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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #11—Loud, Clear Hard Shoe Sound

Judge 11--Sound
Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

For many Irish dancers, hard shoe is what drew them to our art in the first place. Maybe they saw Riverdance or a performance at an Irish festival, and they were captivated by the exciting rhythm and the crisp sound of the hard shoe dances.

In order to succeed in hard shoe competition, dancers need to have that same exciting rhythm and crisp sound. Here are some essential steps for making sure your sound is loud and clear.

1 – Practice your hard shoe moves in your hard shoes.

This sounds obvious, but sometimes dancers don’t take the time to actually put their hard shoes on when they practice their dances. It is absolutely essential to practice in your shoes so that you can hear your own beats. You can make your own dance floor to practice on at home with some duct tape and pieces of plywood from the hardware store.

If you can’t practice at home in your hard shoes for any reason, talk to your teacher and see if you can come into the studio to practice. You can also see if there is space to rent at a nearby recreation center, gym, or church.

2 – Flex your toes when you strike the floor.

In order to make loud, clear beats, your toes need to be pulled back when your tap hits the floor. That helps your whole tap strike the ground. If you point your toes as you hit the floor, only a tiny piece of your tap will hit, making a thin, quiet sound.

When you practice your hard shoe moves, think about flexing your toes as your foot swings towards the ground.

3 – Pick your foot up before each beat.

You have to pull your foot back before each slap or treble to provide the power you need to strike the floor. If you don’t pick your foot up first, your treble will scrape across the floor instead of making a clear beat.

In order to stay on the music, you will need to pick up your foot at the end of the previous move. For example, if you are doing a “treble hop back,” you will pick up your front foot as you put the back foot down at the end of the “hop back.” Think about pulling the front foot up and in toward the back foot right as your weight goes onto the back foot.

Picking your foot up at the end of the previous move will help you move faster so that you are ready for the next move.

4 – Keep your feet close together.

Many times, when dancers have trouble hitting the floor cleanly, it’s because their feet have gotten too far apart. In order to make clear sound, you have to hit the floor with your feet close together.

To help with this, imagine that there is a small square drawn on the floor right in front of your back toes. All of the beats that your front foot makes should hit the ground in this square. If your front leg extends too far out in front of you, your tap will not hit in the square.

Thinking about staying high up on your back toes will make it easier to keep your beats in the square. If your back heel touches the ground, it’s much more likely that your front leg will reach out too far.

Practice your hard shoe moves slowly in your shoes, concentrating on picking your foot up before each beat, flexing your toes, and then striking the floor in the square. The more repetitions of each move you can do like this, the louder and clearer your sound will be.

Photo credit: Flickr User Jeff Meade


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