Have you ever watched your dance videos and thought, “woah I thought my dancing looked WAY different!”
Or maybe you’ve been in class and received feedback like,
“Keep your arms in!”
And you think to yourself, “I thought they were in!”
If this feels relatable, you are not alone! Learning how to “feel” where your body is exactly while you are dancing can be really challenging. Irish Dancing is a very unnatural way of moving in the first place, you have to move very quickly, and have about 27 different things to think about all at once.
That’s why today we are going to break down 4 tools you can use to bridge the gap between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing.
You’ll see below that number one is more of a concept than a tool, but it is absolutely critical you understand this concept if you are going to improve anything in your dancing.
1.) If you are doing something incorrectly for months or years and it feels “right”, then doing it correctly will feel awkward, weird or wrong at first.
I’m going to tell a story…
When I start working with dancers online, we usually look at their posture and alignment first. What I mean by that is we look to see if their shoulder, hips, and ribs all stacked. A really common incorrect pattern of posture dancers can fall into is called an anterior pelvic tilt. This is when their butt is sticking way out behind them and stomach is dumping forward.
When you pelvis is anteriorly tiled, your abdominals are in a stretched position and you can’t use your deep transverse abdominals as effectively as you could if you were in a more neutral position. This could be a whole episode in itself, but I’m going to leave it at that for now so I can get to my point.
I’ve worked with quite a few dancers both online and in-person working on correcting their anterior pelvic tilt and one thing that is very tricky about correcting it and moving to a more neutral position is that it “feels” wrong at first.
If you’ve been walking around and sticking your butt out for most of your life and then all of a sudden try to walk and dance differently, it’s really tough! To a dancer who’s been walking around with an anterior pelvic tilt for years or maybe even the majority of their life, moving around in a more neutral position often feels “awkward”, “hard”, or even exhausting because they are engaging muscles they don’t usually engage.
And this can be applied with just about everything in dancing. If you’ve been bending your arms every time your jump for most of your dancing life, keeping them straight is going to feel totally unnatural. If you’ve been dancing with your feet slightly straight for years, dancing with them all the way turned out is going to feel weird.
Eventually, as you work on a new pattern of movement, it will feel more natural, but for the first several weeks or months, it’s going to feel awkward.
This is why it’s important to know and accept that if you’ve been doing something incorrectly for months or years and it feels “right”, then doing it correctly will feel awkward, weird or wrong at first. Rather than getting super frustrated or upset and telling yourself that you’ll never get it right…just accept what you’re doing is tough but remind yourself that just because it feels tough now, doesn’t mean it will feel tough forever.
2.) Film your dances during practice, rewatch them immediately, and adjust them in real time.
When you take a selfie, do you look at it right away? If so, why?
Or let’s say you take a picture friends, why do you want to see it right away? Why?
Most likely you do this so you check out how you look and have the opportunity to adjust and re-take it if necessary.
For example, let’s say you take a picture and your eyes are closed. You may retake it and pay extra close attention to keeping your eyes open.
Or let’s say you are doing some weird gesture with your arm, you will probably re-take it and change your arm position.
You can apply this exact same strategy to drilling your dances.
Here’s how to use filming your dances as a tool for improvement…
When you’re practicing, after you feel like you have a piece down, film it on your phone and re-watch it immediately. What’s great about this is that you can fix anything that needs to be fixed right away. You can also connect the dots between what a movement feels like and what it looks like.
Let’s say you’re working on improving your TJ turnout and crossing. You’ll do a work on the first little piece, then film it to see if it’s turned out. If it is, great! Work on it until you memorize that feeling of being turned out!
If not, work on it again until you can get it turned out. Then film that part again. Check to see if it’s turned out. If it is, great! Work on it util you memorize that feeling of being turned out!
When you are able to get real time feedback on every part of your dance, and connect what you’re doing with how it feels, you’ll be able to improve much quicker.
If the idea of watching yourself dance on video makes you cringe, you’re in good company! Most dancers don’t like watching themselves dance and it can even cause some feelings of anxiety. This happens mostly when dancers use videos as a form of judgment of themselves, or their dancing as a whole, vs. as a tool for improvement.
They’ll wait months in-between watching themselves dance so they aren’t sure what to expect. Then there’s a feeling of dread watching their videos because they have no idea what to expect.
Rather than falling into that trap of video watching dread, treat your dance videos as a tool to get to know and improve your dancing. If you watch them frequently and when you’re actually drilling your dances, you’ll know exactly what to expect and don’t have to “fear” the way your dancing looks. Instead, you are empowered by being able to see exactly what the judges see and improve what needs to be improved!
3.) Use drills to master the “feeling” of the basics
Drills are designed to help you laser focus on mastering proper basic technique. What I see happen quite bit is dancers will do drills to “get them over with” or for the sake of “doing drills” but don’t take the time to think about the intention behind their drills.
When you are doing a full run or even a full step, there is a ton to think about.
When you are doing drills, you get to improve technique in simpler movements so you can later translate that feeling of better technique to your actual steps.
So when you do drills, rather than just trying to get them over with, think about what you are trying to improve in that moment and stay focused on the feeling of proper technique.
4.) Do a body scan!
This is a tool you can use to get to know your whole body better and how it moves. To do a body scan, start by laying on the ground, seated, or standing with your eyes closed.
Draw you attention to your toes. Try wiggling them, scrunching them, and spreading them wide. Notice how it feels. You’ll then move to your arches and feet. Notice how it feels to contract and relax your arches and roll your ankles in and out. Work your way up and do this with every part of your body. The first time you do this, you may be surprised by how many parts of your body you draw awareness to that you never paid attention to before!
This can be especially helpful when trying to pinpoint one area of improvement. In this case, you can use a body scan for a specific area of the body. For example, if you’re a dancer who struggles with sickling the foot in vs. winging it out slightly.
you can try sitting with the legs out in front and working on just trying to draw awareness to the ankle and move it back and forth.
Once you have the awareness and feeling of how the ankle is supposed to move, it becomes much easier to move it properly when dancing. You may start with a body scan and isolate the ankle, then take it a step further by winging the foot in dance drills, then practice that same movement your steps and film it to make sure it is correct. It comes full circle!
So next time you find yourself feeling frustrated about how you feel like you are doing something totally different than you are try out these 4 tools and let me know how it goes by emailing my at email@example.com or shooting me a message on IG @areyoufeisfit.
Also, if you are interested in taking your dance training to the next level, listen up! After the Oireachtas, I’ll be taking on a handful of new online One On One coaching clients. This is an online program for dancers who want to go “all-in” with their training and improve their strength, stamina, flexibility, and technique! The cool part about one on one coaching is that you get a personalized plan of action based on what you need to improve the most, a coach to guide you every step of the way, and help with working through the unique challenges dancers face. Improving your dancing is hard, trying to give every practice your all is tiring, and it can be extremely helpful having a coach there for you to work through the challenges of being a dancer and celebrate your successes! There is nothing I love more than when a dancer finally reaches their goal after fighting for it over and over again. And that’s what I’m here to help you do. You can learn more by heading to www.areyoufeisfit.com.