I know, I know. It seems like The Irish Dancers Next Door is fading away into oblivion, littering the blog graveyard with it's tattered dreams of success. Not to fear! We're actually growing into something much more exciting. I can't tell you what the plan is just yet, but rest assured it's in the works.
We'll probably have something to show you after next week, think of it as an early Christmas present for the Irish dance community.
That's all for now, I just didn't want anyone to worry. The dreams are alive and well, and we'll be back in full force before you can say Oireachtas.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Irish dancers are pretty notorious for having hard workouts, asking nearly impossible things from their bodies, and being prone to injury. The difficulty of this dance form means we should be taking extra care to warm up and cool down properly and take care of our muscles so they will continue to work hard for us. If you’re looking for ideas on how to warm up and cool down, check out these posts (http://irishdancersnextdoor.blogspot.com/2014/11/how-to-cool-down-from-irish-dance.html and http://irishdancersnextdoor.blogspot.com/2014/11/how-to-warm-up-properly-for-irish-dance.html). Though doing a full body stretch at the end of a class or practice would be ideal, there is not always time to stretch everything. Whether you are in a hurry or not, make time to stretch these five muscle groups every time you practice.
GlutesAs some of the biggest muscles in your body, your glutes are working hard every practice. The coveted Irish Dance booty isn’t around for no reason—Irish dancers kick bum people! We are working these muscles groups hard, so we have to stretch them consistently. The best way to get at these muscles is to lay on the floor, cross one leg over your other knee (making a four) and gently pulling on your leg to stretch your booty. Remember to do both sides and hold for at least 30 seconds.
All Irish dancers want beautiful extension on their leaps, kicks and clicks, but you won’t be able to find that extension if you have tight hammies. Lay on your back and extend one leg into the air. Make sure it’s straight and gently pull it towards you face until you feel a nice stretch in the back of your leg. You can flex your foot for a more intense stretch. The longer you hold this stretch the better, give your muscles a chance to loosen, then pull your leg a little closer to achieve lengthening. Loosening your hamstrings can also help you achieve straight legs throughout your dancing-- it’s hard to straighten through your knees if your hamstrings don’t want to let go.
Stretching your quads is one of the most important stretches Irish dancers can do because we work them overtime! Most of us have overdeveloped quadriceps from all of the lifting we do (not to mention lifting with heavy shoes on). Quads that are overly tight can pull your knees out of alignment and eventually lead to tracking problems and pain. I had a physical therapist tell me to stretch my quads at least 5 times a day! Stretching your quads also helps achieve extension to the back (tucking that back leg on leaps, bicycle jumps, kicking your bottom). Stretch your quads by lying face down on the floor and holding onto one ankle and pulling your foot closer to your bottom. For a more intense stretch think about pushing your hips into the ground as you pull on your foot.
Irish dancers use their hip flexors just as much as they use their quads, and they can get very tight, very fast. Your hip flexors lift your leg to the front, so all that picking up your feet in hardshoe really works them hard. Lengthening your hip flexors helps with extension to the back and helps you engage the muscles that help you turn your legs out. Stretch your hip flexors by finding a lunge position, putting your back knee on the floor and gently pushing your hips forward. For a more intense stretch, engage your core.
We know Irish dancers have amazing calves, but just because they look good doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard. Because we are on our toes all the time without releasing into the floor, we need to spend extra time stretching our calves and achilles. The best way to do this is put one foot in front of the other, bend your front knee and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your calves. To get at your achilles (which is in a constantly shortened state while you dance) put both feet next to each other on the floor, bend your knees and try to keep pushing your heels down.
Taking time to stretch after class not only helps prevent injury, but improves your ability to Irish dance the best you can. My advice is to find a song you love to listen to, tell yourself you are going to play it at the end of a tough practice and stretch to it. You’ve just given yourself some motivation to get through your practice and take time to take care of yourself at the end.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
We all wish there was a magic formula to guarantee success at qualifiers, but alas, on the day we work hard for all season, many defining moments are left up to the fray of mere minutes on stage. With the US Regional Oireachtasai right around the corner for most dancers, you may be feeling like you don’t have much time to improve your performance at this years competitions. In some cases, this is truth (I’m talking to you who can’t get through those three treble jigs, ahem) if you haven’t put in the work all year, a recall isn’t magically going to appear in two weeks of determined practice. However, there are some things you can do to work with what you have, right now, to put your best foot forward.
Everyone has their game time routines--maybe you eat nothing, maybe you each exactly three doughnuts cut into the shape of a shamrock before your first round—whatever that routine is, stick with it. Competition day routine aside, your other meals should be well rounded, full of nutrition and (generally) stress free. The weeks leading up to the Oireachtas should be chock full of fruits, veggies, and protein to ensure that your body can do it’s best work on the big day. Lay off the sugar, highly processed snacks and junk food. Eating right goes hand in hand with eating enough to match your exercise levels—even if you’re in school all day, at practice all evening and then staying up to finish homework, eat a real meal! Fuel your body with healthy options starting now, so your pre game routine can stay as weird as you need it to.
How much water you drink can have incredible effects on how well your body can perform, but hydrating your body appropriately does not just happen on the big day. You need to be giving your body enough fluids before the day of your competition to ensure you are at peak performance level. Sugary sports drinks are tempting, but drinking water is best. By drinking water in preparation for class, competition and performance, you are getting ready to get the most out of practice in advance. Take a water bottle to school or work and remind yourself to keep hydrating.
This one is especially hard for those competitors in their teenage years and beyond. The rest of the world doesn’t stop so you can train for the Oireachtas, and most of us don’t have the luxury of quitting work to compete in Irish dance. Although it’s hard to find the time, getting enough sleep will not only ensure your body is prepared for the practice and competition you’ll son partake in, but helps to ward off the seasonal colds and flu’s that terrify Irish dancers this time of year. The last thing you want it to be sick during your competition, so do your best to avoid a cold by getting enough sleep. It’s worth it to set aside calendar days for yourself where you know you can go to bed early and start logging those extra hours of rest. Tell your friends what you have going on- they will understand you checking out for a few weeks. Use your time wisely to prioritize sleep, and as things get closer to the day, choosing sleep over that last minute practice session will probably serve you better.
Don’t Overdo the Practice
Now is the time to maximize your time in the studio, working efficiently and safety to fine tune all the hard work you’ve put in over the year. As I mentioned before, two weeks of hard work is not going to make major changes in your placement, and can lead to injury, stress and burnout. Two weeks of smart work however, can change your outlook on your performance and give you the confidence to step out on stage and show the judges that you did work hard all year. Now is the time to run your steps, make sure you can do them in your sleep. Perfect those parts that should look particularly amazing. Practice doing everything bigger, louder and more turned out.
Simulate the Real Thing
Whether this is your first Oireachtas or you are performing for your 15th time, practicing in your dress/wig/shoes is still completely different than the practicing you’ve been doing everyday for the past year. Decide what you are doing with your hair and makeup before the morning of the feis, and try it! There is nothing worse than waking up on the morning of your qualifier after a fitful, nervous sleep, in a hotel, and trying an edgy new make up look for the first time. As someone who has experienced this, it’s probably not going to work out just like that awesome Youtube video said it would. Your wig is probably not going to do that really cool thing you imagined in your head on your first attempt. It will serve you well to practice the hair and makeup before the day of. Trust. It also just feels different to dance in your dress, especially if it’s a new dress. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to dance for other people in your full regalia, bring it to your practice space, put it on and do your rounds as if you’re competing.
These tips aren’t meant to take the place of the hard work you put in to get you where you want to be at this years Oireachtas, but they will help ensure you give yourself the best possible chance of achieving your goals. I wish everyone the best at the Oireachtas this year, and remember, giving yourself a well earned break after the end of November is in everyone’s best interest.
Have any tips for dancers competing at this years Regional Oireachtas? Please leave them in the comments below!
Photo Courtesy of: Eoin Gardiner