In Irish dancing, it’s easy to forget about your upper body. After all, the hard work is done by the feet while the arms don’t do anything, right?
But keeping your posture perfect while you dance is just as important as keeping your feet crossed and turned out. If your body bends forward when you leap or your arms swing out from your sides when you jump up for a click, the judges are going to deduct points—big points. Achieving that perfect posture takes muscle strength, coordination, and practice.
“Core” means your abdominal and back muscles. Good posture—for any activity—starts with strong core muscles. To strengthen your core, you should do some kind of abdominal exercise every day.
Diddlyi has some excellent videos from Dance Master Paula Goulding showing how to do Pilates core exercises:
Sometimes it’s easier to do exercises with a video. It can help you to do the exercises correctly and stay motivated.
*Stand in place with your heels together and your feet turned out. Gently squeeze your calf muscles and quad muscles so that your legs are all the way straight and your body is stretching up toward the ceiling.
*Gently squeeze your abdominal muscles to give you a strong center. Imagine that you’re putting on a pair of tight pants, so that you have to pull your belly button in toward your spine to zip the pants up. Pulling your belly button towards your spine will engage your core muscles—just make sure that you’re not holding your breath to get into this position.
*Check to make sure that your pelvis is straight and not tipped forward. You don’t want your back to arch and your hips to stick out behind you. If your back is arched, think about tucking your tailbone down.
*Lift the center of your chest gently toward the ceiling. This will put your shoulders in the correct position. Don’t think about yanking your shoulders backward or your back will arch.
*Lift your chin slightly. Make sure that your neck is relaxed so that your head is not jutting forward.
*You should feel like you’re stretching up toward the ceiling in a straight line. At first, this position may feel awkward if you’re not used to it, but with time and practice you should feel tall and confident when you stand like this.
Watch yourself in a mirror or get someone to take a picture/video of you from different angles to make sure that you are not arching your back, slumping forward, or sticking your chin out.
*Start with easy moves like 3’s and 7’s. Concentrate on nothing but keeping your core engaged and your head balanced in a straight line over your toes.
*Once that feels all right, try harder moves like leaps, again concentrating on nothing but your core and posture.
*Then break your steps down into small pieces and practice these pieces slowly, engaging your core muscles and making sure that your posture stays steady the whole time.
*At the end of your practice, try your whole step with music and see if you can keep the core engaged and your body completely still.
Again, getting someone to video you will help you see whether you’re doing this correctly or not. Sometimes your posture feels all right when you’re dancing, but when you see yourself in a video you realize that your body is still moving on certain moves.
As with everything in Irish dance, improving your core strength, coordination, and posture takes time, but if you work at it every day, you will see yourself getting better.
Photo credit: Bill Bennett
Whether you are training for an Oireachtas, taking your first steps in Irish dancing or you just want to get fit in a fun way, Diddlyi has what you need. Access all of our online Irish dance workshops FREE for 24 hours - it takes less than a minute to register!