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An Irish Dancer’s Checklist For Success

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 8.54.44 AMCara Sutherland is an Open Champion dancer from Cleveland, Ohio, USA. She is currently studying Exercise Science and is involved with the Performing Arts at John Carroll University.

The morning of a big competition can seem like a blur of crystals and curls, especially if you have to dance early in the day. There are so many things to do that it is easy to forget some of the most important. Improve your chances for success by making sure that you’re doing these things before you dance!


All meals are important to athletes, but the meals before a competition can directly impact your performance. Ideally, I try to eat at least two hours before I’ll be dancing so my body can begin to digest the food and use some of that energy. You’ll want to combine carbohydrates (toast, bagels, fruit, potatoes, grains) with proteins (eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt). My perfect breakfast would be oatmeal with a scrambled egg plus a banana later—but not within 30 minutes of dancing on stage.


Water is very important for dancers—before, during, and after a performance! It helps us to keep a stable body temperature, transport nutrients for energy, and move joints. Without proper hydration you can become tired, dizzy and dehydrated or have muscle cramps. While coffee can feel stimulating because of the caffeine, it makes the body dehydrated so I try to avoid coffee on the mornings I’ll be competing. Sports drinks with minerals and nutrients are better suited for heavy exercise of an hour or more. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water in the morning and during your warmup, not just after your dancing.

Stretching and Warmup

Dancers are much more prone to injuries without a proper warmup/stretch and cool-down later, and there are several available video demonstrations of these on Diddlyi! I like to start my warmup with “dynamic stretches” like lunges, skips, rolling my feet up and down, but eventually bouncing and doing parts of my steps. The amount of time depends on your age and ability, and you have to be careful not to become too tired close to when you’ll be on stage. In a good warmup you will sweat, breathe deeply, elevate your heart rate, practice any skill used in your steps, and have time to focus. After my warmup, I’ll catch my breath for a few minutes but keep on my feet and apply any finishing touches before lining up sidestage.

Good Attitude

Never feel defeated by your results. If you’re pleased, congratulations! I have a lot of respect for the dancers who beat me, because I know how incredibly hard everyone in my competition works. Rather than being unhappy or disheartened by your scores you can use that experience as your motivation to practice more. Most importantly, do not let comments negatively affect your dancing. When you’re on stage remember what Brogan McCay said in Jig, “Aye I can. Watch me.”
Photo credit: Flickr User kkrugi

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