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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #8—Toe Point

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

Every time you lift your foot off the ground in Irish dance, either in front or in back, your toe needs to be pointed. The judge wants your leg to be a straight line, all the way from your hip down through your ankle, with your foot so pointed at the end that it curves downward. That’s what judges and your teacher mean when they tell you to arch your feet.

To get perfect toe point, you need to work on strengthening and engaging two different sets of muscles: the calf muscles and the arch muscles.

1. Calf muscles

Your calf muscles are responsible for lifting your heel off the ground, so they are very important to Irish dancers. Not only do they keep you high on your toes, but they slide your heel up (and push your ankle down) when you point, giving you that lovely straight line down your ankle.
There are two sets of calf muscles. The gastrocnemius is the big bulge at the back of your leg that you think of as your calf. There are also two smaller muscles called the soleus muscles that extend down from the gastrocnemius to your heel on both sides of your Achilles tendon. Both the gastrocnemius and the soleus need to be strong for you to have good toe point.

To strengthen your gastroc, the best exercises you can do are the calf raises from Paula’s “Perfect Points” workshop. You will definitely feel these in your calves!

To strengthen your soleus, do the same exercises, but bend your knee slightly before you start. Bending your knee disengages the gastroc muscle, so that your soleus will do all the work.

Be sure to stretch out both sets of calf muscles after you do these exercises. You can stretch out your soleus by doing your regular calf stretch with your back knee slightly bent.

2. Arch muscles

There are a number of muscles in the bottom of your foot which we’re going to group together and call your arch muscles. Your arch muscles help you in Irish dance by pulling your toes together and pushing them down.

To strengthen your arch muscles, put marbles or dice down on a towel and pick them up with your toes one at a time, using first one foot and then the other. Do this every day for 3-4 minutes.

Paula demonstrates several other arch exercises in the “Perfect Points” workshop. She also shows you how to stretch your arches out afterward (which is very important!).

If your arch cramps up when you first start doing these exercises, try doing just a few at a time and not squeezing your toes very hard. As your muscles get stronger, you will be able to do more repetitions.

Finally, you need to practice squeezing your calf and arch muscles while you dance.
Start by doing point hop backs while watching yourself in a mirror. Ciara’s “Point Hop Back” drill is a good one to do.

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Once you can consistently point in front and in back while you do the point hop back drill, try going through your steps, concentrating on arching your feet every time you lift them up off the floor. If you have trouble with your toe point, try doing your exercises and then drilling your steps every day. The more regular you can be with your practice, the sooner you will see improvement.

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