Everything you need to know about sharpness_ceili moore_irish dance sharpness_ready to feis
Fitness and Conditioning
3

Everything you need to know about sharpness

One of the skills that sets great dancers apart from the rest is sharpness. Getting that leg up and down quickly, snapping it into place, making every movement distinct – it’s not an easy skill to master, and can take some hard work to get it right. Lauren Early, six time World Champion and Irish dance coach, is breaking down sharpness to make it achievable.

Sharpness?

First let’s clarify what we mean when we say sharp.

According to Early, “Whilst speed is the ability to move from A to B in the fastest time possible, sharpness is the ability to move from A to B with complete accuracy. Simply put, the combination of speed and strength = power / sharpness”. Relating this to Irish dancing moves, it’s getting cuts quickly up to the hip and back down again, getting kicks up with a straight leg and pointed foot, and snapped back down again in time with the music.

“To achieve great sharpness and power you must have efficient mechanics of movement to get you from A to B using the most economical movement technique to get you there. Factors such as your power to weight ratio, structural balance and proprioception (a sense of how your body is positioned) will all be key in achieving great sharpness.

“For a sport such as Irish dancing where technical accuracy is vital for success, it is important that we not only develop our speed base but go on to improve our agility skills such as balance, coordination, and strength so that we also have great sharpness and pinpoint accuracy on stage.” says Early.

So what’s next?

Early points out, “Unfortunately within the dancing world we tend to hear that stamina is such an important factor in our success. The truth is whilst stamina is important in an ‘off season’ to build a solid foundation, too much aerobic exercise done for too long will prevent you from developing maximal speed, power and sharpness. Why? When we complete long endurance training the brain tends to organise muscle contractions in that manner – slow and cyclical movements repeated over and over. Just look at a marathon runner and how robotic like they run as their brain organises the same contractions and movements time an time again.”

This makes so much sense, right?

Early goes on to explain, “The problem with dancers trying to improve their power and sharpness is that if we are training the muscles to contract in a slow robotic form it is extremely hard for them to suddenly switch and produce high force ballistic movements when they are not trained in that manner. To enable a dancer to be sharp we must train in such a manner that requires high force ballistic movements in all directions involving acceleration, deceleration, and lift off the ground. To prove this theory take a long distance runner and try get them to complete shuttle runs. They cannot organise the co-ordination, speed, and sharpness required, so while trying they will look like they are jogging around the cones at a poor pace. But they have great stamina. See the difference?

“A Japanese study completed several years ago showed us that the more we increase our V02 max the more our vertical jump decreases. Another study completed in Finland showed that completing aerobic work will make the body slower at anaerobic work. To put simply if we train one area it will take away from the opposing area.

“This is where dancers need to arrange their year into different phases. An off season is great to work on stamina, however pre-season and in-season phases must be centred around speed, power, and sharpness development so the body can adapt to the difference in the muscle contractions required.”

Let’s talk muscles

“Muscle fibres in the body consist of either fast twitch or slow twitch muscle fibres. Most of us will be born with a balance of the two while some are born with a higher percentage of one than the other,” explains Early.

“What do they do? Fast Twitch muscle fibres are responsible for producing explosive power and sharpness with fast reaction times. A well trained dancer should be able to react in a split second and be at optimal speed over a very short distance in a very short space of time. Whilst they are able to produce a lot of force and power, fast twitch muscles are not designed to last for long periods of time, therefore will only work over shorter distances.

“Slow twitch muscle fibres have the opposite job – they are responsible for cyclical movements over a long distance. They organise contractions in quite a slow manner as the aim is to last for long periods – slow twitch muscle fibres will not want to expend a lot of energy therefore they will not complete any fast powerful movements requiring a great deal of energy at once.”

Early sums it up neatly – “Which do you think is more important in a dancer? Is it more important to be sharp and powerful over a short period of time or to be slow and cyclical for long periods of time?”

“If we look at competitive Irish Dancers we know it is a short distance event requiring high force movements with power and acceleration. The time duration that we are on stage equates to that of a 400m track runner. We experience the same amount of lactic acid build up over this time period and go through acceleration speed and power production. All the things that slow twitch muscle fibres are not responsible for.

“You can be the fittest dancer in the world, but if you cannot fire up those fast twitch muscle fibres and accelerate at top force across the stage you will be left behind. Yes you may be able to continue dancing all day with great stamina but that is not the goal of a competitive dancer. It is not good enough to train hard we must train smart to allow us to reach our optimal potential.”

How to get sharp

Early has outlined three types of training that will help fire up fast twitch muscle fibres.

Plyometric Training

Plyometrics are exercises that force the muscle to exert maximum force in a short period of time with the goal of increasing power sharpness and vertical jump. This training forces the muscle to learn how to extend and then contract in a fast explosive manner. ie. develop the elastic strength of the muscle

Examples of plyometric training: Box jumps, single leg hops, and hurdle bounds

Agility Training

Agility training is completing movements that require you to change direction whilst keeping balance, speed, and co-ordination. Agility is not just about changing direction but about completing it in such a technically perfect manner whilst going through phases of acceleration, deceleration and all directions without loss of speed or power

Examples of agility training: Multi directional cone drills – figure of 8, shuttle runs

Sprint Training

Sprint Training is the best way to improve your reaction time, explosive power, acceleration and achieve top speed over a short distance. All things we need to achieve across the stage! Start with longer distances on the track – up to 400m to improve your lactic acid threshold. As competition nears reduce the distance and increase the speed, finishing with 20-40m sprints pre-competition leaving you going into the competition as fast and as sharp as possible!

Examples of sprint training: 4 x 400m runs pre season, 8 x 60m sprints in season.

Have you tried any of these exercises? Are you a dancer that has sharp technique or is this something you’re working on? Share your comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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How to turn out correctly and avoid injuries irish dancing ready to feis
Fitness and Conditioning
0

How to turn out correctly and avoid injuries

One of the fundamental basics of Irish dancing is turnout. While keeping your arms down and crossing your feet might come a little easier, many dancers struggle for years to get their toes turned out properly. Many dancers force turnout from the ankle or the knee, which is not only incorrect form, but the quickest way to cause injuries. We look at the anatomy of Irish dancing turnout to make sure you’re turning out correctly.

Turn out comes from the…

HIP. According to Jennifer Denys, Registered Physiotherapist who works with Canada’s National Ballet School, “Despite the observable change of the feet orientation when a dancer is ‘turned out’, turnout is actually a turning movement at the hip joint.” Denys goes on to say, “This is your skeleton’s movement point that forms between your femur (thigh bone) and a socket within your pelvis. The beautiful round ball at the top of your thigh bone is meant to simply spin outwardly within a complimentary bowl-like socket. The whole leg follows suit, displaying feet where the toes are pointing outwards in what we call ‘turnout’.”

So not the ankles?

No. “While turned out dance positions are named for what the feet look like, it should be the hip joint at the very top of the leg that rotates the entire leg to reveal the new positions. When done properly this way, all the bones of the leg and foot remain in alignment. This line up is not only beautiful with the knees lined up over the toes, but is one of the most essential ways to prevent a plethora of lower leg and foot dance injuries.” Essentially, forcing turnout from the ankles or the knees is the quickest way to get on the injured list. “One of the biggest reasons dancers get injured is because, with this fake turnout strategy, the knee does not line up over the center of its foot. Instead, the knee is hovering over the inside of the foot.

“The strain on the body in this poor line-up is intense. It can show up as pain and/or injuries starting at the toes, foot arches, ankles, and moves all the way up to the knees, hips and even the back. This fake turnout strategy also makes your body less stable causing your muscles to ‘grip’ around your hip to keep you standing and prevent you from falling over. Not only should these muscles at the front and side of your hip not be engaged in this way during true turnout, they will get tight from being overused and limit your hips’ true movement. Increased likelihood for injury and decreased turnout…. sounds like a big deal to me!” Indeed.

How do I get proper turnout?

Denys explains, “When you learn to rotate your thigh bone within the hip socket found within your pelvis, the optimal muscle recruitment should be a group of muscles known as the deep rotators. Though each of these muscles has a big name of their own, they have this ‘deep rotators’ family name.

“The deep part of the name is because each of these muscles are deeper inside you than the gluteus muscles you can feel on the outside. In fact, they are underneath the three thick gluteus muscles at the back of your hip.

“The rotator part of the name is because each of these muscles is dedicated to the job of rotating the head of the thigh bone (femur) on the hip socket. How wonderful to have these amazing muscles dedicated to turnout!”

You can read more about turnout on the ellephysio website.

Do you struggle with turnout? Has it caused you injuries? Share your comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Mental Preparation
0

How to manage nerves when competing

Nerves are a big part of competition. Sometimes the nerves are good – a few butterflies in the stomach to get the adrenaline pumping and the legs kicking a bit higher. Sometimes though, the nerves are bad. You’re anxious, you’re stressed, and you work yourself into such a state that you can make yourself sick. There is a big difference between these two types of nerves, and learning how to harness them for good rather than bad can make a huge difference to your performance.

Why do I get sick?

According to Sport Psychologist and Mental Performance Coach Talese Fernbach, “Some athletes can have a physical response or physical manifestation, such as vomiting, to an emotion such as anxiety or nervousness.” She goes on to say, “This response can be explained through the study of psychophysiology. Psychophysiology is the study of the interrelatedness between our mind, physical bodily systems and our behavior. It’s also called physiological psychology. There is an interconnection between our mental thoughts and physical behavior.

“Our thoughts and feelings ultimately affect our physical behavior. If our thoughts and feelings are negative or are not within an ‘acceptable’ intensity level for our performance, then our body gets out of balance. This imbalance can lead to a heightened heart rate, intensified sweating, rapid breathing and raised body temperature. These physiological changes are in response to the anxiety or nerves, and can result in a physical release, such as vomiting. Each individual athlete, depending on personality and physical make-up, has an acceptable level of anxiety or nerves that will enhance their performance and an unacceptable level of anxiety or nerves that will impede or inhibit their performance. Anxiety or nerves, if not within the ‘acceptable’ parameters, can manifest in a physical form. As a guideline, healthy and productive performance anxiety leaves as soon as the performance or competition starts. Unhealthy and counterproductive performance anxiety doesn’t leave once the performance or competition starts. Ideally, an athlete wants to get to their ‘optimal’ level of anxiety or nervousness before their performance or competition begins. Managing nerves and anxiety is important to prevent an undesirable physical response and an impeded performance from occurring.”

How do I manage my nerves?

Managing nerves is very personal, and there is no one size fits all solution. Taking the time to look at exactly why you get nervous, particularly if you have extreme or physical reactions, is the key to learning how to manage them. Fernbach points out, “It’s important to remember when an athlete has an excessive amount of nervousness that is making them physically distressed, they need to stop and consciously listen to what they’re saying to themselves to create such nerves and anxiety. Often times, what’s creating the nerves or anxieties are thoughts rooted in the past or the future.”

Fernbach shares a few simple techniques for managing nerves on competition day:

  • Keep things and tasks simple. On competition day, focus on the task at hand. Keep the mind rooted in the present on what has to be done and CAN be done before competition.
  • Develop a pre-performance routine. This routine can include making a list of all the things you need to do up until the competition or performance starts. The list can be as creative and detailed as you want it to be. It can include tasks such as getting all of your items ready for the performance, writing down a list of 5 to 10 adjectives that you want your performance to look or feel like, doing a specific number and type of stretches, taking 8 deep breathes, repeating a favorite quote or listening to a favorite song, visualizing yourself being successful out on stage or recalling some inspirational words, a confident moment or some positive self-talk. The idea of a pre-performance routine is to keep the mind focused and pre-occupied with the task at hand so the nerves don’t consume the mind and manifest in the body.
  • Start a conversation with someone to help distract your mind. Keep the conversation fun, light and positive.
  • Recite mantras or motivational phrases to yourself. These can also be included in your pre-performance routine.
  • Breathe the nerves in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breathe in, you can picture the nerves as being accepted and brought into your body. As you breathe out, you can picture the nerves being processed and released out of your body.

Do you get very nervous before competitions? Does it affect you in a negative way? Do you have any great management techniques you can share? Let us know below, or join the conversation on Facebook.

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Fitness and Conditioning
0

Irish dancing and shin splints – what you need to know

Shin splints. If you haven’t had them yourself then you undoubtedly know someone who has. Shin splints and Irish dancing seem to go hand in hand and are probably the most common reason Irish dancers spend so much time at physiotherapy clinics. Beyond knowing that they cause a lot of pain in the shin, how much do you really know about shin splints? David Micallef, an APA Sports Titled Physiotherapist from Physiohealth Melbourne who has worked with the Australian Irish Dancing Association to help them understand leg injuries and reduce the injury rate in this sport, talks through the basics.

First things first, Micallef tells us “Shin splints is an old term for shin pain, which most Sports Medical Practitioners now term ‘Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome’ (MTSS).”

Cause of Pain

According to Micallef, “The exact source of pain from MTSS is actually unknown, however there are many theories. It is commonly believed that shin pain is a continuum affecting firstly the tendons of the calf and deep toe flexor muscle groups as they attach onto the tibia (shin bone). As the syndrome deteriorates it affects the bone lining (periosteum) and eventually it can cause bone stress and eventually stress fracture of the bone. The role of the 2 calf muscles, soleus and gastrocnemius, are important factors in developing shin pain.” Ouch.

Factors causing MTSS

There are many factors involved in MTSS – Micallef explains some of the common factors are:

  • Flat feet
  • Poor mid-foot arch control (in standing, but also when up on toes)
  • Increased training intensity
  • Poor footwear
  • Hard training surface
  • Reduced calf endurance and strength
  • Over training – not just at Irish dancing but also all other sporting activities

“Clinically the most common things I find when I assess Irish dancers is a combination of many factors, e.g. a dancer reports increased pain associated with increased training at Irish dancing, plus he or she may also have done cross country or some other jumping activity at school. This causes associated muscle fatigue and overload of the tibia. Often the dancer may spend lots of time in poor footwear such as thongs (flip flops) or [runners that don’t offer adequate support]. Often when assessed they have very tight muscles to palpate, they often cannot control the arch of their foot when standing on 1 leg, may have poor balance and foot stability especially when rising up on toes. A vicious cycle occurs when an unstable foot and a weak, fatigued calf place even greater stress on the underlying small muscles in the leg and place additional stress on the shin bone.”

Treatment

Sorry dancers, bad news on this one. “Often the best treatment for shin pain is deep massage and modified training load or rest which is certainly effective, especially in the short term”, says Micallef.

“For a longer term cure, your physiotherapist must also assess your ability to control the arch of your foot in standing and when up on toes, and guide you through a calf strengthening program, ensuring there is good foot control as well as maintaining good hip, pelvic and trunk control so that your foot is not placed under additional stress.”

While there is no obvious cause of shin pain, there is also no obvious solution. If you are having shin pain the best course of action is to be assessed by a physiotherapist. Micallef concludes, “As you can see, a good rehabilitation program will entail not only looking at the foot and shin but also calf strength, lower limb alignment and core strength to ensure you recover fully from ‘shin splints’ and stay on the dance floor.”

Have you had shin splints? How did you treat them? What advice can you share with other dancers? Share below or weigh in over on our Facebook page.

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Mental Preparation
0

How to deal with disappointing results

Whether you didn’t get the recall you worked for, you placed lower than you did last year, or you’re just not happy with how it all went down, dealing with disappointing results can be tough. It can feel like you let yourself, your family, or your teachers down. It can be frustrating when you think you danced well, and people you normally beat have come in ahead of you. You can feel discouraged, wondering whether you should keep going (you definitely should). However you’re feeling, there are ways of dealing with bad results so you can put it behind you and get back on that dance floor feeling good.

What does ‘bad’ mean?

According to Talese Fernbach, sports psychologist and mental performance coach, “the term ‘bad’ is a judgment. Judgments, in the field of performance, are considered counterproductive to the mindset and create pressure in the mind. A judgmental mind or judgmental person will stifle their performance by focusing on what they or others think. One cannot perform to their potential while judging themselves and others. It sets their mind in a negative space and disrupts their performance focus.”

We often compare ourselves to others, particularly in a sport where we are ranked and placed, but Fernbach frames it a different way. “The focus on performance should be on the process and not the outcome/results. In the world of performance psychology, if an athlete or performer focuses on the process, the desired results will take care of themselves. Performances sometimes don’t go as planned. When that happens, teachable moments arise to learn from and make the athlete better. If everything always went as planned, we would have nothing to learn from and to work on to make ourselves better. There are no disappointing results, just results. How you look at those results makes or breaks the development of mental toughness and the advancement of your performance to the next level. It’s all in your perspective. When things don’t go as planned, focus on the process and the teachable moments to cope and grow in your performance.”

Repairing shattered confidence

All that said, results can still shake and shatter confidence, making you doubt yourself and your abilities. Fernbach points out that it’s not the end of the world, and the most important thing is perspective. “Don’t catastrophize and dwell on the situation. When things don’t go as planned, you can re-focus and re-build on your performance by focusing on the strengths and positives of the athlete and their performance. It’s sometimes human nature for coaches and athletes to mostly focus on the negatives or what has to be worked on. Studies have shown that when coaches point out all the positives of a practice or performance, the overall level of performance, even in the weaker areas, will improve. People simply perform better when they feel good about themselves.”

Refocusing

The days and weeks after a rough competition are where champions are made, and if you can refocus in a positive way, you’re putting yourself in good stead for the next feis. “Depending on the confidence shattering situation, an athlete can start to bounce back by focusing on some basic technique training, keeping things simple, accentuating the positive, building on strengths and one performance area to improve upon at a time.” says Fernbach. “By focusing on these things, an athlete can come back even stronger, more prepared and with a renewed sense of confidence.”

Have you ever had a setback from bad results? How did you get your confidence back for your next feis? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

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Music
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Timing and rhythm – can they be taught?

Music is a fundamental part of Irish dancing – everyone dances to it, whether it’s a lively set or a moody slip jig. Your first hops were probably to a light jig or a reel, and you have been hopping along ever since. But what if music doesn’t come naturally? Can the fundamentals of rhythm and timing be taught? And what do those words even mean?

You might not know this, but Sean O’Brien, one of the most popular piano and accordion players on the feis circuit, was also a champion dancer. His experience both on stage and at the side of the stage has given him an innate understanding of music from both dancer and musician perspective.

In discussing music, the terms rhythm and timing can often get confused. According to O’Brien, “Timing is very mathematical, almost rigid in nature. Either a beat (and in Irish Dancing’s case that’s usually made with your foot) falls in time with the music or it doesn’t. The timing may be simple or complex depending on the type of dance and/or it’s level of intricacy, but it’s still very black and white; either a step or a lift or a jump is in time or out of time with the fundamental beat of the music.

“Rhythm is more to do with flow, light and shade, individual style; in other words it’s a little more musical and open to interpretation than timing. Rhythm can be fast and complex or slow, deliberate and spacious. Individual rhythms can be emphasised and forceful or delicate and intricate. The rhythm is the story of a dance. It helps creates a sense of ebb and flow in the overall piece.”

While timing is very black and white, there is often discussion as to whether it can be taught or not. Some camps say yes and some say no. O’Brien points out that, “For some of us timing comes naturally. For others it may be kinesthetic abilities like moving and jumping. Whilst others are gifted with naturally turned out feet and loose ankles.”

“Timing is unique. Wherever human culture has manifest, dance and music have sprung up, taking any number of forms. The common element in this, from my viewpoint, is the link between music and the way it’s felt in the body, and vice versa. Humans just seem to feel rhythm! They want to dance and move in such a way that reflects and expresses the sounds of the world around them! I think this is a universal trait alive in the human collective and that some of us are just more naturally attuned to it. The teaching of timing therefore is more a case of unlocking that which is buried within. I’ve seen it happen!”

As a starting point, O’Brien suggests practising dancing to a metronome. “This is the simplest way to strip music back to its fundamental, unchanging beat. Sometimes people can be confused by the layers of instruments, and a metronome helps to distinguish the underlying tempo.

“Coming to know rhythm is a slightly different practice. Rhythm is about self expression and requires ‘feel’. The best way to practice ‘feeling’ the music is to first find tracks and artists that inspire you! If you find yourself naturally grooving or tapping your feet to a piece then that’s ‘feel’; the deep instinctual part that simply wants to move!”

When it comes to Irish dancing, you should definitely want to move!

Do you struggle with timing or rhythm? Have you ever practised with a metronome? Share your experience below or weigh in on our Facebook page.

Image courtesy of Barbara Blakey Photography
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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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Feising
0

The essential French you need for the World Irish Dancing Championships

Are you heading to Montreal for the World Irish Dancing Championships? In amongst the packing and the preparation, there may be something you have overlooked. Montreal is one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world, and the official language is French! While many people, particularly in the tourist areas of the city, will be happy to communicate with you in English, it is always handy to have a few common words and phrases under your belt.

Download the list here

 

Special thanks to Chloé Foglia and Nathalie Lasnier for the translations, and all their wonderful help and advice with this video.

Special thanks also to Kristel Behrend for the header image.

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Mental Preparation
0

Four ways to get your head in the game on feis day

While competing in Irish dancing competitions is a wonderful experience, it can also be incredibly stressful. Unfortunately, stress can often get the better of you on competition day – you’re focusing on the negative instead of the positive, or you’re easily distracted, and don’t perform your best. Thankfully, our experts have you covered. Keep these four simple things in mind to stay cool on the big day and dance your best.

Find your routine

According to Frances Dunne, personal trainer and Irish dance fitness coach at Fitness Formula Irish Dance, “If you struggle to be on top form at competitions, or fluctuate between dancing well and just bombing it, you need to develop a routine that results in feeling ready. For example, if you know that you dance better when you’ve really warmed up, then make sure you allow yourself time to really warm up; if you danced really well at that feis where you had a big breakfast, then be sure to have a big breakfast every time!”

It’s all about finding a mindset that works for you. As Dunne points out, “It sounds awfully simple, but recognising patterns like these are the key to performing well under pressure. Everyone is different, so find what works for you. Of course there are things that work generally across the board, but the specifics are entirely individual.”

Focus on your strengths

If you want to psych yourself up on competition day and get in the right frame of mind, focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Bill Cole, MS, MA and internationally recognised peak performance mind coach, says, “Primarily focus on practicing your strengths. Leave practicing your weaknesses to your long-term training. You want to build up your confidence just before a performance, and reminding yourself of your best points will enhance that.” Good at clicks? Do some click drills.

Dr Ira Martin, a specialist Sports Psychologist with a doctoral and masters degree and who regularly works with Irish dancers, frames this another way, “You’re too busy thinking about the one mistake that you worry you’re going to make rather than thinking about the 10 things you are good at.” Focus on what you’re good at!

Block out the noise

Being at a dancing competition, particularly a major like a National or World Championships, can be overwhelming. Dr Martin points out that if there was ever a day to be selfish, this is it. “If you start watching your competition, you start psyching yourself out. It’s about you, it’s okay to be selfish – if you’re thinking about your strengths and what you’re good at, chances are you are probably not thinking about what’s going and could go wrong.” If you know you get distracted, create a focus playlist and pop your headphones in to drown out what else is going on.

When it comes time to go backstage, don’t lose that momentum. Conor Ayres, ADCRG, knows how important it is to tell her dancers to keep calm. “I tell them not to get caught up in the excitement/drama/tension of backstage. Just breathe, keep calm, and keep thinking about your own steps.”

Keep it positive

You did it! You’re here! You’re dancing at a competition. Take time out of your day to reflect on what it means to be there, and how far you have come. “Remind yourself of how hard you have worked and what you have done to prepare for this event. Feel good about all that. Feel good that you have done all that is in your power to prepare. You can then enjoy the event more, knowing that you did not cheat yourself.” says Cole. “Realize that you deserve to be at that event, that you belong. Even if you are not the top competitor, you would not be there unless you could compete.” If positive thoughts create positive actions, then you’re on the way to a great day.

What do you do to get in the zone on competition day? Share your advice below, or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

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The Costume
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What you need to know about buying a used Irish dancing dress online

Buying a solo dress online can be a wonderful and exciting experience – new dress! so pretty! – but it can also be stressful when you can’t try it on beforehand, you’re sending money to a stranger, it has to go through customs, and you don’t really know whether it is going to look (or smell) as described. We consulted the experts so that you can be armed with the information you need to put your mind at ease and make your next purchase a little easier.

Sorting payment…

In the buying and selling of dresses, it is at the seller’s discretion how they would like to get paid. According to Lisa from dance-again.com, “If buyer and seller are in the same country, a personal cheque can be sent in the mail (the seller should wait for the cheque to clear before sending the dress). However, for both domestic and international sales, I prefer direct bank deposit. I have used this method myself several times without any problems. The buyer can either transfer the money via internet banking, or by going into their bank and having the bank staff do it for them. Depending on the bank, I have had money appear in my account anything from the same day to 3-4 days later. The dress can then be shipping as soon as the money comes through which is much faster than waiting for a cheque to arrive in the mail and then waiting for it to clear before shipping. Transfers from international banks do have fees, but usually a lot lower than PayPal, check with your bank before proceeding.”

Speaking of PayPal, there are definitely pros and cons to using the online service. Lisa says, “From a buyer’s perspective, PayPal is probably the safest way to pay for a dress. PayPal will always side with the buyer if there is a dispute such as non delivery or goods not as described. For this reason, many sellers prefer to not use PayPal as a buyer can claim, for example, that the dress wasn’t as described, and PayPal will refund their money and ask questions later. It is then up to the seller to prove otherwise. PayPal also charges the seller a percentage of the sale price in fees, which can add up for a higher priced dress.” Unfortunately, while it may be safe, many sellers choose not to offer PayPal because of the risk of disputes.

One important thing to remember as a buyer is that you are sending money, sometimes large amounts of it, to a stranger somewhere else in the world. For this reason, Rhonda from feisdresses.com recommends making sure you are comfortable with the seller and have easy communication with them. She points out, “If they are already hard to get a hold of with just getting dress information, consider how they will be if there is an issue. The more you can communicate together before the payment, the better. Perhaps ask what school they dance for and their teachers name, and offer your information up as well. Then each party will feel more comfortable that they could reach out to the other teacher for help if there is a huge issue such as paying with no dress arriving.” One final piece of advice from Rhonda is to make sure that the seller will cover the full cost of the dress with shipping insurance. “That way you are both covered in case of a lost or ruined dress.”

The dreaded customs…

If you have ever read the voy message boards you might have seen tales of dresses being stuck in customs for weeks, and buyers being send exorbitant bills for the release of their dress. Unfortunately, these stories are true. As Lisa points out, “If you have purchased a dress from overseas, there is a chance it will get picked up by customs. If this happens, you will be contacted and told how much duty must be paid to release the dress. Unfortunately the only way to get your dress is to pay the duty. ”

First thing you should do is get in touch with the company who shipped the dress. “You should be able to find out from the seller what shipping company they used and contact that company for help with customs issues. Tracking numbers should let you know the location of the dress, so you may have to google to find a phone number for the customs office at that location”, says Rhonda.
How much will the bill be? That depends on where you’re located. Lisa tells us, “The amount of duty depends on what country you are in and the declared value of the dress. Your duty will be a percentage of the declared value. Some countries have free trade agreements where goods under a certain amount are not charged duty. For example a dress received into Australia from the USA valued at under $AUD1,000 will not be charged duty, but over $1,000 will be charged around 25% duty on the full amount. Australian duty is very high, other countries are much lower, so just be aware of what your country charges and be prepared for the shock if a bill arrives!” While it may be tempting to declare a value lower than the dress is worth, if a dress is lost or damaged and an insurance claim needs to be filed, as a buyer you will be disadvantaged. Honesty is always key!

Something’s not right…

After weeks of negotiation, excitement and anticipation, the dress finally turns up…and it’s a dud. It might be damaged, it might smell, or it might look very different in person to what it did in photographs online. What are your options? According to Lisa, you should be very well prepared before the dress arrives. “Before committing to buy a dress, ask the seller if they will accept a return; buy a ‘final sale’ dress at your own risk. Ask questions before buying, don’t be afraid to ask if the dress has any smells or damage, and ask for close up photos of the dress, especially high wear areas like where sleeves might rub the skirt, around the neckline, back of skirt and also the inside lining of the dress. Get as much information about the dress as possible so there are no surprises when it arrives. Rhonda also points out that you should ask for current photos, not photos from when they first bought the dress. It’s important to remember that you’re buying a used item sight unseen. As Rhonda explains, “Don’t expect a dress in perfect condition no matter what the seller tells you. Base your price and expectation on a used item, and in most cases there won’t be an issue.”

Have you successfully bought a used Irish dancing dress online? Did you have a good experience? Can you share what worked for you?

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