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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #19—Stamina

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

Stamina is an important part of competing in Irish dance. The judge wants the left foot of your last step to be just as good as the right foot of your first step. Being able to finish as strongly as you start can sometimes mean the difference between placing well and not placing at all.

If you want to be able to push through the end of your dances, you need to work hard outside of class to improve your endurance. Here are some specific things you can do:

1. Aerobic cross-training

Irish dance is great exercise in itself, but you’ll be able to dance even better if you pair it with an aerobic exercise, like running, swimming, biking, or fast walking. Aerobic activities, where you raise your heart rate to 60-80% of your maximum heart rate and keep it there for at least 20 minutes, help strengthen your pulmonary and cardiovascular systems (your heart, lungs, and blood vessels). A healthy cardiovascular system gets oxygen to your muscles more quickly, helping you dance longer (and also helping you recover faster afterward).

To get the best benefits, you need to do an aerobic activity 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes at a time. There are plenty of apps and online programs to help you get started with these exercises, like Couch to 5K (

2. Interval training

Unlike jogging, Irish dancing is actually an anaerobic exercise, where you elevate your heart rate to 80-90% of your maximum heart rate for short bursts (less than two minutes). Sprinting is another example of an anaerobic exercise.

It’s important for Irish dancers to do aerobic exercise, but to really improve your endurance for dancing, you also need to do interval training. Interval training is where you alternate short periods of high-intensity exercise with recovery periods of low-intensity exercise.

Any exercise (jogging, biking, swimming, etc) can be used for interval training, but here’s how you can turn practicing your steps into a stamina exercise: Do a light warmup, and then put on the music for the dance you’re working on. Dance your first step, then march in place for 16 bars. Then do your second step, followed by marching in place for 16 bars. Alternate dancing each step with marching in place until the music ends. You can do this same exercise with 2 steps dancing/2 steps marching and 3 steps dancing/3 steps marching.

Doing interval training like this 1-2 times a week outside of class will help you push through the end of your dances in competition.

3. Budgeting your energy

One mistake that dancers make frequently is using up all their energy on the first step. Since you need to have some energy left for your last step, you need to control how much of your effort you put into the beginning of your dance.

Don’t tell your body to give 100% of your effort on your first step. Instead, tell yourself that you need to give 85-90% on your first step so that you have the same amount of energy left for your next step.

At first, controlling the amount of energy you put into your steps might make you feel like you’re not trying hard enough. Don’t worry—most of the time, holding yourself back a little bit will help your endurance without hurting your performance. Your teacher can help you make sure that you’re getting the right effort-control balance.

If you can start your first step off with solid timing, clean form, and good energy, and then keep it up through the very end of your last step, the judge is sure to be impressed—and your scores will show it.
Photo credit: Flickr user GoodNCrazy

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