How To Explain Irish Dancing To Your Physical Therapist Or Doctor
By Claire Plummer
Claire Plummer is a Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, and T.C.R.G. through An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha. She is dedicated to optimal health, wellness, and injury prevention in Irish Dancers of all levels and ages. Claire can be contacted here, and she loves to hear your questions and comments!
When Physical Therapists, Athletic Trainers and physicians help patients return to sport after an injury, it is essential that they have an understanding of the demands of that sport. For example, to return a soccer athlete to safe and successful participation in matches, everyone involved knows that the athlete will have to be able to run distances, but also perform shorter bursts of sprinting, cutting, agility, etc. before fully returning to the soccer pitch. The same concept applies when an Irish Dancer returns from an injury, but the requirements of Irish Dancing aren’t widely known in the medical community. Below are a few things to say or explain to your physician, PT/Physio, etc., so you can discuss Irish Dancing in medical and biomechanical terms. Clarifying these points can assist those involved in your care to develop appropriate treatment plans and set realistic goals for your progression back to the stage.
Irish Dancing is year round.
Explain how the year is set up: when do classes start, when are championships, feisanna, workshops, etc.
This information helps determine if/when breaks from dancing are necessary, and if it is realistic to allow you to “push through” without causing lasting damage to your body.
You are continuously jumping, and you need to be able to do single leg plyometrics in turn out for your steps.
“Plyometrics” is a fancy word for jumping, and implies that your muscles need to be trained a certain way to help you execute your steps in a lively manner.
This lets your PT/Physio know that you have to be able to jump on one or two legs for your entire dance, and allows them to design a treatment program that progresses you to jumping in both parallel and turn out.
Your heels never touch the ground unless it is part of your steps.
A multitude of research shows that safe, efficient jumping form requires you to land on your toes and smoothly roll through your heels until your feet are flat with your weight evenly distributed across the sole of the foot. This is true throughout athletics, and many other dance genres, including ballet, modern, lyrical, etc.
We ALL know you’re in big trouble as an Irish Dancer if your heels drop during your steps, and this is one of many things sets Irish Dance apart, requiring a different approach in rehabilitation.
Hard shoe steps (with the exception of toe stands/toe walks) are much safer to do first when returning from an injury.
Many outside of Irish Dance see hard shoe vs. soft shoe as similar to pointe vs. slippers in ballet. This is not an accurate comparison, and although ballerinas progress from slippers to pointe in rehabilitation, Irish Dancers are much safer to start with hard shoe steps.
Yes, in hard shoe steps, there is impact on the floor as you make each beat, but most of the “jumps”/“hops” in hard shoes are smaller than soft shoe where you are required to lift high from the floor. Hard shoes also offer more support than soft shoes, and particularly for foot and ankle injuries, having more support in a shoe is a key to a successful progression back to class.