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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #14—Up In Back

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

In order to get a high score from the judges, you need to kick all the way up on any move that’s supposed to lift in back, like 3s, leaps, and shuffle hop backs, just to name a few. If you don’t feel your foot actually touch your backside, you haven’t kicked high enough.

Here are a few tips on how to improve your lift in back:

1. Stretch your quads

Your quads (quadriceps femoris) are the big muscles that run from your knees to your hips in the front of your legs. They need to be flexible in order for you to kick your foot all the way up in back.

A good way to stretch your quads every day is to stand with your feet shoulder width apart, with your hand on a wall or the back of a chair if you need help balancing. Pick one leg up behind you and hold your foot with your hand. Pull your foot all the way in to your backside and hold the position for 30-45 seconds. If you need a deeper stretch, push your knee back slightly while keeping your body up straight.

Dance Master Paula Goulding demonstrates a version of this stretch in her Power Quads video here on Diddlyi.


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2. Strengthen your hamstrings

Your hamstrings are a group of tendons and muscles that run up the back of your leg from your knees to your hips. The hamstrings are responsible for bending your knees, so they have to be strong in order for you to get your leg up in back.

To strengthen your hamstrings, you should do lunges at home every other day. Look up lunges online to find pictures and videos of how to do them correctly. If you’ve never done lunges before, start with doing three sets of six the first time (do six lunges, rest thirty seconds, do another six, rest, and then do a final six). Gradually increase the number of reps or sets.

Other good hamstring exercises you can do without equipment include bridges, bridges with leg lifts, and plyometric lunges. Again, look up pictures and videos online to see how to do the exercises correctly, and start with just a few every other day.

3. Kick your leg

When you’re thinking about getting up in back during your steps, don’t think about just lifting your leg—think about kicking it with force. The momentum of the kick will help carry your leg up.

If your weight is on your back leg right before it needs to kick up, think about pushing explosively off the floor. Again, the momentum of the push will help lift your leg in back.

For instance, if you’re doing a shuffle step (like in the beginning of St. Patrick’s Day), the step needs to kick up in back. Finish the shuffle, then think about jumping from your back leg to your front leg, not just stepping. The power of the jump will help you kick your leg all the way up.

When you’re first practicing getting your leg up in back, do your steps slowly, concentrating on actively kicking your foot up. As that starts to feel easier, try doing the steps with music. Eventually, your leg will start kicking on its own, without you having to concentrate on it.


Photo credit: Flickr user Stephen Depolo


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