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Delight your audience this St Patrick’s Day

It’s that time again! St. Patrick’s season is coming, which means dance outs, parades, dance outs, and more dance outs. One of the great joys of Irish dancing is getting to share your talent and passion with an appreciative audience, and there is no date more fun for an Irish dancer than March 17th (and the surrounding weeks). Whether you’re doing a 20 minute set at the annual city ball, or doing a treble reel at the local nursing home, there are a few things that can elevate a good performance to a great performance. Below, the best advice from the professionals.

Uh oh…

You turn up to the venue and it’s an uneven floor with a pole in the middle. Don’t stress. Caitlin Ehrich, TCRG and principal dancer with Eireann – A Taste of Ireland, has experienced every kind of venue possible. “Often we turn up to an event that has been organised by somebody who has no idea about dancers’ requirements, let alone an appropriate floor for Irish dancing. To be on the safe side, we always bring with us a small piece of chipboard flooring made of light wood. These come very cheap from the hardware store. We put small felt stoppers on the bottom so that the board doesn’t move while we dance. These boards are small enough and very light weight so that the dancers can carry them around. They only need to be large enough for a dancer to do treble reel steps on.”

Garrett Coleman, two time world champion and director of Hammerstep, points out that “a good performer can adapt choreography and content to any venue. If the floor is slippery or the stage is small, try to stick to heavy percussion on the spot rather than choreography that relies heavily on movement around the floor. And make sure to use duct tape on your shoes!” Ehrich adds, “When choreographing for an event that you predict may not have ideal facilities and space, try to limit the movement in the steps. Create the effect in the rhythms and accompany this with arm movements as opposed to formation, as it will reduce the chance of anyone having a slip.”

One of the best ways to make sure a show goes smoothly is coming prepared and travelling light. “Always prepare yourself as much as you can prior to arriving at the venue as there may be limited changing facilities, mirrors and dressing room space. Bring with you to the venue only the things that you need for this exact performance as excess items may become a nuisance,” says Ehrich. This means hair is done, makeup is on, and you’re wearing as much of your costume as you can.

Pump up the jam

Music selection is crucial for performances, and can be the difference between people enjoying the show, and people rocking out and clapping along. Ehrich points out “Always start and finish your performance with a high energy track to grab the audience’s attention and to end on a high leaving the audience excited and wanting more.”

According to Ehrich, “Audiences love music that they recognise. Likeable and familiar tunes such as the traditional tune ‘Lord of the Dance’, that is used as a basis for the internationally acclaimed show Lord Of The Dance, will always go down a treat. We have also found that audiences love anything that they can join in on and feel part of the performance. One of the all time great performance tunes is ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. Many audiences know where to clap along and even know some of the lyrics. Using a track like this is a great opportunity to get the crowd involved.” Coleman adds, “For St. Patrick’s Day shows, ‘Shipping Off to Boston’ by Dropkick Murphys is guaranteed to get people on their feet!”

Handy hint: If your music is on an iPod or smart phone, make sure someone is carrying a charger in case of a flat battery emergency, and keep a backup CD just in case! You never know what kind of technology you’ll encounter, so be like a Boy Scout – always prepared!

Shine on

So what’s the secret to a great show? Coleman says, “Getting the audience involved is key! If the audience feels included then they give you energy back in return, and the performance can be pushed to new heights.” Ehrich adds, “The number one most important element in putting on a successful show, no matter the size or scale, is performance and passion. You have to believe in what you do – the audience can sense this and this is where their enthusiasm comes from. You need to engage with your audience and share this passion. Show personality and enjoyment in your performance, and if you are enjoying yourself, the audience will too. Overall performance is of utmost importance. Confident posture, facial expression, high energy and enthusiasm will get any crowd going.”

What’s your secret to a great show? Do you have a particular track or routine that never fails to get the crowd on their feet? Share below, or join the discussion on Facebook

Eireann – A Taste of Ireland has upcoming tour dates in Australia, visit their website or Facebook page for more details

Hammerstep are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for their new full scale production Indigo Grey – check out the project, or visit their Facebook page for upcoming shows and workshops

Image courtesy of Caitlin Ehrich, Eireann – A Taste of Ireland
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