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!
We call it many things in Irish Dancing. It is referred to as “Jump 2 3”, “Over”, “Glide”, “Jump Over”, “Hop 2 3”, or “Bird”. No matter what you call them, this move is a signature of Irish Step Dancing throughout the world, and is one of the most awe-inspiring, and powerful aspects of our passion and tradition. But how exactly does your body make this happen?
Many muscles and joints are involved in the execution of a Jump 2 3. When you perform this movement, we all understand that the front leg is stretched out straight in front of you, and the back leg is bent at the knee, with your foot up to your bum (all with good posture and carriage, of course!). To do this, your hip, knee, and ankle are carried through a sequence of controlled, and coordinated movements that can take months and years of practice to perfect.
In the front leg, this sequence of events occurs:
This means your leg kicks up to the front. It is accomplished by a concentric contraction (when the muscle fibers contract, causing a powerful shortening of the length of the muscle belly) of all the muscles that are considered hip flexors. Your hip flexors include the Psoas, Iliacus (together called the Iliopsoas at their combined tendon), and Rectus Femoris (also part of the quadriceps muscle group).
When the knee is extended, it is straight. The four muscle bellies of the quadriceps (the Vastus Lateralis, Vastus Intermedius, Vastus Medialis, and Rectus Femoris), on the front of your thigh, perform this function through another strong concentric muscle contraction. The Rectus Femoris does double duty here! It acts to both flex the hip, and extend the knee, making it more susceptible to chronic shortening in Irish Dancers.
Can’t forget to point your toes! When the ankle tips down, and points, this is called plantarflexion. Your calf muscles include the gastrocnemius, and the soleus, and are extremely important to Irish Dancers! These muscles powerfully use a concentric/shortening contraction to pull the ankle into plantarflexion through the Achilles Tendon, as you point your toes. There is a lot of toe pointing in Irish Dance, so these muscles get very strong and powerful.
Deep underneath your gastrocnemius, and soleus muscles in your calf, you have your toe flexors, called the Flexor Digitorum Longus, Flexor Digitorum Brevis, (these two are for your 2nd-5th toes) Flexor Hallucis Longus and Flexor Hallucis Brevis (these two are for your big toe). These muscles assist in pointing your toes and bring them down in the same direction as the ankle to allow a beautiful pointed foot in profile.
In the back leg, this sequence of events occurs:
Hip extension is the opposite of hip flexion, and brings the leg backward in space. This is accomplished by a concentric (shortening) contraction, of the Gluteus Maximus (your biggest bum muscle), and the hamstring muscle group, which consists of the Semimembranosus, Semitendinosus, and Biceps Femoris, and is located on the back of your thigh. This hip extension also gives you a lot of the power you get to push yourself into the air as you do the Jump 2 3.
Like the Rectus Femoris in the front leg, the hamstrings do double duty in the back leg! When the knee is flexed, we can kick to our bum, and to do this quickly, and on time to the music, the Semitendinosus, Semimembranosus, and Biceps Femoris must concentrically contract in a forceful manner.
As you can see, many parts of the lower body work together to produce the classic Irish Dancing Jump Over. Understanding your anatomy, and actions of each of these joints and muscle groups can assist in refining your control, technique and execution so you may correct errors and tell your teacher, parents, Physical Therapist/Physiotherapist, and/or Athletic Trainer when something is wrong.
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