The most important muscle group for Irish dancing
If someone were to ask you what the most important muscle group is for an Irish dancer, what would you say? Legs? Probably not arms! It’s actually your core – if your core is strong and firing, you’re going to have great posture, strong balance, get better lift, and be able to get your legs up high on your kicks and clicks.
More crucial than big kicks, a strong core means you’re going to reduce your risk of injury. According to Suzanne Cox, TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) with the Australian Institute of Fitness, “Irish dancers with poor core strength are more susceptible to back injuries but can even be at more risk for leg and foot injuries. Our bodies function as a whole and a weak link in the chain can impact another area, which can in turn cause an injury somewhere else. For example, a back injury can cause a dancer to favour one side, which means one leg takes more load while one leg becomes weaker and unable to handle the stress placed upon it.”
Core strength is something that Chloey Turner, professional dancer and personal trainer, has learnt along the way. “During my competitive days I knew very little about the importance of core training. I thought that by putting in the hours at dance class and running occasionally that would be enough. It wasn’t until I went to college and studied to be a personal fitness trainer that I realised how important it was to make extra time to strengthen my entire body starting with the stabilising muscles.” These days Turner is putting that knowledge to good use by working with the cast of Riverdance to keep them in peak condition for their gruelling show schedule. Working with partner James Greenan, they have developed a fitness and nutrition program for Irish dancers called theCJway that will be launching soon.
Apart from injuries, Cox tells us that “A weak core can create a faulty movement pattern. If we don’t move in the correct way our bodies adapt and learn a skill in a different way. Usually this will be a less efficient way that takes more energy and doesn’t look the way we want it to. We can change the way we do a skill but it takes a lot longer! In fact, some research tells us that if we want to correct the way we perform a move we need to do it correctly hundreds of times. That means instead of performing a click with straight knees 20 – 40 times to get it right, we now need to perform it many more times to get it right!”
If you’re a dancer who struggles with posture, arm, and shoulder issues when you dance, then all signs point to a weak core. Cox describes it as, “A strong core allows a dancer to have a greater level of strength, power, precision and elegance when they dance. The core muscles that surround our spine are responsible for maintaining posture as well as keeping us strong, stable and upright. They also play a role in providing a solid support for our hips and legs to be able to do what they need to do.”
So how do you get a strong core? Stay tuned next week for a series of exercises that will help build this crucial muscle group.