How to improve your posture for Irish dance
One of the fundamentals of Irish dancing technique is good posture. This seemingly simple instruction – stay up straight – is actually very difficult to master as steps get harder, with lots of traveling, leaping, and kicking up as high as you can. Suzanne Cox, TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) with the Australian Institute of Fitness, gives us the insight into why our shoulders might hunch and what exercises we can do to fix it.
Why do my shoulders hunch when I dance?
Irish dancers are renowned for their lower body strength but what influence does the upper body have? With an art form that has a large focus on footwork it can be easy to forget about what is happening from the hips upwards.
Hunched shoulders are primarily down to 2 main reasons;
- A lack of muscular strength to keep the shoulders back and the shoulder blade in a good position.
- Tight muscles that are pulling the shoulders and shoulder blades forward.
Let’s take a look at the first issue to begin with. How the shoulders sit will be directly related to how the scapula (shoulder blade) sits, and the muscle strength around it. Weakness in particular muscles controlling the scapula and shoulder can be from weak and untrained muscles, or can be from a poor postural habit that has become the norm over time, which actually causes muscular weaknesses. There is some commonality in what tends to be going on for a large amount of the population, including dancers who hunch their shoulders. Generally speaking, here is what happens;
- The muscles that surround the scapula (shoulder blade) and shoulder are weak. These muscles act to hold the shoulder blades back and down. They can become weak from spending time at a desk for long periods while studying or reading, continually sitting hunched over, or having a ‘slouch’ when traveling.
- Muscles work in pairs, so if the muscles on the back side of the body around the scapula become weak, the muscles on the front side of the body become tight. In this case the most common muscle groups are the chest muscles and the muscles at the front of the shoulder. When these muscles are tight it becomes even harder for the muscles in the back to do their job properly.
How can I correct my posture?
Here are a couple of basic exercises and stretches that can help. It’s important to remember that poor posture doesn’t develop overnight so consistent and long term muscle re-training is vital to make a difference.
Prone back extension
This exercise is great for strengthening muscles on the back side of the body, in particular some of the ones that will help to keep our scapula in a better position.
- Lying on your front, place one hand on top of the other with your palms facing the floor. Put your forehead on your hands.
- Lift your arms, shoulders and head off the floor ensuring you don’t bend from the neck. The neck should remain in line with the upper back for good alignment and good postural development.
- Aim to hold this for 15 seconds to start and build up to 30 seconds. Work your way up to a minute but remember this will take time – this exercise is usually very hard for Irish dancers!
This stretch is great for stretching the muscles in the front side of the body that can pull the shoulders and shoulder blades forward causing a hunch.
- Using a doorway, place your forearm up to your elbow on the side of the doorway, bending your elbow at 90 degrees.
- Rotate from your feet slightly, away from this arm until you feel a stretch across the front part of your chest.
Do you struggle with your posture when you dance? Do you have any exercises or stretches that have helped you? Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.