world champions irish dance jason hays john lonergan worlds oireachtas rince na cruinne
Feising, Mental Preparation
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Two World Champions, and what a day at worlds is really like

We’re well and truly in Worlds mode right now! With the crew from An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha in Montreal for Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne, and the An Comhdháil crowd in Killarney for their World Irish Dance Championships, it’s a very busy and important week on the Irish dancing calendar.

While this means the cream of the crop are having their moment on stage after months of hard work and sweat, it also means there are hundreds of others at home dreaming of one day being on that stage (and possibly following the action on the live commentary or Twitter). That stage is a tough place. After all the physical preparation, it can be difficult to fight game day nerves and mentally steel yourself for what happens. Developing a routine, knowing your strengths, and learning how to stay focused will help make your day a whole lot easier.

For Jason Hays, two time World Champion, his competition day starts with bacon. “I like to have bacon in the morning because it has protein for the day, and I normally nibble on that throughout a competition day.” Hays begins his warm up process by running in place then doing basic stretches.

Six time World Champion John Lonergan would get his body pumped with a particular warm up routine. “I would get to the venue maybe an hour before the competition is meant to start. Get my bearings about the place and then start to warm up. For me this would be lightly dancing my dances to get the muscles going, then stretching, and building up to a sweat. One final stretch to make sure everything is loosened out.”

Heading to the stage is when the nerves kick it up a gear, so staying focused is key. “I always do my jumps before I go onstage! I have this routine/ good luck drill where I do some jumps then progressively get higher and higher. It’s always been my way of getting myself ready before I’m onstage”, says Hays. It’s also a day for Hays to be selfish, “I’ll make small chit chat with the other people waiting, but I’m here for myself so I normally run steps through my head and walk my dances side stage to warm up.”

For Lonergan, mental sharpness is key, “To psych myself up I normally just reminded myself of how hard I had worked, and how badly I wanted to be stood on the top of that podium. I’m quite a competitive person so that would always get the adrenaline pumping and would get me pumped up to go on stage and dance my best.” He adds, “Before I danced I always kept to myself and kept my focus and mind determined on the job I had to do – which was go out there and dance the best I could. Once all my rounds were finished, I would then go and chat to anyone who I was friends with, as I’ve done all I could at that stage.”

That time between rounds is where the mental game comes under the most pressure. Lonergan points out, “For boys I think it’s a lot easier as the competitions are smaller. There isn’t as much time to get distracted, so therefore it all happens really quick. For girls I think it’s important to have maybe 10 minutes relaxation time after the first round, then go and stretch a bit to stay warm, and maybe go over the steps of your light round yourself before meeting with your teacher or parent to go over it for the final time before going on stage. I always find dancing your steps for your teacher or parent full out before going side stage helps you get in ‘the zone’ for when you do end up going side stage.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go to plan on the day. According to Hays, “It’s hard to move past a bad round but usually I focus on what else I can do on my others. What happened has happened and there’s nothing I can do to change that so I focus more on the positives of my next rounds rather than dwell on one round and psych myself out.” Lonergan has a similar mentality. “Normally I would just try and forget [a bad round]. There’s always the next round after that, or your set dance to worry about too, so it’s important to focus into each one as they come. There’s no point in worrying about a set dance before your heavy round. Chances are you won’t perform well and there’s a chance you might not get to do your set. If you focus on each round as it comes, you’ll dance your best, and be within a better chance of getting that recall, or the result you really wanted.”

Have you danced at Worlds? Did you have an experience like these two champions described? What’s your game day routine (and does it include bacon)? Sound off in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook.

Image: Courtesy of Jason Hays

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