Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where Is All The Content?

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

5 Stretches Every Irish Dancer Needs to Know

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 ( and 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.


As 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.

Hip Flexors

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

5 Ways To Do Oireachtas Better This Year

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.

Eat Right

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.

Sleep Enough

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

Girls Figures competition

Thursday, November 6, 2014

How to Cool Down from An Irish Dance Practice--Essential Practices to keep in mind EVERY TIME

After the intensity of an Irish dance practice the last thing you may want to do is hang out at the studio and stretch, but the most important work of your day could take place in the five minutes you take to cool down. Not sure how to cool down properly after an Irish dance practice/competition/performance? Read on!

Stay Warm

Unless you live in the tropics, the temperature inside your dance studio is probably nice and toasty compared to that of the rainy outside. You are also probably nice and toasty, coated in a lovely layer of sweat from your hornpipe endurance drills. But shocking your system by jumping from your warm studio to the great outdoors without changing clothes is not good for your body. Bring a pair of stretch pants and a sweatshirt to thrown on as soon as you are done dancing. You want your muscles to stay warm as you stretch them. This is a good rule of thumb for long days of dance as well. If you are not dancing, cover yourself up and keep your muscles warm—especially your legs! This helps avoid injury and helps you dance your best each time.

Cool Down

The worst thing you can do for your body when you just worked it out is plunk down on the floor and sit. Your heart needs to gradually calm down and slowly return to a normal speed. Once your cardio is done for the day, walk around the room, do some releves, swing your legs, do some standing stretches. After you feel your heart rate slow, you can relax.


After practice is the best time to stretch your muscles. You always want to stretch when you are the warmest—because there is more blood flow to your muscles, they are nice and flexible and ready to accept lengthening. Stretching fatigues your muscles though-- dancing after you push your stretches is not a good idea. Use your stretches as a way to cool down your body and unwind from class or practice. As an Irish dancer, you should thoroughly stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, hip flexors and calves/achilles, both to increase flexibility in those areas and make sure they don’t get too tight.

Though it may take a few extra minutes at the end of a hard day, your body will thank you for giving it time to cool down properly. Remember, these tips are essential not just at practice, but at competitions and performances as well.

Image courtesy of Idea go at

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Five Steps to a Great Warm Up

All Irish dancers know the feeling of wanting to jump into the studio, run steps, drill new rhythms or figure out that workshop material you got last week. You also probably know the feeling of not wanting to practice—dragging yourself to the studio for an early morning rehearsal. Whether you can’t wait to start dancing or need a little push, warming your body up properly can make all the difference. Use the tips below to start crafting your own routine.

Foam Roll
Using a foam roller is a great way to warm up your body before any exercise, but can be particularly crucial for dancers because we work the same muscle groups on repeat. Starting with your calves, use the foam roller to hit all the major muscle groups, pausing when you feel anything that is extra tight or sore. Don’t forget to spend extra time on your calves, shins and quadriceps; muscle groups that are especially prone to fatigue in Irish dancers.

Increase Blood Flow to Important Places
To help your body warm up properly, you want to encourage blood flow to the parts of the body you are going to use in your practice. Start with your feet and toes, working up to your knees, hips, core, shoulders and head. I do this by pushing my feet into the floor (think prancing), rolling my ankles, bending my knees, swinging my legs to get at my hips, twisting from my waist and rolling my head and shoulders.

Raise Your Heart Rate
To get your body ready for more intense cardio, start moving! You can crank some great music and jam for a few minutes, lightly jog in place or around the room, or slowly start walking through your steps. To get your heart rate up faster, involve you arms. Bring them up and down over your head while you jog or dance.

Active Stretching
Stretching before you start really dancing can be a great way to truly prepare for a practice session, but make sure you aren’t slowing your heart rate way down, or sitting in a stretch for too long. Active stretching means stretching that doesn’t fatigue the muscles, it rather wakes them up and gets them ready to work. Stretching as part of a warm up should be done with your body off the floor—this is not the time to sit in your splits and stretch as hard as you can. I lead my classes through lunges and calf stretches, balances on their toes, and squats in second position to help them wake up their muscles.

Target Specific Movements
This part of your warm up will probably be different every time you practice, depending on what you’re focusing on that day. Some TCRG’s give their students a set of drills they expect them to do every time they practice—this would be a great place to use those. Some students know the movements they should be breaking down from each step they are doing. Because your body is still warming up, start your drills slowly, focusing on correct placement and technique. As your body feels warmer and the movement improves, you can add speed, music and more gusto.

A great warm up is essential to any dancer’s success. Warming up before your own practice is essential to avoiding injury, dancing your best, and establishing a routine that works for your body. Once you have yours down, you will look forward to it’s comforting routine, it will help put your head in the game for performance and competition and will help you make the most out of those precious practice sessions.


Date a Girl Who (Irish) Dances

Inspired by all the wonderful "date a girl who" posts-- if you like this, please check out the original work. My personal favorite can be found here:

Date a girl who Irish Dances.

Date a girl whose instruments are leather and fiberglass. Date a girl who intentionally makes noise, whose goal is to be the loudest and clearest. Date a girl who isn’t afraid of being noticed for being too loud.

Date a girl whose art speaks  loudly and clearly at times. At times it flows lightly and travels across the room. Date a girl who dedicates years to moments of performance. Date a girl who has taught her body to create sound that is rhythmically perfect. Date a girl who waltzes seamlessly between dancer and musician.

Date a girl who sparkles. Who glimmers under the lights, who can hold her own in a costume, in a wig, who won’t be swallowed up by the immensity of a garment. She can be extravagant, and understands the power of a great outfit. She is not weighed down by this knowledge, offstage she lives in stretch pants. Jeans won’t fit over her calves.

Date a girl who grew up in bars. Who impressed the St. Patrick’s Day revelers. Whose most cherished mentor showed their love and appreciation by yelling critique. Date a girl who cares enough about something to hear all the criticism. Who is willing to make a change by doing something different. Who is willing to do it all with no guarantee of success.

Date a girl with strong legs. With toes that can spring her feet off the floor with no momentum. Date a girl who flies with every practice, who seeks that feeling in every step. She’s strong enough to go it alone sometimes, but is always better off with you there. After all, she wants you to fly with her.

When she falls, she falls hard. It’s the breaking of bones, or worse, the spraining of extremities. It’s the landing from a perfect leap, the attempt at doing one more beat than she thought she could do. It’s the crushing, embarrassing falls, no fall is graceful in Irish Dance. It’s slipping off pointe at a pivotal moment, it’s falling, legs splayed, mascara running, wig askance. Date a girl who can get up from this moment and attempt to fly again.

She is a little rough around the edges, cruder perhaps than most, she did grow up dancing in smoky bars, drinking with her dance teachers and hanging out with Irish musicians, after all. She loves to eat. A lot. After all, she’ll burn it all off. She’s not afraid to have a beer before a dance, though holds her performance to the highest standard. She has an unquenchable need to move. To do more, more, now. To sweat, to create, to learn. When this moment is over she will lay on the couch. She will read. Binge on TV. Eat potato chips, french fries and drink wine.

Date a girl who longs for more, for Irish dance is never finished. There are endless possibilities, and she will seek to find them all. Date a girl with unharnessed energy, who can at times move with wild abandon, to whom traditional pursuits aren’t enough. She will seek more for you, and for you together. Don’t let her be bored, and never let her stop.

Date a girl who cries on St. Patrick’s Day because she missed a chance to dance. Who can’t sing, but lilts steps with wild abandon, as if you understand everything she is saying. She wakes up and dances in the kitchen, while in waiting in lines, while waiting for the bus. Date a girl who understands the importance of keeping up tradition, who listens with rapt attention to ballads sung in bars, and participates in drinking songs as if in a religious fervor.

She will commit to you, even if there is no guarantee of success. Give her adventure and she will give you more. She will give you song and endless energy. She will strive for perfection, and if not perfection, she will strive for moments of breathtaking performance. She is fearless. Irish Dancers see human bodies performing incredible feats of speed and precision and tell each other they can do it faster, louder or bigger.

She lives in extremes. You will have to adjust the temperature, she will turn the heat up all the way when she’s cold, get too hot and turn on the AC until she freezes and starts the process over. The middle is not her road.

You will have to take care of the finances, the plane tickets, bookings and plans. Take care of the details of all your grand adventures. She will be too busy thinking of them.

Did I miss anything? Feel free to add a comment below!