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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #3—Timing

Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

Timing is the most important aspect of Irish dancing. There is a beautiful relationship between the music and the dance, where the dancer’s feet become part of the rhythm, and the tune seems to create the dancer’s movements. If that relationship is skewed―if the dancer’s timing isn’t correct―the magic of the performance is lost.

Even if a dancer has good form, bad timing will receive low scores from the judges. So it’s very important for you to practice your timing at home. After making sure you know your steps, working on your timing should be your first priority.

Here are some ways to make sure that your timing is perfect:

1 – Practice with the music.

This sounds obvious, but sometimes dancers get in a hurry and go through their steps without putting the music on. That’s OK occasionally, but to really get your timing 100%, you have to dance to the music. Even if you’re only drilling one little piece of your step at a time, do it with the music.

2 – Practice your hard shoe dances with your hard shoes on.

In order to get perfect hard shoe rhythm, you have to be able to hear your beats. You can’t do that if you practice your hard shoe dances in your tennies or gillies. So get yourself some boards, put them down in your garage, and practice your treble jig and hornpipe moves in your shoes with the music.

3 – If a new step is hard, start off slow.

Sometimes a new move or step is so difficult for you that you can’t get it fast enough to stay on the music.  That’s OK; it’s a normal part of learning new material. There are several Irish dance albums out there with music at slower speeds, like One More Time by the Culkin School. Practice your new move or step with slower music so you can hear where all the beats fit, and as you get better you’ll be able to increase your speed.

4 – Use videos.

When you first learn a new move or step, take a video of your teacher or another student doing the material with the music. Watch the video before you practice, and pay careful attention to how all the movements match the beat.

When you’re comfortable with the material, make a video of yourself doing it with the music. Then watch the video to see how you’re doing. Sometimes you can catch timing errors and other mistakes better when you’re watching yourself than when you’re actually dancing.

Doing the hard shoe exercises from Diddlyi’s section on “Improving My Rhythm” will also help.

5 – Ask for help.

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help if you’re struggling with your timing. Your teacher or a more advanced student can help explain how a piece fits with the music. Sometimes getting another person to work with you one-on-one can make all the difference.

Finally, when you are picking steps for competition, be sure to pick steps that you can do perfectly with the music. Don’t decide to compete with your new, difficult step unless you are sure that your timing is right. The hardest step in the world won’t get you a medal if it’s not on the music.

Keep practicing, and don’t get discouraged. Remember that improving your timing, like everything else in Irish dance, is a work in progress. 

Photo credit: Chris Naish

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