Impatience
• Unrealistic expectations of recovery
• Lack of motivation
• Anxiety
• Isolation
• Negativity
• Pain
• No control over healing
• Victim role
• Loss of identity and/or value
• Burnout

“In order to promote mental healing and rehab, it’s important that the athlete have faith and trust in their body’s ability to heal and in the purpose and importance of the steps for their rehabilitation, even if their rehab involves something as simple as ice and rest.” Rest might seem like a foreign concept to many Irish dancers, but Fernbach explains why going through the process is important for healing. “The idea of having faith in your physical rehab makes the athlete feel mentally strong and positive that their body has been healed and is as good, if not better, than before. An athlete believing in their rehab and seeing that others have successfully come back from the same injury, can help them to build confidence, promote healing, and foster adherence to their rehab.”

Reframing fear

The best way to get past fear is to reframe it in your mind. “One thing that’s important to remember about fear is that fear lies in the past and the future. In other words, when a person experiences fear and they realize what they’re thinking about, what they’re thinking about is usually something that occurred in their past or they think will occur in their future,” says Fernbach. “The mind is not in the present moment. In the present moment, fear doesn’t exist. For example, if you’re sitting at practice and you keep re-playing your injury before doing your dance routine, the mind is in the past. Fear is fed. If you’re going into a competition and all you think about is being up on stage and your body falling apart or potentially feeling pain from a healed injury, the mind is in the future, thinking about something that hasn’t even occurred. Fear is again fed. The key is to realize that you are in the present moment and in that moment, all is well. The body is healed and stronger than ever. A dancer can also use imagery to see themselves in the present moment and their injured body part as being stronger than it was originally.”

Have you ever had an injury that you struggled to get over? Do you have any coping strategies for getting back to class and competition?

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Mental Preparation
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How to deal with Post Majors Depression

After all the build up, hard work, stress, and excitement leading up to a major, the days and weeks afterwards can be hard. In fact, the Irish dancing community has coined the term Post Majors Depression to express exactly what it feels like to leave the Irish dancing bubble and go back to the real world. Seasoned majors attendee Conor Ayres ADCRG from the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dance has great advice for both teachers and dancers on dealing with the downtime, and building yourself back up for the next one.

The days after

Ayres points out what everyone knows to be true, “It can be really hard to deal with the comedown from a major! There’s having to say goodbye to the excitement, the adrenaline, and your friends from all over the world that you may only see once or twice a year.” This is not only true for dancers, but for teachers too. “As a teacher, dealing with the comedown after a major is just as important as it is for dancers. It’s best to take a break from dancing completely for at least a week or two. See friends who aren’t involved with Irish dancing, do things for yourself that don’t relate to Irish dancing.” While you may come home full of ideas and enthusiasm for the next one, it’s important to pace yourself. Ayres points out, “Once teachers and students have had that decompression time, you can hit the ground running with new goals, a renewed energy for Irish Dancing. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The last thing you want is to burn out too early because you went too hard.”

Refocusing

One of the toughest parts of majors is moving on if the results aren’t what you expected. “It’s all about moving forward and focusing on a new goal, whether that be qualifying for next year, or aiming for a top place at Nationals, or just aiming for a recall. It’s very easy to get caught up in the hype of a major competition, and it’s overwhelming no matter what”, says Ayres. “For dancers who didn’t recall, it’s good to encourage them to set their sights on more achievable goals to build up their confidence, and get them to work on what they are missing technically – be it turnout, timing, carriage. There’s always something to work harder on.”

Ayres goes on to say that a little inspiration can go a long way. “I like to remind dancers in my classes about specific dancers I know of who place highly at the Worlds who’ve had set backs, or disappointing results, and what they did to improve. It always comes down to sheer determination and hard work, so I think it’s good for dancers to hear real life examples. In particular, there’s a Scottish dancer who put a post on Facebook after Worlds about how at her first worlds she didn’t recall, so she pestered her father to build a practise floor for her at home. She worked hard for a few years and worked her way up to 5th in the World. I think it’s a really inspirational example of how you can turn a disappointment into a real positive. And to have patience. No one is an overnight success.”

On the flip side, there are dancers who take that good result as a sign they can stop working hard. On this, Ayres says, “I just remind them of how hard they worked to get that good result, and therefore they need to work at the same level, if not harder, to keep that result consistent. There are always people behind you who want to knock you off that top spot, so NEVER rest on your laurels.”

Getting balance

The greatest challenge post majors is knowing how much downtime should be allowed, and when to ramp it all back up to prepare for the next major. Ayres points out that downtime is crucial, saying, “I think downtime is so important to decompress. However, you have to keep in mind our Australian feis season is fast approaching (same for the North American, Irish, and UK Oireachtas season), so enjoy 1-2 weeks off – do everything you want to do that you didn’t get to do while training for your major. Get it all out of your system. Then get back to class and get going! I do think dancers come back from majors so inspired due to the exposure of world class dancers that they are motivated to get straight back into training. And from a teacher’s perspective, that’s more than fine as well!”

How do you unwind and then refocus after a major? Do you have a particular routine or timeline that works for you? Share below in the comments, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Note: If you have concerns about your mental health it’s important to seek help from an appropriate source such a Beyond Blue

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Ten easy ways to feel confident on competition day_ready to feis_irish dance_Col
Mental Preparation
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Ten easy ways to feel confident on competition day

Walking into the venue on competition day can be intimidating. The hall is big, amazing dancers surround you, and there is a buzz in the air that can instantly zap you of any and all confidence. After months of hard work and preparation, it can all go awry on competition day because you get inside your own head and psyche yourself out. Confidence is the key to a great performance, and having the right tools can make all the difference.

According to Sport Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach Talese Fernbach, “An athlete can’t start to feel confident until they realize what they aren’t feeling confident about.” Fernbach goes on to explain, “Three of the major ‘thoughts’ and/or feelings that steal confidence away from an athlete are: Previous poor performances, feelings of inadequacy, and fear of embarrassment. An athlete needs to identify why they’re not feeling confident and address and counter attack the thoughts and feelings that are sapping their confidence. An athlete wants to close the door on those thoughts and feelings so they can live in a place of quiet, humble confidence.”

Being able to recognise when your confidence is under fire is the first step to managing it. Fernbach advises, “Once you feel self-doubt start to creep in on competition day, you need to recognize those thoughts and feelings. As an athlete, you have to be prepared for when those moments of self-doubt creep up. You need to have a mental toolbox to replace and shut out those thoughts of self-doubt. This is done by having tools in your arsenal that can be used, under pressure, to combat the self-doubt.”

Fernbach has ten things you can call upon when those feelings of self-doubt arise.
• Develop a logical conversation with yourself on why you CAN do it! Focus on the CANS of your performance
• Write down three previous performance moments (defining moments) when you felt invincible
• Write down what strengths you bring to your performance
• Make note of why your coach likes coaching you
• Think about what makes you unique as a performer
• List five things/skills that you do or execute well in your performance/sport
• Write down five positive statements, mantras, or quotes to motivate you
• Give yourself five compliments
• Write down why you value yourself as an athlete and have the right to “shine” in your performance
• Develop a breathing exercise of 5 breathes in through the nose and slow release out through the mouth

Fernbach points out “Any of the above suggestions, which should be reviewed prior to your performance, will leave you focused on the positive. They will keep your head filled with thoughts of the ‘possible’, so the self-doubt has no room to invade your head. They will help you feel capable and release your ability to believe in yourself.”

Whether you attempt one or all of the above in an effort to keep your confidence boosted, Fernbach has this advice, “Build on your little successes to foster an exceptional and mentally confident mind. If you focus on the work, dedication, and enjoyment of the sport, you will usually get your desired outcome. As an athlete, you can always find something positive from which to build that valuable commodity of confidence in yourself. See the progress and improvement. The learning, growing, and confidence building is found in the details of the practice and competition, not the outcome of the score.” Indeed. Your number one competitor should always be yourself.

Does your confidence get shaken on feis day? Do you have any routines or rituals to help you stay focused? Share them in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Mental Preparation
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How to manage nerves when competing

Nerves are a big part of competition. Sometimes the nerves are good – a few butterflies in the stomach to get the adrenaline pumping and the legs kicking a bit higher. Sometimes though, the nerves are bad. You’re anxious, you’re stressed, and you work yourself into such a state that you can make yourself sick. There is a big difference between these two types of nerves, and learning how to harness them for good rather than bad can make a huge difference to your performance.

Why do I get sick?

According to Sport Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach Talese Fernbach, “Some athletes can have a physical response or physical manifestation, such as vomiting, to an emotion such as anxiety or nervousness.” She goes on to say, “This response can be explained through the study of psychophysiology. Psychophysiology is the study of the interrelatedness between our mind, physical bodily systems and our behavior. It’s also called physiological psychology. There is an interconnection between our mental thoughts and physical behavior.

“Our thoughts and feelings ultimately affect our physical behavior. If our thoughts and feelings are negative or are not within an ‘acceptable’ intensity level for our performance, then our body gets out of balance. This imbalance can lead to a heightened heart rate, intensified sweating, rapid breathing and raised body temperature. These physiological changes are in response to the anxiety or nerves, and can result in a physical release, such as vomiting. Each individual athlete, depending on personality and physical make-up, has an acceptable level of anxiety or nerves that will enhance their performance and an unacceptable level of anxiety or nerves that will impede or inhibit their performance. Anxiety or nerves, if not within the ‘acceptable’ parameters, can manifest in a physical form. As a guideline, healthy and productive performance anxiety leaves as soon as the performance or competition starts. Unhealthy and counterproductive performance anxiety doesn’t leave once the performance or competition starts. Ideally, an athlete wants to get to their ‘optimal’ level of anxiety or nervousness before their performance or competition begins. Managing nerves and anxiety is important to prevent an undesirable physical response and an impeded performance from occurring.”

How do I manage my nerves?

Managing nerves is very personal, and there is no one size fits all solution. Taking the time to look at exactly why you get nervous, particularly if you have extreme or physical reactions, is the key to learning how to manage them. Fernbach points out, “It’s important to remember when an athlete has an excessive amount of nervousness that is making them physically distressed, they need to stop and consciously listen to what they’re saying to themselves to create such nerves and anxiety. Often times, what’s creating the nerves or anxieties are thoughts rooted in the past or the future.”

Fernbach shares a few simple techniques for managing nerves on competition day:

  • Keep things and tasks simple. On competition day, focus on the task at hand. Keep the mind rooted in the present on what has to be done and CAN be done before competition.
  • Develop a pre-performance routine. This routine can include making a list of all the things you need to do up until the competition or performance starts. The list can be as creative and detailed as you want it to be. It can include tasks such as getting all of your items ready for the performance, writing down a list of 5 to 10 adjectives that you want your performance to look or feel like, doing a specific number and type of stretches, taking 8 deep breathes, repeating a favorite quote or listening to a favorite song, visualizing yourself being successful out on stage or recalling some inspirational words, a confident moment or some positive self-talk. The idea of a pre-performance routine is to keep the mind focused and pre-occupied with the task at hand so the nerves don’t consume the mind and manifest in the body.
  • Start a conversation with someone to help distract your mind. Keep the conversation fun, light and positive.
  • Recite mantras or motivational phrases to yourself. These can also be included in your pre-performance routine.
  • Breathe the nerves in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe in, you can picture the nerves as being accepted and brought into your body. As you breathe out, you can picture the nerves being processed and released out of your body.

Do you get very nervous before competitions? Does it affect you in a negative way? Do you have any great management techniques you can share? Let us know below, or join the conversation on Facebook.

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