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Fitness and Conditioning
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How to safely land an Irish dancing jump

As Irish dancing has gotten more athletic, one of the most notable changes is the jumps. Reels and slip jigs, as well as hard shoe dances, are now full of complicated and daring jumps and leaps that push the boundaries of the sport and what the body can accomplish. While these jumps are exciting to learn, they need to be performed safely and landed correctly so that they don’t result in injury – the force of landing a big jump incorrectly can lead to a host of foot, ankle, knee, shin, hip, and back injuries.

Pat Roddy, specialist in movement mechanics, anatomy in motion, and fitness instructor, says “Irish dancers today are a study in balance, athleticism, skill, and technique, and all training revolves around strength, balance, and endurance, along with the technical steps and choreography. Like any sport it’s difficult to pinpoint an optimal performance model because there are so many variables.” Being a former CLRG World Champion and former lead in Riverdance (the show and on Broadway), Roddy has first hand experience when discussing the complex and technical nature of landing jumps. “Because we restrict our upper body movement in Irish dance, our movement patterns lack the counter balance that our upper body provides in almost all other activities that we do. This can provide us with a challenge while jumping or elevating from the floor, one that can highlight postural issues with some dancers unable to manage our upper body restriction.”

“Our feet are our first and last point of contact with the ground and ultimately determine the quality of movement above them. Balance is essential, along with strength through the foot, ankle, and leg. Launch and landing mechanics develop as we progress as dancers. Some have it from an early age and others need to be guided and cued through every move”, explains Roddy.

Building strength

“Building up strength in the feet, ankles, and the major muscles groups of the legs are key”, Roddy points out. “Foot and ankle strength and stability enable a dancer to manage the impact from the ground and absorb shock while maintaining balance, posture and timing.”

There are simple exercises dancers can do at home and in class to build the required strength. “Use a TheraBand to increase foot and ankle strength while doing resistance exercises, wrapping and pulling the band one way and moving the foot/ankle to oppose it.”

Take it slow

When learning new moves, it’s important to pace yourself. “Practice the moves slowly, then gradually build it to improve and perfect with the power, strength and precision that a competitive performance requires. Focus on relaxing the foot and toes as it launches and lands – this allows all the muscles of the foot to operate fully. Tensing or gripping with the toes will limit muscular performance in the feet and lower leg and impact on your ability to land softly or launch while jumping”, says Roddy.

“The foot’s structural mechanics can inhibit this important phase also leading to uneven weight distribution the whole way up the body – some postural irregularities can become obvious as the body tries to compensate and help itself through the movements. Try to avoid attempting new jumps and spins while extremely fatigued as this is when you are most susceptible to injury, and always include jumps and spins as part of your warm up, gradually increasing the intensity and giving the body enough time to prepare and adjust for what is ahead.”

Have you learnt any new and crazy jumps recently? What was your technique for learning and practicing? Share below in the comments, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Note: Pat Roddy can be contacted at info@patroddy.ie for any fitness and movement mechanic enquiries.

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