core strength for irish dance
Fitness and Conditioning
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How to build up your core strength for Irish dance – Part 2

Did you try any of our basic core strength exercises from last week? We have a few more for you from our experts that are more advanced and will definitely get your muscles firing!

Professional dancer and personal trainer Chloey Turner says, “After perfecting (the previous) stabilisation exercises with correct technique for at least a month, you’re ready to move on to some more advanced strengthening exercises. Two exercises use a Stability Ball; as the name suggests this will really test your stabilising muscles, and concentrate on building a solid core.” She adds, “learning to engage your core whilst dancing will keep you strong during every step!”

As with all our advice, please consult a doctor, TCRG, parent, or physiotherapist before starting any new exercises. This is meant as a guide only.

Stability Ball Crunches

Irish dancing ready to feis core strength ball crunches 2Irish dancing ready to feis core strength ball crunches 1

Lie with your lower back on the ball, placing your feet on the floor with knees at 90 degrees. Put your hands just behind the ears with elbows parallel to the ground and look up to the ceiling. Keep your gluteal muscles (bottom) engaged during this exercise to keep you in a neutral position. Slowly and with control, use your abdominal muscles to pull your torso up to the ceiling, then return back to the starting position. Repeat this action 10-15 times.

Stability Ball Leg Raise

Irish dancing ready to feis core strength ball leg raises 1 Irish dancing ready to feis core strength ball leg raises 2

Lie with your back on the floor, draw your belly button to the ground, and keep your hands by your side. Legs are straight with feet either side of the ball. Now press your feet into the ball to keep it sturdy and raise it off the ground until the soles of your feet are in line with the ceiling, then lower it to the start position and repeat this movement 10-15 times. Be sure not to let your back arch or move.

Prone Back Extension

Irish dancing ready to feis core strength prone back extension

Lie with your belly on the floor, place the backs of both hands on your forehead, and straighten your legs with toes pointed down. Lift up from the chest and hold. For some dancers this will be easy, for others it will be more difficult. Aim to hold this for 30 seconds to begin with and progress to 1-2 minutes.

Lower Back Superman

Irish dancing ready to feis core strength superman back extension

Lie with your belly on the floor, put both arms out in front of you, straighten your legs with toes pointed down. Raise your right arm and your left leg slowly at the same time then repeat this with the opposite arm and leg 20 times in total.

Download our handy pdf by clicking here, print it out, and add these core exercises to your weekly routine!

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core strength for irish dance
Fitness and Conditioning
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How to build up your core strength for Irish dance – Part 1

Now you know that core strength is crucial for Irish dancing, you need to know how to get it. Our experts have some beginner level and intermediate level exercises that will help you strengthen your torso, improve your posture, and take your dancing to new heights.

As with all our advice, please consult a doctor, TCRG, parent, or physiotherapist before starting any new exercises. This is meant as a guide only.

TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) Suzanne Cox points out that “the core muscles in the human body wrap around our mid section like a corset so it is important that we think of strengthening the core from the front and the back.

“Let’s take a look at the front first. In simple terms the front side of our core contains 4 layers of muscles. The layer that we can see on the surface (our ‘6 pack’) plays an important role in helping us to bend and move our torso but is not as important in stabilising our spine. An exercise that helps to strengthen this muscle would be an abdominal curl. It’s important to remember that strengthening your core and strengthening your abdominals is not always the same thing, and performing hundreds of crunches per day will not give you a stronger core! Our deep core muscles that stabilise our spine are the main muscle group we need to strengthen when work on our core. One of the main muscles is called the transverse abdominis.

“On the back side of our body are core muscles that act to hold our spine upright and stabilise it at each segment as well as stabilising the pelvis. Some of these muscles track all the way from the pelvis to the base of our skull. If these muscles aren’t strong enough a dancer may be hunched over or will have too much curvature in their upper or lower back.

“When starting core strengthening work it is usually best to begin work in a lying position. Once this is mastered you can move on to exercises that are in standing, which is obviously more similar to your position when you are dancing, so more beneficial!

“There are many exercises you can do to work on your core but here are a few to help get you started. Remember that being concise and controlled is your focus, not speed.”

Leg Extensions

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This exercise focuses on lowering each foot to the floor while maintaining the position of your spine. Lie on your back with hands by your side, keeping legs bent, feet straight and hip width apart. Aim to stop your back from arching as you lower and keep a controlled, slow movement for best results. Raise one foot off the floor as high as can be controlled, hold for 1-2 seconds and bring back to original position now do the same movement with the opposite leg. Perform the extension of each leg 5 times each side to begin with and gradually progress to perform 10-15 on each side.

Plank or Hover

core strength for irish dancecore strength for irish dance

Lie with your belly on the floor and forearms under your chest while placing your feet together. Start with the hover (on your knees) focusing on maintaining a solid set position. Lift your torso off the ground by pushing up with your arms and abdominals until it forms a straight line from head to knee. Make sure your hips don’t drop too low or sit too high and your head doesn’t drop. Once you can hold this position for 1-2 minutes you are ready to move to the plank – the same exercise, but on your toes.

Lateral/Side Hold

core strength for irish dancecore strength for irish dance

Lie on your side with your forearm slightly propping you up, place the other hand on your hip or by your side  with feet on top of each other. Tighten your core and use it to lift off the floor, while pushing with your arm. This exercise can also be performed on the knees as a starting option. Begin with 30 seconds and progress to 1-2 minutes. Your aim is to keep your body nice and straight without allowing your hips or head to drop. Repeat on both sides. Challenge yourself by raising your top arm up to the ceiling.

Download our handy pdf by clicking here, print it out, and add these core exercises to your weekly routine!

 

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most important muscle group for Irish dancing
Fitness and Conditioning
1

The most important muscle group for Irish dancing

If someone were to ask you what the most important muscle group is for an Irish dancer, what would you say? Legs? Probably not arms! It’s actually your core – if your core is strong and firing, you’re going to have great posture, strong balance, get better lift, and be able to get your legs up high on your kicks and clicks.

More crucial than big kicks, a strong core means you’re going to reduce your risk of injury. According to Suzanne Cox, TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) with the Australian Institute of Fitness, “Irish dancers with poor core strength are more susceptible to back injuries but can even be at more risk for leg and foot injuries. Our bodies function as a whole and a weak link in the chain can impact another area, which can in turn cause an injury somewhere else. For example, a back injury can cause a dancer to favour one side, which means one leg takes more load while one leg becomes weaker and unable to handle the stress placed upon it.”

Core strength is something that Chloey Turner, professional dancer and personal trainer, has learnt along the way. “During my competitive days I knew very little about the importance of core training. I thought that by putting in the hours at dance class and running occasionally that would be enough. It wasn’t until I went to college and studied to be a personal fitness trainer that I realised how important it was to make extra time to strengthen my entire body starting with the stabilising muscles.” These days Turner is putting that knowledge to good use by working with the cast of Riverdance to keep them in peak condition for their gruelling show schedule. Working with partner James Greenan, they have developed a fitness and nutrition program for Irish dancers called theCJway that will be launching soon.

Apart from injuries, Cox tells us that “A weak core can create a faulty movement pattern. If we don’t move in the correct way our bodies adapt and learn a skill in a different way. Usually this will be a less efficient way that takes more energy and doesn’t look the way we want it to. We can change the way we do a skill but it takes a lot longer! In fact, some research tells us that if we want to correct the way we perform a move we need to do it correctly hundreds of times. That means instead of performing a click with straight knees 20 – 40 times to get it right, we now need to perform it many more times to get it right!”

If you’re a dancer who struggles with posture, arm, and shoulder issues when you dance, then all signs point to a weak core. Cox describes it as, “A strong core allows a dancer to have a greater level of strength, power, precision and elegance when they dance. The core muscles that surround our spine are responsible for maintaining posture as well as keeping us strong, stable and upright. They also play a role in providing a solid support for our hips and legs to be able to do what they need to do.”

So how do you get a strong core? Stay tuned next week for a series of exercises that will help build this crucial muscle group.

 

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biggest mistakes dancers make
Mental Preparation
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The 5 biggest mistakes dancers make when preparing for majors

Preparing for majors is hard work. There are a few times a year when dancers are balancing classes, school work, a social life, and extra-curricular activities, and something has to give. Same goes for parents – you’re driving to extra lessons, managing a schedule, and usually caring for a stressed out dancer who is working their hardest for those few minutes on stage. It’s also the time when every little stressor is amplified, nerves run raw, and silly mistakes happen.

These are the five biggest mistakes dancers make when preparing for majors.

Not having a balanced fitness plan

Going to class twice a week and then vegging out at home is not going to leave you in tip top shape. According to Conor Ayres, ADCRG at the Christine Ayres School, “It’s not enough to exclusively practise your dances and perfect your steps.” Ayres adds, “Dancers should be listening to their bodies and making sure they are healthy – this includes regular physio/massage, eating properly, going to the gym/pilates/yoga.” It might add something to your packed schedule, but it will be worth it.

Burning out

Many dancers are working so hard and pushing their bodies so much that they burn out before the big day. Irish dance fitness coach and personal trainer Frances Dunne of Fitness Formula Irish Dance has seen it all too often. “Many dancers will keep working themselves into the ground and not allow themselves enough rest. They forget that recovery plays a crucial part in getting stronger and fitter!” Regardless of what your class schedule is like, you need to carve out recovery days to keep your body, and your mind, in good shape.

Comparing yourself to your competition

Countless hours have been wasted thinking about what your competitors are doing, but Ayres sums it up perfectly when she says, “Just think about you.” She goes on to say, “Think about your own preparation and how you are dancing. No one else you are competing against should matter. If you have done your own preparation that is right for you, and have the confidence that you will dance the best you can, that’s enough.”

Putting too much pressure on themselves

Putting too much pressure on your performance or result is the fastest way to get inside your head and turn competing into a stressful, negative experience, rather than a positive one. Dunne points out, “This has negative effects both mentally and physically, and will stop you from getting into peak condition!” This is where having positive forces around a dancer, like supportive parents and a great teacher, are really important.

Assuming it will be right on the day

The opposite of putting too much pressure on yourself is taking a laissez faire approach to competition. Not putting in the extra work, or fixing corrections is just as damaging as overworking. “Dancers can’t just “wing it” on the day of the competition, so when your teacher gives you a correction to work on…work on it til it’s competition ready” says Ayres.

So there you have it – now you know what not to do before a major. Have you ever found yourself making these mistakes? Did your results suffer as a consequence? Share your experience and the lessons you’ve learnt in the comments below.

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the one strengthening exercise you need to do every day
Fitness and Conditioning
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The one strengthening exercise you need to do every day

We know life is busy, right? Not enough hours in the day, and sometimes things have to give. As much as you wish you could be practising and conditioning and strengthening for three hours every night, you need to prioritise. To that end, we consulted one of the top Irish dancing fitness experts to find out what the one strengthening exercise is that you should be doing every day.

According to Frances Dunne, personal trainer and founder of Fitness Formula Irish Dance, you should get in a few sets of Side Lying Clams every day. Dunne says “this exercise works the gluteus medius muscle (among others) which is crucial for hip stability, especially when you’re on one leg – obviously very important for dancers!”

“Another benefit is the activation of the glute muscles (gluteus medius and gluteus minimus), a lack of which causes back pain and all sorts of movement malfunctions. It also assists in hip rotation, meaning that a strong gluteus medius equals better turnout!”

Follow our simple step by step:

1. Lie down on your side. Rest your head on your arm or hand so that you’re comfortable.
2. Bend your legs so that your hips are at approximately 45 degrees, and bend your knees at 90 degrees (your feet should be in line with your back). Make sure your hips are ‘stacked’ – one hip above the other.
3. Take a deep breath in – as you slowly exhale, engage your core muscles.
4. Inhale – as you exhale, float the upper knee upwards while keeping your feet together.
5. Inhale – as you exhale bring the knee back down to the starting position. This is supposed to be a slow and controlled exercise, and it is crucial that the hips don’t wobble at all – they need to be totally still as the leg goes up and down.
6. Repeat this 5-10 times on each leg.

If you want to increase the challenge of your clams, you can tie a resistance band just above the knees.

Simply taking five minutes out of every day to do this one strengthening exercise will keep all the important muscles strong so you can dance your best.

What’s the one exercise you do every day?

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The Shoes
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How often should you replace your hard shoes?

If your hard shoes are wearing out too quickly, what could be the problem? Is it you, the floor, or the shoes? We posed this question to Irish dance shoe expert Adrian Gavigan of Antonio Pacelli, and his response had us chuckling – “You are probably practising too much and therefore will end up a championship dancer!”

That might be true, and we love Adrian for saying that, but when you’re paying a pretty penny for jig shoes, you can’t be replacing them every couple of months. Thankfully Gavigan had a serious answer for us, saying that every dancer will wear out a pair of jigs shoes differently.

According to Gavigan, “there is a current trend towards more flexible dance shoes straight out of the box, and this does affect the life span of the shoe. Twenty years ago an Irish dance shoe was much more solid than today’s versions. They were very difficult to break in (ask your dance teacher about them!) but once they broke in they would last years and give great support. However today’s dancers do not want to endure the discomfort of breaking them in, hence the evolution of the dance shoe to current styles. The closest style to this hard wearing version is the Superflexi. It does have a more flexible sole than the style we were making years ago but still has a great balance of support, flexibility and value for money.”

Something Gavigan really wanted to highlight was the dangers of dancers putting tips on the Capezio Boys reel shoes as a way of avoiding breaking in hard shoes. Gavigan said that his team have been asked to do this by several dancers and they have refused. He says, “the Capezio reel shoe is not designed for tips and putting tips on a shoe which has NO structure is an accident waiting to happen. We have frequent conversations with dancers who have broken ankles and sustained long term injuries from wearing these types of shoes.” He goes on to note that some Irish dance organisations are banning them from next year.

If you’re a champ dancer who is hard on your shoes, it is worth considering going for a less flexible sole and spending the time breaking them in if you find that you are burning through flexi shoes quickly. Something else Gavigan advises is not dancing outside on concrete or on non dance floor surfaces. “If you perform regularly then keep an old pair for outdoor performances and exhibitions.”

In terms of the physical structure of the shoe, and how it wears out, how often should they be replaced? Gavigan says, “The best advice I can give, is to first listen to your body. When the shoe starts to break down it’s not supporting and protecting your foot, or the rest of your body, as well as it was when you first started. How do you know when breakdown is occurring in a shoe? Easy. Your body will tell you.”

“Nagging little niggles in the form of sore arches, shin pain, achy knees or other small annoyances will start to manifest themselves when you’re not getting the support and protection you once were from your shoes. These aren’t full-blown injuries, but rather persistent enough aches or pains that could very well turn into a larger problem if something (in many/most cases, footwear) isn’t addressed.”

If the structure of your shoe is still strong and comfortable but your tips are wearing down, Gavigan notes “Don’t forget that the major manufacturers also offer a repair and retipping service. So if your tips are wearing out or you need a small patch on the sole then you can increase the life of the shoe by returning it for repair.

How often do you replace your hard shoes? Do you have any advice for keeping them in good condition and lasting longer?

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how to apply fake tan for competitions
The Feis Look
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How To Apply Fake Tan For Competitions

While it doesn’t say in any feis syllabus anywhere in the world that fake tan is a required element of costume or appearance, fake tan has become de rigeur for competing. Skin can look washed out under heavy stage lighting, so makeup and fake tan are applied to pull the competition look together, along with a wig that’s bigger than day-to-day hair, and brightly coloured costumes adorned with sparkles.

If you’re going to tan up for feises, then you need to know what you’re doing or it can go horribly wrong! We spoke to Jules Heptonstall, St.Tropez Global Skin Finishing Expert and Tanning Expert on television show Strictly Come Dancing, to get the inside scoop on tanning for stage, and how you can do it at home without looking like a streaky oompa loompa!

Heptonstall says, “For the deepest, darkest bronze that looks totally natural it’s important to prep your skin, because you’re going to be putting A LOT of tan onto it.

I hold off applying any self tan for two weeks before my deepest darkest tan, to ensure my skin is totally free of any residue from old self-tan. To create a flawless skin surface I exfoliate twice a week before the application.

Before tan application, ensure your skin is make up and deodorant free. Moisturise dry areas including hands, elbows, knees and feet, and if you’re fair, moisturise your eyebrows and hairline too. You’ll need to do this on both applications.

Start by applying St. Tropez Self Tan Dark Lotion two days before your event – using a mitt and working around the body in sweeping motions. Don’t be alarmed if the guide colour looks uneven when you’re applying, this overlapping just shows you’ve totally covered yourself all over. Let the first coat dry (I like to wait 5 minutes) before applying the second. Wear loose dark clothing after application, and wipe your fingernails, palms, in-between your fingers and add a little moisturiser to the bottom of your palms. If you’re nervous, just take a buffing mitt and glide all over your body to blend.

Allow the tan to develop for 12 hours, and shower off using a nourishing oil-free shower cream.

Then repeat the process with St. Tropez Self Tan Lotion, leaving the tan on for 12 hours before showing, OR have a St. Tropez Self Tan Express Spray, leaving the tan on for 3 hours before showering.

My top tip for this is to moisturise with rich body butters to lock in hydration into the skin. Lotions are hydrating anyway, but because you’re double tanning, skin may feel a little dry. This tan will last the longest compared to using mousses and sprays.”

What are your top tips and tricks for applying fake tan? Do you have a favourite brand that you use?

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