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How To Practice & Maintain Your Irish Dance Skills This Summer

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Cara 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 summer months are a great time to relax, travel, or spend time with family. Most studios take time off between June and August following the school calendar. However, these can be busy months for shows and feiseanna, and it is easy to slip out of shape if you are traveling or not going to regular classes. Here are some tips about how to practice and maintain your skills, even though you’re in ‘break mode.’

Make a practice goal and stick to it.

I’ve found that it’s hard to make time-related practice goals (like, practicing for one hour) because I’m on a different schedule and want to have time for friends and fun. Instead, I make goals like running through my reel three times all the way through one day, and doing my hornpipe steps the next. If I have extra time, I’ll drill bits of steps but at the very least I’ve done the most important part of my practice. You can also create a list of exercises to do daily; for example 50 crunches, 50 squats, and stretching before bed.

Find the space.

It can be very difficult for Irish dancers to find a suitable place to practice outside of the studio with enough space to do steps full out. However, practicing in place can be like jogging in place for a marathon. Once on a family trip right before a feis, I rearranged the hotel furniture every day in order to run through steps as best as I could. I know lots of dancers who utilize their basements, garages, driveways, decks, porches, and so on. Be careful and wear supportive footwear like trainers if you’ll be practicing on a hard surface. You could also use limited space to your advantage by working on short hardshoe drills (turnout, timing, crossover) or a new softshoe trick.

Push your stamina.

It only takes a matter of days to notice a loss of stamina in your dancing. Nonetheless, you can still get your endurance back over time. An easy way to work on cardio while traveling is doing ‘stairs’—especially in hotels. You can run or jog a few flights of stairs, and do toe raises on the steps up. You can enhance your exercise with routine bike rides or swimming in nice weather.

Learn new material.

If I’m working on something new while traveling, I’ll record videos to watch on the bus/plane/car ride. It is also a good idea to record videos to help you remember the material and work at mastering new steps while you’re not going to classes so you’ll be prepared when the classes do resume.

Practice with friends.

Even if you’re not in the studio, you can set up a time and place to practice with a friend. I’ve found that practicing with others helps me to become more motivated and productive, but feels like less pressure. Of course, it’s also nice to see my friends when we are not able to be together at the studio for several hours a week.

Like many others, I love to dance even when I’m not preparing for a feis or show. Sometimes it’s exhilarating to just make up steps and freestyle to a treble reel or contemporary pop song. My summer break would be absolutely boring if I was not dancing!
Photo credit: Free image via Pixabay

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