What I wish I had known when I became an Irish dancing teacher_irish dancing_ready to feis
Feising
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What I wish I had known when I became an Irish dancing teacher

With 2016 now in motion and dancers around the world getting ready to dive into a new year of dancing, it’s important to take a moment to reflect, acknowledge, and set new goals. It’s also a good time to think about what Irish dancing means in your life. For many teachers, Irish dancing is not just a job or a hobby, it’s an all-consuming passion that has made an impact on their lives in more ways than they could ever have imagined. It’s also a chosen path that comes with a lot of challenges and surprises! When you’re studying for that teachers exam, there is no textbook about dealing with difficult personalities, setting up a parents association, doing hair and makeup, or buying insurance. We asked these teachers to tell us what they wished they had known before becoming an Irish dancing teacher.

The life coach

I wish I had known that because Irish dancing has evolved so much I am not just an Irish dance teacher to those I teach, but also a second mum, psychologist, physio, fitness instructor, nutritionist, make up artist, and hairdresser. Irish dancing has gone to such a level now that it’s not just the Irish dancing you are talking with your dancers about, but the whole package for them as dancers on a broader scale. Teaching the steps is the easy part! – Fiona Moore, ADCRG

I wish I had known that being an Irish Dance teacher had many more responsibilities than just the typical dance teacher definition. Not only do you teach classes full of children you overwhelmingly become responsible for, you also have to be a great business owner, a mental coach inside and outside the studio, a life coach, and a role model! I always knew my teacher worked hard to be so successful, but I didn’t realize how many hats you have to wear when you strive to be a great teacher, and you have to wear them extremely well! If you aren’t prepared for this, and have no experience in these areas, it can be overwhelming no matter how much you enjoy it! – Jessie Baffa, TCRG

I wish I had known just how rewarding this job would be. I never really quite understood the many hats an Irish dancing teacher wears. You are not just a teacher, you are a personal trainer, psychologist, beautician, dietician, friend, advisor, role model. You have such an important role to play in your students’ lives. It is such an honour being an Irish dancing teacher. – Megan Ryan, TCRG

The fitness coach

I never knew that it would give me grey hair so quickly!
In my era of competing there was never any form of fitness programs which dancers have access to today. This is key as Irish dancing has changed so much over the years with so much athleticism now being involved and lots of movements and routines require extremely strong core strength. – Declan McHale, TCRG

The marketing exec

The thing I did not expect as a dance teacher was how much my professional marketing career would hold me in good stead, especially in terms of creating the culture and dynamic that I wish for the school through effective marketing communication. And the sheer amount of time and effort that that takes!!!!  – Betty Sheehan, TCRG

How time consuming running a dance studio is! No one ever tells you about the hours that go into the administrative side of things. Emailing, advertising, entering students into comps, you’re lucky if you find time to choreograph! Heaven forbid trying to have a social life outside of Irish dancing. Irish dancing is my social life! – Megan Ryan, TCRG

The nervous nellie

You always hear from your parents how nervous they are when you walk on stage as a competitor. As a TCRG I wish someone had told me that it’s 10 times worse with each and every dancer that you teach. When they get on stage no matter what competition whether it’s a beginner comp, state, national or World championship, the nerves you feel as a teacher are like nothing I was prepared for! – Liam Ayres, TCRG

That the nerves don’t stop at competitions. I always envied the dancing teachers at competitions, thinking that they could relax being on the other side of things. But that is completely untrue. I find that the nerves are worse, as at the end of the day there is only so much you can do as a teacher. It comes down to how the student performs on the day and it is completely out of your control. – Megan Ryan, TCRG

 

Image courtesy of MJ Escobar-Collins
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Fitness and Conditioning
3

Irish dancing and a sickled foot – what you should know

One of the very first things Irish dancers are taught is to point their toe. From that first class onwards, pointing is mandatory. There is nothing more beautiful than an outstretched foot during a leap over, or a strong point during a hop. In competition, adjudicators are looking for clean lines and precision. What they’re not looking for is a sickled foot.

A what?

A sickled foot occurs when you point, and rather than your shin, ankles, and toes all making a straight line, your foot curves either in or out. Pat Roddy, specialist in movement mechanics, anatomy in motion, and fitness instructor, explains “a sickled foot, or a hooked foot, can be common in many forms of dance. It can happen as the dancer tries to arch the foot while turning out, breaking the line of the leg, ankle and foot.”

What causes a sickled foot?

There are a number of reasons a foot may sickle. The first is that it could be simple anatomy, with a dancer either pronating (rolling in) or supinating (rolling out) when standing still. The best way to check this is to stand flat on the floor and have someone look at your ankles from behind – do you roll in or out? If the ankle is not straightly aligned, a podiatrist or physiotherapist can diagnose any physiological issues. Pronation or supination can lead to knee and hip problems if the leg is incorrectly aligned.

irish dance_ready to feis_Irish dancing and a sickled foot_pronation supination

Another cause of a sickled foot is overpointing. If a dancer points too hard, it can push the foot into a sickled position. While a nice strong point is an essential basic, when the point is pushed too hard from the ankle, not only does it look bad but it can lead to injuries. A dancer with poor technique who sickles is likely to develop imbalanced muscles over time, and suffer from weakness in the ankles. Additionally, if the foot is not pointed straight and strong on a jump, you also risk going over on the ankle when you land because of uneven distribution of weight.

According to Roddy, “Do not let the ankle twist or turn in, and keep the focus on the front of the ankle as it plantar flexes and points away from the body. Keep the arch strong and turn the foot out. A good point of focus here is that your turn out should be coming from the hip, so try to feel the leg externally rotate and turn out all the way from the hip. Your heel should be pointed in towards the midline of the body with the toes pointed maintaining a clean line all the way up the leg.”

Do you have sickled feet? Have you managed to overcome it? Share your experience in the comments below, 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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Uncategorized
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We want to hear from you

Happy birthday to us…happy birthday to us…

Can you believe it’s a year since we launched Ready to Feis?! It has been an amazing year of stories, interviews, launches, new products, and photo shoots. The best part is hearing your feedback – we love knowing that the information in our stories answers a question you had, or helps you fix a problem you have been tackling. Your emails always brighten our day, and we love chatting to you on social media.

To that end, we would love to get to know you all better. We have a simple reader survey so that we can find out who you are, what you like and don’t like, what we can improve, and what is working. Everyone who completes the survey goes into the draw to win a $100 voucher for the Ready to Feis store. Whether you’re a dancer, a teacher, or a parent, we want to hear from you! We really appreciate your time, and your continued support of Ready to Feis.

RTF first birthday click here to take the survey

The survey is open until Thursday Nov 19th, 11:59pm US EST. 

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Feising
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Dance motion photography – nailing that action shot

Snapping a picture of a dancer on stage during a presentation is one thing, but capturing a picture of a dancer in motion is a whole other endeavour. Leaps, kicks, spins – it’s all fast movement, and getting the right angle, the right shutter speed, and the right light, is a study in perfection. In part two of our interview with feis photographer Shannon Cohoon, we’re delving into motion photography.

Note: capturing a picture of a dancer in motion during a feis is against CLRG rules. Please check with your teacher for the rules of your individual organisation. This information is intended as a guide for capturing photos outside of the competition space.

Ready to Feis: If your average parent wants to get a nice action shot at a performance, what are the basics they need to know?

Shannon Cohoon: Taking a fantastic action shot can be extremely difficult and is something I am still working on mastering. It is not easy to have the camera positioned properly, and accidentally cut off the top of the dancer’s head or the front of the foot. When I take action shots, I do not zoom in on the dancers too closely in an attempt to avoid these types of fiascos. Action shots are the perfect example of when it is much better to be further zoomed out and crop the photo closer to the dancer later.

Timing is crucial when taking an action shot. There is nothing worse than taking a photo of a dancer in the air and realizing later that the back leg of the dancer was coming down to land. Knowing the step of the dancer is extremely helpful because you are able to anticipate the ‘big moves,’ like a leap. This allows you to take the photo at the right moment instead of a millisecond too late.

Great action shots are wonderful to have, but are not the easiest to achieve. Although you may want a picture of your dancer executing an extraordinary leap to show to friends and family, sometimes it is better to sit back and enjoy the performance than watch it through your camera while trying to get that perfect shot.

RTF: For action shots, is equipment important?

SC: Equipment makes a huge difference when taking action shots. Even if you have perfect timing and ideal lighting, getting an outstanding action shot is tough. When I take action shots, it is typical that the majority of the dancer is in focus, but his or her feet are blurry. Better equipment can handle the quick movements of Irish dancing, resulting in a much clearer photo.

RTF: Is there a good position or angle for action shots? Do you want to be close up or further away from your subject?

SC: I prefer to be lower than the dancer when taking action shots, such as when the Parade of Champions is performed on an elevated stage. When the dancer does a move where he or she is off the ground, being slightly below the stage creates the illusion of a larger leap or higher jump. Most moves look livelier when picture is taken of the side of the dances as opposed to straight on because you can typically see both the front and back legs of the dancer. The dancing can also look more dynamic when some of the floor is in the photo so you can see how high the dancer has gotten off the ground.

For dancers heading to the CLRG All Irelands (October 24-31 in Killarney), Shannon is booking 15 minute photo shoots outside the venue. If you are interested in a session, email scohoonphotography@gmail.com or contact her through her Facebook page.

Do you have any photography questions for Shannon? Leave them in the comments below, or email us and we’ll get them answered! Do you have any good photography tips? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image by: Shannon Cohoon

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Mental Preparation
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How to mentally deal with an Irish dancing injury

Injury management is an unfortunate fact of life for Irish dancers – this is a highly athletic sport with lots of jumping, fast movement, and pounding the ground. The body takes a real beating when an injury occurs, but the mind also takes a beating. While a muscle or a tendon might heal, the mental scars can hold a dancer back much more than any physical injury ever does.

According to Sport Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach Talese Fernbach, “When an athlete is injured, the injury can consume their thoughts and threaten their athletic identity.” If you spend all your time focusing on the injury then you can’t focus on getting past it. “It’s incredibly important that athletes realize that there’s a mind-body connection that influences their healing process,” Fernbach explains. “The physiological process of healing and the psychological outlook of an injured athlete are interdependent of each other. It’s well known that cognitive thoughts (mental) affect our physiological behavior and actions. It makes sense that our mental outlook influences our physical healing. What an athlete believes and thinks about their injury is crucial to their physical recovery.”

It’s not just physical pain

So what happens once you are injured? Fernbach describes, “It’s important for an athlete to recognize the mental and emotional components that they are experiencing in relation to their injury. If not addressed, these mental and emotional components can become barriers to the athlete’s healing. Some mental and emotional components to an injury might include:

• Depression
• Impatience
• Unrealistic expectations of recovery
• Lack of motivation
• Anxiety
• Isolation
• Negativity
• Pain
• No control over healing
• Victim role
• Loss of identity and/or value
• Burnout

“In order to promote mental healing and rehab, it’s important that the athlete have faith and trust in their body’s ability to heal and in the purpose and importance of the steps for their rehabilitation, even if their rehab involves something as simple as ice and rest.” Rest might seem like a foreign concept to many Irish dancers, but Fernbach explains why going through the process is important for healing. “The idea of having faith in your physical rehab makes the athlete feel mentally strong and positive that their body has been healed and is as good, if not better, than before. An athlete believing in their rehab and seeing that others have successfully come back from the same injury, can help them to build confidence, promote healing, and foster adherence to their rehab.”

Reframing fear

The best way to get past fear is to reframe it in your mind. “One thing that’s important to remember about fear is that fear lies in the past and the future. In other words, when a person experiences fear and they realize what they’re thinking about, what they’re thinking about is usually something that occurred in their past or they think will occur in their future,” says Fernbach. “The mind is not in the present moment. In the present moment, fear doesn’t exist. For example, if you’re sitting at practice and you keep re-playing your injury before doing your dance routine, the mind is in the past. Fear is fed. If you’re going into a competition and all you think about is being up on stage and your body falling apart or potentially feeling pain from a healed injury, the mind is in the future, thinking about something that hasn’t even occurred. Fear is again fed. The key is to realize that you are in the present moment and in that moment, all is well. The body is healed and stronger than ever. A dancer can also use imagery to see themselves in the present moment and their injured body part as being stronger than it was originally.”

Have you ever had an injury that you struggled to get over? Do you have any coping strategies for getting back to class and competition?

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How to get a great photograph at a feis - Shannon Cohoon - Ready to Feis - Irish dance dancing
Feising
2

How to take a great photograph at a feis

One of the great joys of Irish dancing is looking back years later and reliving the memories through photos – the friendships, the results, the beautiful costumes. Whether you’re taking pictures to share online with your friends and family, or simply to put the moment in a photo album, taking a good snap helps make the memory that much clearer. That said, in the crush and excitement of results, it can be difficult to capture the moment!

Photographer Shannon Cohoon has captured the images of thousands of dancers over hundreds of feisanna, and she knows what works. Shannon shares her expertise so that you can take the best possible photo at the next feis.

Ready to Feis: For the average dance parent trying to take a photo of their child during a presentation, what can they do to get a great photo?

Shannon Cohoon: I have found that one of the most important things, no matter what type of camera you are using, is to hold the camera still. This can be difficult to do, especially when your friend, son, or daughter is having a personal best day and you are getting emotional. One way to help with the movement of the camera is to hold your elbows against your body in order to stabilize your arms. It is better to keep your camera closer to your body than to hold it over your head.

I would also suggest not zooming in too far. During presentations, especially near ‘landmark’ placements, such as world qualifying, top ten, top three, etc., dancers tend to move quickly. If the camera is zoomed in right on the dancer’s face, when he or she moves it can be difficult to get the dancer back in frame to catch the reaction. I normally stayed zoomed out a little further and crop the photo afterward.

RTF: Do you need fancy equipment to get a nice shot? What about if you only have your phone?

SC: I, personally, think that a nice shot depends on what is in the photo. Sometimes the most memorable photos may not be the clearest, but show the emotion that is being felt in that moment. This can be done on any type of camera, including a camera on a phone. However, if you are looking for a high quality photo, equipment does make a significant difference.

RTF: Lighting is often bad/weird/crazy in feis venues. How do you counter the lighting so the photo isn’t too dark or light?

SC: Lighting is often unpredictable and challenging to manage. A simple fix is to turn on the flash, but depending on your position in the crowd, it may not affect the picture. On the other hand, a flash can add too much lighting and wash out the dancer. This is a situation where it is important to do your homework before the competition. Most digital cameras, if not all, have settings that can help you adjust to the lighting. Messing with the settings can be time consuming if you are experimenting at the competition, which is why it is important to know about the settings prior to the event.

If you have editing software on your computer, even if it is an extremely basic program, you should be able to adjust the brightness after the photo is taken. It is much easier to brighten a photo than to fix a photo that is already extremely bright.

Edit to add: For those of you who have emailed or commented to ask, Shannon uses a Nikon D5100, and for dance photos uses a Nikon 55-200mm lens.

Do you have any photography questions for Shannon? Leave them in the comments below, or email us and we’ll get them answered! Do you have any good photography tips? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image by: Shannon Cohoon

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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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Feising
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Moving from grades to championship

Going from grades to championship is a big deal. Huge, in fact. Whether you have spent two years, four years, or six years learning and growing in grades, getting those final prizewinner firsts to move up to preliminary championship is a turning point in most dancers careers. This is the big leagues! But how does it differ? Quite a lot. The way you feis will totally change.

Dancing

Christina Dolzall-Ashurst, TCRG at the Ashurst Academy of Irish Dance in Connecticut, points out, “The move from grades to preliminary championships is an exciting one. It also comes with changes in how competitions are run.” Dolzall-Ashurst explains, “In the grade levels, dancers stand in a line and come out to dance with one or two others for two steps, without breaks between sets of dancers. A dancer may perform many light and heavy dances in a feis, all being scored and awarded separately by one adjudicator. The scoring for each round is also more straightforward than in a prelim competition, as only raw points (given on a scale up to 100) are used to determine the result order.”

“In a prelim competition, dancers will complete only one light and one heavy round, with the result being based on a combination of the points awarded for both dances. Dancers will not all be onstage lined up as in the grades, but rather, will walk onstage and perform two or three at a time. Dancers will line up in a specific rotation as specified by a stage manager, and, after walking onstage (with confidence, of course!), will wait for an eight-bar intro, and then complete a full round (2-1/2 or 3 steps, depending on the dance). After completing a round, dancers will bow at the spot where they finish, walk back to their original position, wait for a judge to ring a bell, bow again to the judges and musicians, and walk off to prepare for the next round.”

Judging and Scoring

One of the key differences between grades and championship is the adjudication – you’re dancing for a panel of three instead of one. Dolzall-Ashurst points out, “Instead of one adjudicator per round as in the grades, a three-adjudicator panel will score all dancers in both the light and heavy rounds of a prelim competition. The judges will still use raw points, but in prelim, a dancer will also become accustomed to being awarded Irish points.”

“Each judge gives raw scores for each round, which, as in the grades, are used to place in order the results – by judge – for each dancer. Irish points are then assigned respectively to that results order. For example, after Judge A’s raw scores for both rounds have been totalled and his or her results put in order, that judge’s first place dancer gets 100 points, second place 75 points, third place 65 points, and so on. This process is repeated with Judges B and C. The final result order is then based on the total Irish points a dancer has accumulated from all three adjudicators combined. A perfect score, in which all three adjudicators award the same dancer first place, is 300.”

Results

This is the fun and exciting part! “When it’s time to present results in prelim, dancers will no longer look for their number to be posted on a board,” says Dolzall-Ashurst. “Instead, a more formal awards presentation, with dancers in full costume and shoes, is held. Typically, the top 50 percent of dancers in a prelim competition will receive an award. The numbers of the competitors who have ‘placed’ are read out, and the announcer then calls out the award winners by number, in reverse order (first place being the last announced). The award presentations are a rewarding experience filled with anticipation and excitement!”

Skill Level

Moving from grades to prelim means longer dances, and potentially more challenging material. The reel and treble jig are now three steps, with the slip jig and hornpipe two and a half steps. It’s also a chance to try new tricks, and lift your game. “As dancers move up in level, it’s important that they constantly grow, progress, and not be afraid of a challenge. These qualities will allow a dancer to complete more difficult material and moves.” Dolzall-Ashurst goes on to say, “However, it’s also important to remember that something more simple performed clean and with great technique will typically gain more points than something difficult that is not yet mastered.” Jennifer Dawson, TCRG at the Marie Moore School of Irish Dance in New Jersey, adds, “When you’re moving up to prelim the steps don’t have to get harder, but now they have to be perfect. You have to show the judge that your technique is ready for Open Championships – knees, feet, arms, shoulders, timing, and rhythm. That’s the key difference from grades. A little personality doesn’t hurt either.”

The Set Dance

Dancing in prelim is a chance to learn a set dance, however it isn’t always immediately necessary. “A prelim competition will not include a set dance round. A dancer will perform a light round (reel or slip jig) and a heavy round (jig or hornpipe). However, many prelim dancers learn a set dance for competitions such as the Oireachtas, so they should be on the watch for the occasional feis that includes a separate Preliminary Set Competition.”

Are you a prizewinner dancer ready to move up? Have you recently moved into prelim? Share your experience below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Ed note: updated to reflect Christina’s new school
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Performance
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So you want to be in an Irish dancing show…

It’s a great time to be an Irish dancer with professional aspirations. There are many opportunities for dancers to go into shows, with multiple companies touring the world and employing dancers who are living out their dreams. But is being in a show right for you? What kind of dancer is suited to being in a show, and all the rigours that come with it. Do shows only accept world champions? How do you even get an audition?

Tour life

According to Breandán De Gallaí, the most important trait for a show dancer is being a team player. De Gallaí, who has spent years involved in professional shows, including seven years as the lead in Riverdance, Riverdance Dance Director, creator and choreographer of many works including Noċtú and Rite of Spring, and presenter for TG4 and RTÉ, explains “Once in a show it is important to be a team-player. I often noticed that dancers I was auditioning were so eager to be selected that when they eventually made the cut they were simply euphoric. Yet when I would visit the show a few weeks into their contract they had become moaning menaces, whinging about how many numbers they had been rotated onto on a given evening. What happened to the delight to be selected? Contracts are relatively short and there is no guarantee that they will be renewed. Having a good attitude and maintaining a sense that you’re one of the fortunate ones is crucial if you want to stay in the company.”

Along with being a team player, looking after yourself physically is a crucial aspect of surviving in a show. On this, de Gallaí says, “Although injuries are inevitable, a dancer who is seemingly delicate, constantly complaining, regularly looking for shows or numbers off, is of little use to a company. The people who run commercial shows are business men and women and can be ruthless when it comes to selecting dancers. Once on the road, one must maintain a professional disposition, looking after themselves and preparing properly for each and every show.” It’s important to note that ‘competition fit’ and ‘show fit’ are two very different things, and dancers need a different type of fitness for the day-to-day strains of a touring show.

Auditioning

If tour life is something that you want to be involved in, the first step is auditioning. De Gallaí points out that the show website should be your first point of contact, as most sites have a page with audition information. If there is not, he advises, “send an email to the show office with a 1-pager CV/Résumé, a head shot, and a full length photo stating that you are interested in auditioning.” You may be asked for videos of your dancing. His advice is to film them as professionally as possible, and even most phone cameras can shoot something of excellent quality. When it comes to sharing the video, “Post them on YouTube/Vimeo so that you can send the link. The easier you make it for the decision maker, the more likely you will make a positive impression. Don’t try any fancy stuff with the editing. I just wanted to see the dancer dancing. Clever edits were annoying and often badly done (pictures not in sync with sound for example). I always suggested that the entire dancer be in the frame at all times.”

When de Gallaí was casting for Riverdance, he was looking for, “A dancer with good technique and in good athletic shape. If the dancer had bad posture it was a major disadvantage.” While looking at audition tapes and dancers in person, “I was not swayed by an overly confident/cocky performance. When I was deciding between my preferred top few dancers I couldn’t help being impressed by difficult, interesting material. That said, dancers doing material that was beyond their ability would have been better of doing something solid and less complicated. I guess I’m saying that an auditionee should be certain that they can pull off what they are doing.” It’s important to put your best foot forward in audition tapes, showing a range of skills in both soft and hard shoe.

Social Media

While it’s important to have a professional, polished video ready to go on YouTube or Vimeo, what about all the other social media channels? Does a strong social profile play a part in show selection? According to Jason Oremus, Creative Director of Hammerstep and the upcoming show Indigo Grey, “Connecting and networking with talented dancers all across the US and internationally has been made a lot quicker and easier by the web. The exposure for dancers has also increased.” Sometimes that exposure is not the kind that you want though – remember that you are auditioning for a professional paid job and you will represent the company, so be mindful of what is posted publicly on social media.

Do 15 second clips on Instagram have an impact on getting seen or getting an audition? Oremus explains, “It is handy to initially scout for dancers and spread the word regarding auditions and training sessions, but it does not necessarily reflect the quality of a dancer – often a social media profile is just a show of popularity. Talent is not often reflected, so it is important to not make a social profile the most important quality when looking for quality dancers and performers. The most important thing for us to bring dancers in with skill, versatility and the passion to be a part of the team.”

At the end of the day, tour life is fun, challenging, and an amazing opportunity. The final word from de Gallaí is this, “It is important to be able to enjoy yourself. A company is like a family and everyone should make an effort to include themselves in the entire life of the company.”

Image credit: Tim Reilly
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Fitness and Conditioning
0

5 reasons why Irish dancers need an off-season

One of the most difficult and demanding aspects of competitive Irish dance is the scheduling. With competitions year round, there is no off-season. While this might seem fun, it is important to create your own schedule that includes off-season and preseason – if you try to work at 100% all the time, you will burn out and get injured. Lauren Early, Irish dance trainer and author of the new book Reaching New Heights, explains why it’s so important to create a seasonal structure to your dance training.

To begin with, Early points out the benefits of breaking training down into seasons. “There are many major fundamental reasons why coaches include off-season and in season training into their athlete’s programme, and as dancers or teachers if we are also going to do this we will need to understand the benefits of doing so.” These include:

  • Injury prevention
  • Long-term performance
  • Goal setting
  • Mindset / motivation
  • Peaking at the right time

Of all these reasons, injury prevention might be the most crucial – injuries have the potential to be career-ending, and you won’t need to worry about a training schedule when you’re stuck at home in a boot. Breaking it down, Early explains, “When we are dancing we recruit certain muscle groups to do what we need to do. For example, quadriceps and calves are primary movers in Irish dance. Now, if we train the same way all year round, this means that we are asking the same muscles to work year round with no consideration to the opposing muscle groups that are underused in dancing. This is a fundamental reason why Irish dancing has such a high injury rate.”

This is why off-season training is crucial for injury prevention – you need time to strengthen the opposing muscle groups that aren’t used during the year. If a large amount of energy is spent on the quadriceps during training, the hamstrings need to be strengthened so that they can safely tolerate the power that the quadricep produces. This is called structural balance – where two opposing muscle groups are working equally.

Injury prevention goes hand in hand with long term performance, as Early explains, “The alteration through different training phases from off-season to in season will use different energy systems at different intensities. This alteration gives the body a break from the training type that came before it, and the training that will come next. It will help to avoid overtraining and burnout from too much repetition, and also look after your long term health and performance, meaning you can continue your sport for many years having conditioned yourself properly.”

Off-season doesn’t have to be for months, like football players. In fact, with the schedule of majors on the Irish dance calendar, there is opportunity for two small off-seasons throughout the year, allowing the body to rest, recover, and strengthen before the next competition. For a dancer focusing on three majors per year (Worlds, Nationals, Oireachtas), Early suggests two 4-week off-seasons – January and August. Coupling these with periods of pre-season, in season, and maintenance, you can peak at the right time while also looking after your body and staying mentally and physically fit.

Early explores the five main benefits of a seasonal training program in more detail, including suggested calendars, in her new book Reaching New Heights. Grab her book to explore this more, or pop over to our Facebook page for your chance to win a signed copy.

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