Irish dance health: Kerry fast!

My loveJanet + Nora Sneem affair with the Kingdom of Kerry started back one dark, cold winter around New Year Eve in 1989 when I found myself in Sneem, near Kenmare with a group of newish friends I had met in Australia a few years earlier.

They had invited me to join them in a rented house and we had a great time out walking, playing board games and inevitably ended up at the local pub on New Years Eve.

Two important things happened for me that night: a random connection that led directly to my long-term & current friendship with Con Moriarty from the Gap of Dunloe, and I saw my very first Irish set being danced that night in the pub.

Fast friends: Pat Falvey with me on the Skellig Michael 1997

Fast friends: Pat Falvey with me on the Skellig

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Irish dance partners: Dancing under your own steam

Some of the nicest, most pleasurable dance experiences I’ve had in Irish set dancing have been with partners who are… how can I say it? Comfortable. It’s like moving on in the set and arriving at your favourite armchair – aaah, a space that is obliging, giving and freeing, all at the same time with the added pleasure of moving exactly in rhythmic time with another.

Sadly, that’s not always the case. Many will have had the experience of being tackled by a smiling partner who seems to have wandered in off the sporting pitch, is full of energy and enthusiasm that’s just bone crackin’. Or collecting the demure-looking woman who’s leans on you and is like 20lbs spuds to get around the floor.

So, despite being convinced that all dancers are doing their best to dance, enjoy and have a good time, I think sometimes there’s a small lack of technique, knowledge or thought about what kind of experience it might be for the other person. It doesn’t mean completely changing your dance style but simply being mindful of others and making small accommodations to suit.

1. Dancing under your own steam – as much as your partner may be comfortable, their job is not to carry you. Your two legs will do that and all your weight needs to be on them, not your partner. To see if you’re already doing that, challenge yourself. Have a look at the dance practice exercise on the film  (below) and see if you can dance at home, and then do a full house with your partner with only your palms touching palms as you dance.

2. Flat resting hands, light touch – Pulling, yanking, poking, gripping hands are most unattractive and are usually evident in the excitement of brilliant music and fast moves – we’ve all done it. Taking care also applies to moves like turning the lady under where all you need to do is use the tips of your fingers to touch, not using your whole hand. People carry all sorts of injuries and pains – arthritis, bruising, sprains – and it pays to take care with all hand holds. Continue reading

Irish dance: 5 tips for keeping your dancing healthy

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Staying healthy takes more and more of my time, and it seems obvious to try to enhance the benefits of dance by paying attention to a few basics. This is not an exhaustive list: I have already written about some of these tips but ’tis always good to have a reminder.

1. Dance floor – seems an odd kind of thing to put top of the list but flooring is critical to reducing knee, hip and ankle injuries and sore backs, ideally, sprung floor is the best or at least something with some bounce or give in it. You should be able to see the floor moving when someone walks or dances on it. The floor also needs to be very clean- swept first then a very hot, dry-damp squeezed-out mop over the top to get all the grease and dirt off.

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Dance and music: Wake up to a healthy, rosy glow

Falling into bed at 4am after a brilliant night of music and dancing in Sydney, followed by a long 3 hour drive home, my head barely hits the pillow and I’m asleep. I wish I could say that happened every night, but for me, it doesn’t.

The effects oawake + clockf an over-active brain, the combination of mental exhaustion & not being generally physically tired from sitting, too much screen time & effects of screen light, and now the creeping menopause effects of hot flushes and arthritis, all conspire against good sleep.

The other undesirable element is the potential for weight gain- not helped by a cold winter and the desire for lots of lovely “comfort” food – beautifully braised lamb shanks with lots of potatoes, baked rice pudding, pumpkin scones (with tons of butter, of course) – need I go on?

My typical downward spiral goes something like this:

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Irish Music: Bet You Can’t Sit Still

FREEDOM is the feeling that Irish music creates for me, and sometimes the trappings of too much information and detail about dance and music can strangle that sense of liberation.

So, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite music dance tracks with you with the minimum amount of fuss.

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Irish dance: Change your shoes, change your style

All varieties of Irish dance are distinguished by one main thing: style. There are other differences, of course, such as rules and structure that guide the dances themselves. However, style – the way in which the dancer moves- is key.

I have written about 6 different styles of Irish dance and referred to body stance – hand holds low vs high, low to floor flat feet style vs high up on the balls of the feet with pointed toes, and pretty much everything in between. I will write more on body stance in next week’s blog post Irish Dance: Tips for Body Style

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Wanna Be Irish St.Patrick’s Day? Dance, Don’t Drink

I love my Irish heritage – very proud of that and no more than on St.Patrick’s Day, when everyone wants to be Irish for the day. It does feel sad to me, however, that despite such a rich, creative and complex culture, that it all seems to boil down to one thing on the one day: drink.

Now don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy a glass of wine or two, have been known to enjoy the odd Irish coffee and love mellow Irish hot whiskeys in the winter.

But not when I’m dancing. If you ever want to feel like you’re really part of a slow-motion 3D movie, then half a dozen pints and then on to dance the Clare Plain Set is your man. Most people who’ve been dancing a long time recognise that dancing and drinking don’t really mix, and the ones that don’t, look in the mirror the next morning and hope nobody recognises them. Continue reading

Dance shoes: Avoid sore feet!

Irish dance shoes:  7 tips on how to avoid sore feet, ongoing knee problems, hip problems and a plethora of other ailments that can come with Irish dancing, despite that it should be good for you! I have some suggestions for you that I have worked out over a long period of dancing. I also used to sell shoes and boots for hiking, and there are many similarities with dancing, including getting lots of mileage!

1. Supportive shoes
Supportive shoes are those that have stiffness under the arch of your foot, and that move the right way when you dance. Shoes that offer the best support for your feet are torsionally strong, which means they don’t have much twist.  What you DO want is the shoe to bend forward at the ball of your foot to allow your heel to go up and down. New shoes often take a while to soften in this part of the sole.  So,  if the shoe doesn’t bend and give, your foot still wants to go up and this creates friction and rubbing inside the shoe, creating the potential for blisters. Something’s gotta give! Continue reading