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If you’re taking Irish dance classes from a certified school, chances are you already know your basic technique. The sad thing is, there are many schools out there that do not have TCRG certified instructors. TCRG stands for Teagascóir Choimisiúin le Rinci Gaelacha (Gaelic: Commission Certified Irish Dance Teacher). Teachers who have qualified to receive TCRG certification have proven their skills in teaching traditional Irish dance. Unlike some Irish dance teachers, TCRGs will do a lot more than teach you a few cool moves they learned while watching Riverdance on PBS. In order to receive certification, potential TCRGs have to go through a difficult testing process, proving their knowledge and execution of traditional and modern Irish dancing technique.
If you take classes from a certified TCRG you won’t just learn cool moves, you’ll learn how to execute them properly. After a few years of classes, once your technique begins to improve, you’ll hardly recognize yourself when you dance. It’s the proper execution of Irish dance technique that makes an Irish dancer’s feet look like a blur to the untrained eye. Proper technique is also the key to mastering lightness in your feet and the illusion of flight when you leap. An Irish dancer who has trained at a certified school is always working on improving their technique.
So for those of you who don’t train at a certified school, or if you’re a beginner who hasn’t mastered the basics yet, here’s a list of 10 things to remember every time you Irish dance.
Irish Dance Basic Technique
10 Things To Remember Every Time You Dance
1 ~ Turn Out Your Feet
As a beginner, it took me a about 6 months to realize what Tina Shelley meant every time she shouted, “Turn out your feet!” Then I realized this means from start to finish, your feet should always be turned outward as far as possible. A dancer with bad technique often dances with their feet straight forward or sometimes even turned inward. Tina often refers to ‘a diamond’ when she wants dancers to turn their feet out. Stand in front of a mirror with your feet crossed and turned out. If your feet are turned out properly, you should be able to see a diamond shaped space between your legs and ankles.
2 ~ Keep Your Arms Straight & Behind Your Back
This is something most people notice about Irish dancers right away. It’s a huge element that makes Irish dance unique. Yes, Michael Flatley’s arms love to flail about every which way in Riverdance, but proper Irish dance technique requires that your arms are straight with hands hidden behind your back at all times.
3 ~ Point Your Toes
This seems simple enough, but a really great Irish dancer points her toe every time she lifts it off the ground, kicks her butt, or leaps through the air. There are exceptions to this rule, but when in doubt, ALWAYS point your toes.
4 ~ Keep Your Knees Crossed
This is possibly the hardest technique to master. It may sound easy, but keeping one knee in front of the other knee at all times is very difficult. Since the leg in front switches from right to left constantly, a dancer must keep her knees as close together as possible when they switch. Tina Shelley often refers to this as ‘kissing your knees’ because when the front leg switches to the back, the knees should always touch or ‘kiss’.
5 ~ Keep Your Shoulders Back
When you’ve been dancing for a few hours, it can be really hard to keep your shoulders back. A great Irish dancer always keeps her shoulders back, which gives her excellent posture. Keeping your arms straight is not enough if you droop your shoulders and your posture is hunched over.
6 ~ Head Up, And Eyes Up
You should always have your head up and eyes up. For years I didn’t realize my eyes were looking down at the ground when I Irish danced. I mastered having my head up and straight, but it wasn’t till my 2nd year in champs that I finally trained myself to look straight forward as well. Looking up at your audience instead of at the ground adds confidence to your performance. It’s more challenging that you think it would be!
7 ~ Stay High On Your Toes
Irish dancers should be as high on their toes as possible, in soft AND hard shoe. Tina Shelley came up with a fantastic way to remember to stay on your toes. Imagine there are oranges or even grapefruits under your heels. If your heel comes down, you’ll squish it. Don’t squish the orange!
8 ~ Imaginary Tightrope
This one can be easy to forget, even if you’re in championship. You should always imagine a tightrope in front you. Every step, lift and leap should be danced on that tightrope. This keeps your dance tight and your moves right in front of you, instead of lazily to the side.
9 ~ Travel
Move your dance! This is one way to recognize whether a dancer has learned from a certified school or not. Dancers who have unqualified teachers never learn that a great Irish dancer uses her stage! Often she’ll fly from once corner to the other in only a few moves. It adds excitement and energy to the performance. A little jig danced in place is nice, but it doesn’t constitute a powerful performance.
10 ~ Make It Look Easy
There are Irish dancers who have been training for 10 years that still make what they do look hard and tiring. The intense workout can drain you long before the dance is over and that’s when you need to force a pleasant smile on your face and pretend like what your doing is the easiest thing in the world. Irish dance is so intense that many people see it as more of a sport. But I’ve never seen NBA basketball players do everything they do with perfect posture, light feet and a big smile on their face. Irish dancers have to be masters of making what they do look easy.
Keep in mind, once you start working hard on improving your technique, the intense concentration might cause you to forget to let go and just dance. Technique is extremely important, but it’s not everything. The way you feel when you dance has a huge effect on your performance. Don’t forget why you started dancing in the first place. Irish dance is supposed to be fun, so while you’re working hard on perfecting your technique, make sure you give yourself a chance to enjoy it!
Article written by Shelly Hathaway.
Photos by Shelly Hathaway Photography.
Every year my family has a Christmas tradition of putting on a talent show for each other at the annual Christmas Eve party. I’ve tried Irish dancing for the program before, but there wasn’t much space so most of the time I sing instead. This year I decided to try something different. I choreographed a light and hard shoe dance, performed it at the studio and recorded it on video. I then edited it all together an showed the video to my family on Christmas Eve.
It was a lot of fun to make and I plan to post more videos of myself Irish dancing on this blog in the future. So here’s the final video that I showed at the Christmas party. Enjoy!
Video by Shelly Hathaway.
It’s the latest thing, and just so COOL. A flash mob is a large group of people who plan to dance, sing, or perform something simultaneously at the specific time in a very public place. They take place in malls, train stations, in the middle of the street, grocery stores. The trick is to never ask permission, start small adding more and more people till the swarm is impossible to ignore, then quickly vacate the premises before anyone can react to the sudden unexpected performance. The most popular type of flash mob consists of dancers who have learned choreography either as an organized group or from a semi-undisclosed internet source. Most of the time the flash mob is secretly recorded then posted on YouTube for everyone to enjoy.
An Irish dance flash mob is a rare treat! Check out this fantastic Irish dancing flash mob that took place at a central station in Sydney, Australia last March in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. The mob included over 100 Irish dancers, some of which were members of Riverdance.
Watch more Flash Mob videos in my latest Thinkbits blog post: There’s Nothing Cooler Than A Flash Mob.
Article written by Shelly Hathaway.
I’ve watched it happen a lot, and it always bothers me. Some Irish dancers can get a little arrogant once they reach Championship level. Being one of only five Open Championship dancers at my school, I know exactly how it happens. When you start out as a beginner you look up to the advanced dancers at your school. Everything they do is amazing because you don’t know how they do it. You can’t help but idolize the champ dancers a little, and it’s not really a bad thing since watching someone who is more advanced than you can give you something to shoot for.
It can however, be a bad thing for the dancer who is on the receiving end of all that excessive attention and admiration. When I finally got to Championships I was a little intimidated at first, but soon realized I could do most of what the others could do. After a few years the dancers who were far more advanced than me either quit dancing or transferred to other schools and it was about that time that I won into Open championships. For six months I was the only one at the Shelley School in Open champs and I have to tell you it was a very strange feeling. I was never popular growing up so I was not used to walking into a room and quickly being surrounded by dancers wanting to talk to me. Other dancers would notice what I said and laugh at my jokes, compliment me after dancing almost every time. I was quite invisible with only a two or three friends only a year before, so I definitely noticed the difference.
It made me feel very self conscience when I realized that I was now on the receiving end of all the admiration I had once given to other dancers. More importantly, I realized that I was now responsible for treating all the dancers who looked up to me with kindness and respect. I remembered what it was like to be a beginner. Advanced dancers were very intimidating. When they smiled at me or paid me a compliment, what they said stuck with me for years. When they treated me like I wasn’t worth their time, I remembered that as well.
There are Championship dancers out there (mind you, they’re usually teenagers) who abuse their power of influence. They do not to accept that their words and actions have great meaning to those who look up to them. They choose only the most talented and attractive friends and either ignore or roll their eyes when a less advanced dancer tries to say hi or pay them a compliment. I’ve seen and felt the damage this type of cocky behavior does to someone and I refuse to ever be the one who shatters the confidence of an aspiring dancer.
It’s amazing the effect it can have on the entire school when the Championship dancers are kind and respectful to all the other dancers. The environment is relaxed, fun and exciting! Everyone feels welcome instead of intimidated or invisible. Why should there be an elite group of dancers huddled in the corner telling secrets, making everyone else feel left out? I wish I could say all the advanced dancers at my school are respectful and kind to beginners. Most of them are, but there are a few who still have a lot to learn. Once in a while I see Championship dancers treating beginners with disrespect and it always bothers me.
If you are a Championship level Irish dancer, you should take a moment right now and ask yourself, how do you treat the other dancers at your school? Odds are there are a lot who look up to you and notice everything you do and say. Don’t be the dancer who treats beginners like they aren’t worth your time. Believe me, if you think you’re better then they are, you’re going to feel pretty silly in three years when one of them beats you at a Feis. Remember, you set an example for those who look up to you. Chances are if you treat beginners with disrespect and unkindness, they’ll do the same thing one day when someone else looks up to them.
Article written by Shelly Hathaway
Photos by Shelly Hathaway Photography
Do you have an Irish dancer on your Christmas shopping list? It can be really hard to shop for an Irish dancer since you can’t find poodle socks or curly wigs at your local mall. Even if you do live in a central location for Irish dance like Dublin or New York it’s still difficult to know what makes a great Irish dance gift and where to look for it. Whenever I need supplies for dance, like any other Irish dancer I have to shop online. So if you have an Irish dancer on your list, instead of driving to the local mall, I suggest flipping open your laptop.
So now that you know where to shop, the big question is: just what kind of things are on an Irish dancer’s wish list? Thinking of affordable ideas can be tricky if you’re not an Irish dancer yourself. I’ve been dancing for over 8 years so I can tell you right now it’s a very expensive hobby. Solo dresses range from $300 to $3000 USD, wigs cost around $100 USD and dance shoes cost anywhere from $60 to $200 USD.
A generous shopper looking to spend a lot of money on a gift probably won’t have a hard time, but for those of you who are looking for affordable gifts that any Irish dancer will love, here are a few suggestions…
Great Gift Ideas For An Irish Dancer
I hope these suggestions help you find the perfect gift for the Irish dancer on your Christmas list. Whether you’re looking to spend a lot or just need some last minute stocking stuffers, this list should definitely give you some ideas to get you started. Have fun shopping!
Can you think of another great gift for an Irish dancer?
Article written by Shelly Hathaway
Header photo by Shelly Hathaway Photography