How to manage an Irish dancing ankle injury - ready to feis - irish dance
Fitness and Conditioning
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How to manage an Irish dancing ankle injury

In 2010, when engineers at Coventry University found that an Irish dancers’ ankles have to bear 14 times their bodyweight when performing certain movements like rocks, it merely confirmed what we all knew already – that Irish dancing is incredibly physically demanding, particularly on the ankles. Unfortunately that demand often comes with injuries, and if an injury isn’t treated correctly then it can end a career.

Take time off

First things first, if you’re injured then you need to take time off. With busy feising schedules, taking time off can be difficult (and heartbreaking) for many dancers. According to Tai-Lei Benson, a sports chiropractor with a Masters in Chiropractic and many Australian national titles under her belt, rest is essential before you can rebuild. “With adequate rest, a rehabilitation program can then be introduced to improve joint range of motion and maintain muscle strength.” Resting also means lots of self management. Benson recommends that if you’re dealing with an ankle injury, you can:

  • Follow the RICE protocol during the initial phases of injury (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation)
  • Wear compression socks to help reduce swelling
  • If severe, avoid weight bearing so the injured ankle can heal faster
  • Consult your GP or pharmacist for anti-inflammatories to help reduce swelling
  • Visit a health practitioner such as a chiropractor or physiotherapist to help aid your recovery. Treatment options may include soft tissue releases, joint mobilisations, dry needling and rehabilitative exercises

Build back up

Being out of dance class with an injury doesn’t mean you need to sit quietly on the couch feeling sorry for yourself. According to Benson, there are many options you have for maintaining your strength and fitness while not aggravating your injury. “Hydrotherapy (pool sessions) are extremely effective, light resistance work with therabands, pilates or yoga classes. Each of these options, when tailored correctly, put little stress on the injured area. It is important to consult a health practitioner when starting a home rehabilitation program, as they can design it to your particular injury and specific goals.”

Pace yourself

Going back to class after an injury can be a struggle – there is always the very real fear of re-injury, particularly if the injury occurred from a specific leap or step. Benson advises a progressive approach when returning to dancing. “When returning from an ankle injury, avoid aggravating activities such as soft shoe, and toe work in hard shoe. Once you build up some basic strength in the ankle, then you can slowly begin re-introducing aggravating activities.” While it may seem frustrating, it is best to take it slow and steady. “There is no specific timeline when returning from injury. It is important to listen to your body, as every injury is different.”

Have you had an ankle injury? How did you handle going back to class? Tell us in the comments below, or share on our Facebook page

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irish dance_ready to feis_create magic on the dance floor delight your audience
Performance
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Delight your audience this St Patrick’s Day

It’s that time again! St. Patrick’s season is coming, which means dance outs, parades, dance outs, and more dance outs. One of the great joys of Irish dancing is getting to share your talent and passion with an appreciative audience, and there is no date more fun for an Irish dancer than March 17th (and the surrounding weeks). Whether you’re doing a 20 minute set at the annual city ball, or doing a treble reel at the local nursing home, there are a few things that can elevate a good performance to a great performance. Below, the best advice from the professionals.

Uh oh…

You turn up to the venue and it’s an uneven floor with a pole in the middle. Don’t stress. Caitlin Ehrich, TCRG and principal dancer with Eireann – A Taste of Ireland, has experienced every kind of venue possible. “Often we turn up to an event that has been organised by somebody who has no idea about dancers’ requirements, let alone an appropriate floor for Irish dancing. To be on the safe side, we always bring with us a small piece of chipboard flooring made of light wood. These come very cheap from the hardware store. We put small felt stoppers on the bottom so that the board doesn’t move while we dance. These boards are small enough and very light weight so that the dancers can carry them around. They only need to be large enough for a dancer to do treble reel steps on.”

Garrett Coleman, two time world champion and director of Hammerstep, points out that “a good performer can adapt choreography and content to any venue. If the floor is slippery or the stage is small, try to stick to heavy percussion on the spot rather than choreography that relies heavily on movement around the floor. And make sure to use duct tape on your shoes!” Ehrich adds, “When choreographing for an event that you predict may not have ideal facilities and space, try to limit the movement in the steps. Create the effect in the rhythms and accompany this with arm movements as opposed to formation, as it will reduce the chance of anyone having a slip.”

One of the best ways to make sure a show goes smoothly is coming prepared and travelling light. “Always prepare yourself as much as you can prior to arriving at the venue as there may be limited changing facilities, mirrors and dressing room space. Bring with you to the venue only the things that you need for this exact performance as excess items may become a nuisance,” says Ehrich. This means hair is done, makeup is on, and you’re wearing as much of your costume as you can.

Pump up the jam

Music selection is crucial for performances, and can be the difference between people enjoying the show, and people rocking out and clapping along. Ehrich points out “Always start and finish your performance with a high energy track to grab the audience’s attention and to end on a high leaving the audience excited and wanting more.”

According to Ehrich, “Audiences love music that they recognise. Likeable and familiar tunes such as the traditional tune ‘Lord of the Dance’, that is used as a basis for the internationally acclaimed show Lord Of The Dance, will always go down a treat. We have also found that audiences love anything that they can join in on and feel part of the performance. One of the all time great performance tunes is ‘Whiskey in the Jar’. Many audiences know where to clap along and even know some of the lyrics. Using a track like this is a great opportunity to get the crowd involved.” Coleman adds, “For St. Patrick’s Day shows, ‘Shipping Off to Boston’ by Dropkick Murphys is guaranteed to get people on their feet!”

Handy hint: If your music is on an iPod or smart phone, make sure someone is carrying a charger in case of a flat battery emergency, and keep a backup CD just in case! You never know what kind of technology you’ll encounter, so be like a Boy Scout – always prepared!

Shine on

So what’s the secret to a great show? Coleman says, “Getting the audience involved is key! If the audience feels included then they give you energy back in return, and the performance can be pushed to new heights.” Ehrich adds, “The number one most important element in putting on a successful show, no matter the size or scale, is performance and passion. You have to believe in what you do – the audience can sense this and this is where their enthusiasm comes from. You need to engage with your audience and share this passion. Show personality and enjoyment in your performance, and if you are enjoying yourself, the audience will too. Overall performance is of utmost importance. Confident posture, facial expression, high energy and enthusiasm will get any crowd going.”

What’s your secret to a great show? Do you have a particular track or routine that never fails to get the crowd on their feet? Share below, or join the discussion on Facebook

Eireann – A Taste of Ireland has upcoming tour dates in Australia, visit their website or Facebook page for more details

Hammerstep are currently running a Kickstarter campaign for their new full scale production Indigo Grey – check out the project, or visit their Facebook page for upcoming shows and workshops

Image courtesy of Caitlin Ehrich, Eireann – A Taste of Ireland
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irish dance_ready to feis_goal setting
Mental Preparation
0

Effectively setting goals you can achieve

Not just in competition but in life, goal setting is important. It gives you direction, boosts motivation, and gives you confidence. But have you ever considered how to effectively set a goal? What does that even mean? According to our experts, there is a difference between just thinking about something and saying ‘that’s my goal’, compared to structuring your goal and setting a plan for that goal – the outcome between the two methods is very different. Learning how to set goals properly can mean the difference between them being a dream and a reality.

Why goal setting is important

For dancers who compete regularly, goal setting should be an integral part of dance training. It’s about putting thought into and acknowledging what you want to achieve, and figuring out how to get there. While some may think the goal is important, it’s actually figuring out how to get there that’s key.

Do you have an action plan? According to Dr Ira Martin, a specialist Sports Psychologist with a doctoral and masters degree and who regularly works with Irish dancers, “If you don’t have an action plan it’s kind of like driving from New York City to New London when you don’t know where you’re going! The idea of goal setting is that if you can get it written down and get it clear in your mind, it is really similar to having GPS. It lets you know where you’re heading and exactly what to do when you get there.”

Something else to remember when it comes to goal setting is to focus on yourself. Setting your goal around someone else’s performance (like wanting to beat a specific dancer) means you are always going to be preoccupied with someones else’s progress instead of your own. Bill Cole, MS, MA and internationally recognised peak performance mind coach, advises “Focus on your attitude, your thoughts, how you feel, how you react to problems, how you prepare to succeed, how you review your performance, and how you set and go after realizing your goals. If you list all the roadblocks that might fall in your way, you will quickly realize that the only thing you have true control over is…yourself.”

How to effectively set goals

If you’re going to set a goal and really work towards it, there are four boxes you should check along the way.

  • Write it down. Don’t just think it, or maybe consider it, or think it’s crazy, or get embarrassed by it – stop and write down that goal. Putting it into words will make it clearer for you to know what you want.
  • Keep it visual so it stays top of mind. Seeing it in words on paper will make it that much more real for you. Stick it on your wall as a visual reminder.
  • Tell people. Dr Martin has the girls he coaches share their goals with their classmates. He tells them, “I want you to know each others detailed goals so you can keep each other accountable.” While Irish dancing is an individual sport, telling your classmates and holding each other to your goals helps foster a special camaraderie.
  • Be specific. Dr Martin has wonderful advice when it comes to getting specific with goal setting. When working with dancers, “they will say I want a recall, I say okay great. We all do, how? Tell me what you’re going to do to recall.” This is where you need to work out how you will get there, with specific, detailed information. Do you need to work on turnout? Do you need to work on body control? Dr Martin also advises focusing on what you want, rather than what you don’t want. It’s no good to say ‘I don’t want to forget my step’, instead frame it in a positive way, saying ‘I want to make sure I don’t forget my step and I will do that by practicing’.

Do you have a specific goal for the 2015 feis season? Do you put your goals down on paper to stay focused? Share with us in the comments below, or join the discussion on Facebook.

Vision board in header: credit to Brooke Mackenzie
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selling an irish dancing dress
The Costume
0

Selling an Irish dancing dress online

Irish dancing solo dresses are a unique high ticket item with a niche market. With the Irish dancing community being worldwide, the best way to reach the right buyer for the dress you are selling is online, but selling such an expensive item via the internet can be very daunting. Am I giving the buyer the right information? Am I pricing my dress correctly? When is the best time to sell? What if the buyer pulls a swift one on me?! All legitimate questions, and all things to consider when you’re preparing for sale.

First things first, you’ll want to list your dress on a site that gets big traffic – more eyeballs means more chance of finding the right buyer and making a quicker sale. The two biggest websites are dance-again.com and feisdresses.com. Dance Again requires a small listing fee, while it is free to list on Feis Dresses. When you’re getting ready to list your dress online the biggest box you need to tick is photos. According to Lisa of dance-again.com, who has been running her site since 2001, “A photo of the dress on a dancer is great, but only if not covered by trophies and sashes, and only if the lighting is good.” Rhonda from feisdresses.com adds to this, “Most buyers are not concerned with how well the dancer competed in the dress, but are more concerned with how the dress looks. If you cover up a large portion of the dress in the main photo, most people won’t bother to look at the listing.”

“The best photo to use is the one that makes the dress look its best, so if you don’t have a good one of it on a dancer, take one of the dress either lying flat or on a hanger, whichever looks best. Have a plain background and arrange the dress so that the skirt is sitting properly. If lying down, take the photo from directly above, and if on a hanger, from directly in front (taking the photo on an angle can make the dress look out of proportion). If possible use natural light, so the colours of the dress look right in the photo,” says Lisa. Rhonda continues, “You probably also want to have detailed photos on hand to email to anyone interested in the dress. Photos of the inside of the dress, showing how much let out room is available are also great in helping to sell a dress. Make sure your photos are clear and not blurry, and large enough to show detail and not just a small picture that is hard to see. The photo is the most important part of the listing, to draw buyers in to read about the dress. Take time to make sure your photos are done well.” Lisa’s final suggestion for getting the best photo, “Plan ahead! Next time you are at a feis, take several photos of your dancer in the dress, front and back, no trophy or sash, and in natural light, and save them for your future dress ad!”

Unfortunately, you can have the best photos on the internet of your dress, but if it isn’t priced to sell then it could sit there for months, or even years, without a single enquiry. Firstly, “Have a look at similar dresses that are already for sale and price your dress accordingly. You have a lot of competition, so pricing your dress the same as, or a little less than dresses already for sale will give you the best chance of attracting buyers,” says Lisa. “Be willing to negotiate with buyers. Taking a little off your price now is much better than still having the dress under your bed months later, unsold.” Rhonda adds to this, “The longer a dress remains for sale, the more the value drops. Consider if your dress sits for a year without selling. It is now a style that is yet another year older and worth significantly less.” But what about making your dress final sale? Lisa points out, “If you have listed your dress as “final sale”, consider changing this to returnable. Buyers are more likely to take a chance on a dress if they know they can return it.”

Is there a best time of the year for selling a dress quickly? With a global community it’s always feis season somewhere! Rhonda notes, “You want to get your dress listed as soon as you know you are selling it. Don’t let it sit under the bed waiting! The style will get older by the month and its value will drop over time.” Lisa adds, “Buyers are always looking, but if I had to choose [the busiest times] it would be September/October (North American Oireachtas season), followed closely by January (Australian and New Zealand dancing year begins) and May (Pre NAN’s).” That said, as Rhonda points out, “You don’t want to miss out on a buyer who might fit your dress just because you waited to post it for sale.”

So you have found a buyer, what comes next? The negotiation. Lisa very plainly states, “When negotiating a sale with a buyer, the seller should always be very clear about their return policy.” This means as a seller you should set a 48-72 hour window in which the buyer can try the dress on, show the teacher, and make a decision. “The buyer should let the seller know straight away if there are any problems with the dress and send it back immediately. Only when you receive the dress back in the same condition in which it was sent should you send a refund.” Rhonda firmly adds, “Make sure you are clear to the buyer that they may not wear the dress for a feis or performance — yes, this should be made clear. With package tracking available, you should be able to tell what day the dress arrived, and notify the buyer ahead of time that in order to return the dress, they must provide you the return tracking number within 3 days of receiving the dress.”

“Most buyers are happy to have a return period and are agreeable to terms like this. If you have good communication and a good agreement ahead of time, usually it goes well. If you find a buyer is quite difficult to work with before you even send the dress, that may be an indicator that they will be trouble after receiving it. If you feel uncomfortable with a buyer, you don’t have to sell to them. Both parties in the transaction take some risk, so both parties should feel comfortable with each other,” Rhonda states. And a final word from Lisa, “Once they wear the dress, they own it.”

Have you sold an Irish dancing dress online? Do you have any advice you can add? Share it in the comments below.

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irish dance_ready to feis_why you need sleep to be successful
Fitness and Conditioning
2

Why you need sleep to be successful

In the lather, rinse, repeat cycle of homework, school, and classes, there could be one crucial element that is being overlooked, and it could be affecting your performance. Sleep. Not only is sleep important for muscle recovery, but overall physical and mental health. Our experts have given us the scoop on why sleep is so important to a dancer, so you can make the necessary changes and sleep your way to the podium!

According to Suzanne Cox, TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) with the Australian Institute of Fitness, “Sleep and recovery is often referred to as one of the forgotten factors of peak performance, with increasingly busy schedules and over-stimulated days and nights.” Irish dance fitness coach and personal trainer Frances Dunne, of Fitness Formula Irish Dance, adds, “Sleep is imperative, especially if you’re putting your body under duress throughout the day. When we sleep, our bodies switch into our rest and repair nervous system. This has importance in brain function, hormone function, and muscle function. Without it, the inside of our bodies won’t work optimally, and we’ll actually decline in our performance. We will feel weak, lethargic, and have no energy. We’ll also struggle to concentrate and take in information!”

Cox tells us, “One of the biggest mistakes that is often made is focusing on allowing the body to get the rest it needs a week out from a major Feis. The reality is that in order for you to perform at your best and be in peak condition when you hit the stage, rest and recovery should be as much a part of your weekly schedule as your dance classes and extra practice sessions.

“When we exercise or dance we actually damage our muscles, not in a bad way like an injury, but in a way that allows our muscles to grow and repair the injury through natural processes, and in turn cause it to be a stronger muscle. A tough dance class that causes muscle soreness creates tiny little tears in the microfibres of our muscles, and the healing process takes time. If we allow these small tears time to heal, the muscle fibres will heal the tears and become stronger – but if we get back into things too soon we risk injury and a decline in performance.

“It’s not just our muscles that need time to recover though; there are many systems in our body that get disrupted from practice. Our hormonal system, nervous system, as well as our musculoskeletal system, need time to recover – and in some cases can take up to 7-14 days to fully recover! That doesn’t mean we need to take 7 days off between practice sessions, but we do need to consider the volume and load that our bodies are under. Generally speaking the harder the session, the longer our bodies need. It’s also important to remember that the amount of time you need to recover will depend on the stage of competition you are at. If it is just prior to the World Championships then you could be practising a couple of times a day, 6 days a week – which is great because you have built your strength and fitness up to this. If you have just come back from summer break, then what you are capable of will be very different. Always allow yourself at least one full rest day per week. Listen to your body – if things are hurting that normally wouldn’t be, give your body the rest it needs. Our cardiovascular system (the heart and lungs which affect your breathing) builds up much more quickly than our musculoskeletal system – so while you may be feeling fitter, your muscles, tendons and ligaments may not have quite caught up yet.”

So what’s the correlation between sleep and how quickly we recover? Cox tells us, “How well we recover is hugely determined by how much sleep we get. This is when we recover both physically and mentally, and while there is mixed research about exactly how many hours we need, we know that somewhere between 7-10 hours is the ideal. It’s not just the hours that are important though – the quality of the sleep is important. In order for us to get the best recovery time, we need to hit the deepest stage of sleep, or ‘dream sleep.’ It is in these deep stages of sleep that the body strengthens its immune system, builds muscles and bones, and repairs tissues of the body.”

So how do you best get to these deep stages of sleep that you need? Cox has some great advice:

– Go to bed and wake up at the same or similar time each day to set your body’s natural sleep clock

– Avoid using devices that filter unnatural light late at night, like computers, ipads and phones. Research tells us that these lights affect our body’s ability to fall asleep, and also its ability to hit the deep sleep stages effectively

– Exercise late at night can affect the body’s ability to fall asleep, so create a bedtime ritual for after class – like reading a book, or taking a bath, to signal to the body it is time for rest

One final thought from Dunne to consider as you’re having another late night, “Tiredness is your body’s way of telling you it needs rest; you should listen to it.”

Do you have a good sleep routine? Share below in the comments.

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Irish dance_ready to feis_ceili moore_visualisation
Mental Preparation
0

Using visualisation to prepare for competition

There is nothing more intimidating than getting to a competition and feeling overwhelmed and unprepared. But what if you could walk into the hall at Worlds, the Oireachtas, Nationals, even a local feis, and feel like you have been there before and you know exactly what is supposed to happen? Go in with a pre-meditated sense of calm? That’s the power of visualisation.

What is visualisation?

Visual-what? Visualisation. According to Bill Cole, MS, MA and internationally recognised peak performance mind coach, “If you enjoy daydreaming, or imagining what could be, you have the powers of visualization in place already.” He goes on to add, “Visualizing success is about going to the movies of your mind. It’s imagery. Mental practice.” What does Cole mean when he says mental practice? It’s all about seeing what is going to happen in your mind, playing it over, and taking in every detail.

Dr Ira Martin, who holds a doctoral and master’s degrees in Counselling and Human Development with a specialisation in Sport Psychology, works regularly with Irish dancers, and talks about visualisation as a cooperation of all five senses. When you visualise your perfect feis experience, “what are you feeling, what are you touching, what are you hearing, what are you smelling. It’s really about immersing yourself into visualizing everything.”

Why should I try it?

British scientist Alexander Bain first developed a theory in the 1800s about how the brain builds patterns and pathways to control repeated physical movements. When you visualise your performance, you create a neural pattern in the brain identical to the pattern created by the actual physical movements. Basically, your brain builds the pathways that your muscles will later use as a roadmap to make that performance a reality.

Martin is very passionate about using the power of visualisation as a way of being prepared, and how valuable it is when teamed with practice. “It’s about having an experience without having an experience. What I mean by that is your brain is such a powerful tool that in just thinking about what you want to do and just visualizing what you want to do, it’s almost like practising without practise.”

How do I visualise?

Cole says you can visualise two different ways. “One is to visualize your process of dancing. How smooth you are. How much you flow. How well you execute your technique, etc. The other way to use visualisation is to picture the ideal outcome you want. You can imagine yourself receiving top scores, winning the trophy and having your name in the paper.”

The best way to start using visualisation is to sit quietly and picture yourself at the competition. See yourself in your dress, wearing your shoes. Picture how you will feel walking onto the stage. Imagine how you will feel in that moment, confident and ready. See yourself doing your steps perfectly – ideal turnout, perfect point, great elevation. Then call to mind how you will feel when you finish that perfect dance, bow to the judge, and walk off. This simple exercise, when performed often, can help alleviate the stress of competition day and effectively manage nerves. According to Cole, “visualization should ideally be done the weeks before you compete, the days leading up to the event and moments before you go on the floor. Never visualize when you are actually dancing, as this will distract you!”

Cole sums it up best, saying “Simply stated, if you visualize success, you are likely to succeed. If you visualize failure, you are likely to fail. The secret is to be intentional about the pictures you allow into your mind.”

Have you ever tried visualisation?

Note: We use British English spelling, but as our interviewees are from the US, we have kept their quotes using American English spelling
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Balancing school and dance
Mental Preparation
0

Balancing school and dance

A cursory glance at the Twitter accounts or Facebook profiles of many teenage and early 20s Irish dancers will show that they are multitasking wizards. On top of dance classes and competitions, many are juggling their heavy school schedules with extra curricular activities. How do they stay on top of it all and maintain their good grades as well?

The first key is organisation. Jason Hays, 2014 Senior Mens World Champion and a junior at the University of Texas at Arlington, keeps his life in check with a tried and true planner. “I like to use a monthly planner so that I know when I have exams, competitions, and work. Thankfully most of the work and dance schedules are structured within a time frame so that gives me leeway for my school classes.” Keeping track of your schedule in this way not only allows you to see how much time you can give to certain areas of your life, but also allows a sense of control amongst the busyness. Kevinah Dargan, 2014 Ladies 19-20 All Ireland Champion and a junior at the College of Brockport takes her organisation one step further. “Normally when I make my schedule for classes, I will put all my classes right in a row in the morning. This way, I can wake up early, get classes over with, and have the rest of the day to do all my school work and practice. Being able to schedule when I want my classes has really helped me with being able to balance my school and dance schedule.” If you have the option of scheduling your classes to suit your lifestyle, this is a fantastic option.

Some other great advice Dargan has when it comes to managing your time and staying organised is to study early and study often! “I started studying for my final exams super early so that I could study for each exam about a half hour every day over a longer period of time rather than studying 3 hours a day for a shorter period of time. This left more time for practicing.” This is particularly good advice when majors clash with school exam periods. Hays adds that his secret weapon for study is “Lots of naps! Sleep can get cut pretty quickly so if I am awake late into the night studying, finding some down time to take a power nap helps me to recharge.”

It’s about being organised, being willing to work hard, and being able to make sacrifices. Whether that sacrifice comes in the form of early morning and late night practices like Dargan, who says “I either have to wake up at 6:30am to go practice before class, or have to wait until 9 or 10 at night to go practice. But I still work it out where I am able to practice every day.” Or whether that sacrifice is on a bigger scale like moving out of home, like Hays “Suddenly my 3-5 hour daily commutes driving everywhere are now less than 1-2 hours. It was weird moving out but it has helped me stay on top of things without anything being sacrificed.” The most critical part of balancing school and dance is having a solid support network. This involves talking to your dance teachers, your school teachers, and your parents to make sure everyone knows what you need to achieve everything you want.

How do you balance school and dance? What advice do you have for other dancers? Share below in the comments.

Image credit: Michelle Acheson
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What to eat before and after dance class
Fitness and Conditioning
0

What to eat before and after dance class

Going to class is so much more than just going to class. If you’re serious about your dancing, then there’s more preparation involved than just grabbing your shoes and filling a water bottle before you head out the door. Making sure your body is fuelled before class is the key to getting the most out of every lesson, and getting the proper nourishment after class means your body will heal and repair quickly and to the best of its ability. To that end, we spoke to the experts about using food as fuel to get the most out of your dance classes.

First things first – what is the best thing to consume before dance class for energy? According to Maggie Wilcox, an open championship Irish dancer and dietetic intern who holds a Bachelor of Science in Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise, it’s water. “By far, the most important thing before dance class is to make sure that you’re drinking water. It’s recommended that athletes (and I do call dancers athletes) drink 2 cups of water 2-3 hours before class and 1 cup 15 minutes before class. Beginning class in a well-hydrated state can do wonders to your energy. And remember, sipping water throughout class can help maintain that hydrated state.”

Wilcox goes on to add, “Besides a healthy and balanced diet, dancers should focus on carbohydrates before dance class. Carbohydrates are what fuel us and give us energy. By eating carbohydrates throughout the day, you can prepare your body for class. A light carbohydrate snack before dance class, like pretzels, an apple, or whole grain crackers, can give some last minute energy without weighing you down. Experiment with what works best for your body.”

On carbohydrates, James Greenan of fitness and nutrition program theCJway points out that “the GI index of food refers to the sugar content, high GI foods (simple sugars) are absorbed quicker by the body resulting in a faster release in energy whereas low GI foods (complex sugars) take longer to break down which results in a more sustained energy release. This is important to know because if you ingest foods with a low GI level just before dance class, they will not process quick enough, creating stomach discomfort and hindering performance.”

Greenan recommends a “mixture of low to medium GI foods throughout the day leading up to dance practice. Foods such as oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, fruit and vegetables will build up a good source of energy in the body. Then, an hour or so before activity, eat high GI foods to give yourself that extra pump (cereal bars, bananas or sip on an energy drink).”

What happens after class though? Now is not the time to go home and flop onto the couch. Your body needs to repair after all the high intensity work it just did. Greenan says, “During exercise our bodies experience a high level of stress and damage in the form of microscopic tears to the muscle fibres, which creates pain, soreness and stiffness, so post-activity nutrition is vital to combat this.” Wilcox explains that the hour after class is critical – we need to eat within an hour to:
1) Replace the energy we lost during exercise. During dance, our body uses the sugar (carbohydrates) in our blood for energy. As we keep exercising, the body then starts using the carbohydrate stores (glycogen) in our muscles and liver for energy.
2) Replace the fluids and electrolytes we lost during exercise.
3) Provide our body with protein for muscle repair.

“For roughly one hour after exercise our bodies work on overdrive to replace the energy lost, so specific foods must be ingested immediately after class. The preferred sources are high GI carbohydrates because they are digested the quickest, replacing the used energy and nutrients. I also suggest incorporating that with protein to help with muscle repair. Foods such as raisins, bananas, nuts, sports drinks, protein shakes should all do the trick.” say Greenan. Wilcox adds that we could also try a fruit or yogurt smoothie. Or, excellent news, low-fat milk or chocolate milk is perfect. “That’s what other professional athletes drink after hard workouts!” Sounds good!

Beyond that initial hour, it’s important to really care for your body after a hard class. Wilcox explains that “it can take up to 48 hours for your body to fully recover by replacing glycogen stores in the muscles. For this reason, it’s extremely important to eat well balanced meals, especially if you need to dance again soon. Again, keeping your body hydrated can also increase your body’s ability to recover quickly and get rid of muscle cramps and injuries.”

Do you have a favourite snack for before or after class?

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Feis Checklist
Feising
7

The Ultimate Feis Checklist

There’s nothing quite like the chaos that comes with packing for a feis. Whether it’s a local one day competition, or a huge major that requires a couple of plane rides, it sometimes feels like you need to take everything but the kitchen sink (and sometimes a sink would probably come in handy!). No doubt you’ve gotten to a venue and had that awful moment of ‘oh no, I forgot something!’ where you have to race to a vendor or borrow from a feis friend.

It’s a new year and it’s time for a fresh start. We have created the Ultimate Feis Checklist to make life a little easier the next time you need to hit the road. We have put everything possible on the list – you might not need it all but it doesn’t hurt to think about! Download it, save it, print it out, and next time you have to pack for a feis you can tick things off as you go to make sure you’re prepared!

Click here to download your Ultimate Feis Checklist  Feis Checklist

Is there anything you would add to the list? Do you have any advice for feis packing?

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Breaking in hard shoes irish dance ready to feis
The Shoes
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Are you breaking in your hard shoes the right way?

Whether it’s your very first pair, or you go through six pairs a year, breaking in hard shoes is never fun. Beginners right through to World Champions all have war stories of blisters, bleeding, and general frustration at getting the leather to bend and soften in just the right way. There are secret hints and tips shared amongst dancers, shortcuts to getting shoes broken in – some work and some do not. We spoke to Adrian Gavigan, shoe expert at Antonio Pacelli, to debunk some of the most common methods.

Myth: Folding the shoe in half and placing it under a mattress or couch cushion will bend it the right way
Fact: Hello, taco toes*. According to Gavigan, “folding them and putting them under the mattress can destroy any support and creates a weak point in the sole. This can cause dancers to roll over the shoe when doing toe stands.” Better to manipulate the shoes with your hands so you can see that it is bending in the right spot.

Myth: Standing in hot water will soften the leather
Fact: It will actually destroy your shoes. Gavigan says, “this is a terrible idea and can affect the stitching and glue used to adhere the sole to the upper, as well as drying out the leather. It also invalidates any warranty on their shoes.” Best not to try that one!

Myth: Using a leather softener like Hot Glove (used on baseball mitts) will speed up the process
Fact: Be careful what you use. This is a tricky one, and not something Gavigan advises. “We have heard of dancers using products designed for other uses, but again, this can damage the leather and make the shoe non returnable in the event of a fault.” Some leather softeners, like Hot Glove, require putting your leather product in the oven – we definitely don’t recommend putting your hard shoes in the oven!

So after this list of don’ts, what are Gavigan’s do’s? “The best advice I can give is to wear them around the house with a comfy pair of socks to start the process of moulding the shoes to your feet.” Unfortunately there are no quick fixes, and you don’t want to risk damaging your shoes trying to rush the break in process (they are expensive, after all!)

But what if you really struggle to break shoes in? “If a dancer has real trouble breaking in hard shoes then there are models out on the market such as our Ultralite jig shoe which are designed for no break in time and are made from soft leather and have soft flexible soles.” says Gavigan. He goes on to add, “However, dancers need to remember that these shoes are for experienced dancers only. These type of shoes require a dancer to have strong arches as the shoe relies on the dancers foot for structure. If you want a good middle group then the Ultraflexi jig shoe is a good balance of easy break in and support.”

How do you break in your hard shoes?

*taco toes – when your shoe/foot bends so far over that it creates an unnatural curve, much like a taco shell. This is not a good thing! Your foot should be straight when doing toe stands – taco toes lead to serious injuries.

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