One of the beauties of Irish dance is the way that the dancer is constantly in motion: leaping, hopping, and springing, always high on the toes and light on the feet. The dancer should never look flat, lifeless, or heavy. This lightness and height off the ground when jumping is called elevation, and it’s one of the most important elements of Irish dance.
There are several things you need to do in order to improve your elevation:
Your core—your abdominal and back muscles—need to be strong in order for you to be able to jump off the ground. To strengthen these muscles, you need to do core exercises every day. Some examples of good core exercises to do are crunches, planks, and pushups. You can look up these exercises online to find videos showing you how to do them correctly.
Dance Master Goulding Paula also teaches a great pilates for Irish dancers core series in her elevation video on Diddlyi.
The muscles in your legs and feet also need to be strong in order to launch you off the ground. You need to do exercises at home to help strengthen your arches, calves, quads, and hamstrings. Good exercises to do include lunges, squats, bridges, and calf raises.
Paula has several videos to help you with leg strengthening on Diddlyi:
See all of Paula’s Train Like A Champion workshop here.
Now that you’ve worked on strengthening your core, you need to work on engaging those muscles when you’re dancing.
Imagine that there is a string running between your navel and your spine. Think about slowly tightening that string so your navel is drawn toward your spine. Another way to think about this is to imagine that you’re zipping up a tight pair of pants, so that you have to pull in your abdomen. You’re not holding your breath; you’re using your core muscles to draw your navel toward your spine.
Practice engaging your core while standing still. Once you feel comfortable with this, try doing one of your steps slowly, thinking about nothing but engaging your core. Be sure that you’re not tightening your shoulder muscles or holding your breath. It will take regular practice to be able to keep your core engaged during the entire dance.
When you’re working to improve your elevation, the most important moment in your dance is not the jump itself—it’s the step right BEFORE the jump. This is your launch, and it’s where the power for the jump comes from. If you don’t launch correctly, you won’t be able to get your jumps higher.
On the step before the jump, imagine that you are pushing off of a trampoline that’s going to spring you high into the air. This will help you engage your arch and calf muscles correctly to get a strong launch: as you push, your toes should point as hard as they can toward the ground, and your calves should lift your heels up, shooting you off the floor.
At the same time, think about swinging your other leg out in front of you into the jump, using your quad muscles to lift the leg quickly. The momentum and weight of that leg swinging will help pull you up into the air.
Start by practicing the launch and jump by themselves. When you have that down, try doing the moves right before the launch and jump, concentrating on the moment when you push off the ground. Think about springing your entire body into the air, not just lifting your legs up.
With regular practice, it won’t be long before you’re jumping higher.
Photo credit: Kat Cloud, Bennett School of Irish Dance
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