Category Archives: practice

Irish dancers from Rinceoiri Don Spraoi participate in a children’s DVD

Irish dancers wait for their cue before filming a scene

It’s hard to wait. Especially when you’re between the ages of four and seven. Rinceoiri Don Spraoi Shamrocks, Grace, Mari, and Audrey, found out just how hard waiting can be as they waited hours for their turn to begin filming.

After watching a performance at the 2011 Festival of Trees, a local Utah film producer contacted Rinceoiri about a spot in a children’s video. The video would feature an Irish number and would benefit from the addition of Irish dancers they thought. Dancers were chosen from the recent Shamrock class, consisting of tiny dancers ages three to seven, taught by Brooke Curnow.
Which brings us to the green room, and anxious children waiting to get on stage and perform for the cameras. The threesome waited Saturday, from 3 p.m. until just before 5 p.m. to begin the process. Makeup was applied, hair coifed, and finally into the spotlight they went.
Once their marks on stage were given, the lights adjusted, and the cameras readied, the countdown on the clapperboard began. 
“Action!” bellowed the director, and the dancing began. Two takes for the first scene, one take for the second scene. You read that right, one take for scene number two. These Irish dancers were ready, knew their dance, and how to present it. 
Behind the scenes at the filming of a children’s dvd.
Rinceoiri don Spraoi dancers can be seen on the monitors.
It was adorable, and all too soon, it was over. Hours of practice and waiting, for what seemed like mere seconds on film. But with smiles on their tired little faces, the three Irish dancing girls made their way out of the studio and on their way home. They’ll all sleep well tonight.
The video, which is currently in post-production, has been a highly guarded secret. Release is expected in early April, by the award winning production team. Information on the title can be found here at a later date.
Incidentally, if you’d like your own clapperboard and shot log, you can download one on iTunes.

Foot Position – Hopping exercise, Jumping exercise

Hopping exercise
*Begin in your standing position, with your feet crossed and turned out, and your right foot pointed.

*Step forward so that your weight is on your right foot. Lift your left leg from behind you straight into the air in front of you, keeping your toe pointed. Hop on your right leg (your back leg), at the same time bending your front leg and bringing your left foot to your right knee. As with point and lift, your foot should be over your knee, and almost but not quite touching it. Keep your toe pointed at the ground.

*Keeping the upper part of your left leg stationary, straighten your left leg a little ways and then bring your left foot back towards your right knee, hopping as you do so. Straighten your leg and hop once more. This will make a total of one step and three hops.

*Now switch to the other side, bringing your left foot down to the ground directly in front of your right foot and putting your weight on your left foot. Lift your right leg in the air and hop three times, bringing your foot to your knee each time.

*Repeat twice more.

*When you are comfortable with step and 3 hops, try step and 2 hops instead, which has a slightly different rhythm. Then try step and one hop.

*If you are doing this exercise with the music, each step and each hop will occupy 1/2 of a bar of music, making step and 3 hops take up 2 bars.

*Try to watch several form points as you do this exercise: keep your arms tight to your sides, your shoulders back, your head up; keep your toe pointed at the ground, stay up on your toes; keep your foot directly in front of (but not touching) your knee, and keep your upper leg flat while you are hopping.

*More advanced form: do 8 bars of step and 3 hops, 8 of step and 2, and 8 of step and 1 without any breaks in between. Then try 16 bars of each strung together.

Jumping exercise

*If you are doing this exercise with the music, you should do 2 jumps for every 1 bar of music.
Remember also on all these to keep your back straight, your head up, and your arms and hands still at your sides. These small but crucial elements take a lot of practice to become comfortable.

First exercise: Begin in your standing position with your feet crossed and turned out. Keeping your feet together, jump into the air. Your legs should be straight, not bent. These jumps are low to the ground but high enough that, ideally, you should point your toes every time you are in the air. Try to stay right on your spot and do not let your body tilt or slouch.
Repeat in sets of 8 or 16.

More advanced form: Jump 3 times in a row, using the landing on the third jump as a springboard to lift your body high in the air and pull both your legs up in back (this is called a tuck). Repeat the jump-2-3-tuck movement several times. Land on the balls of your feet and bend your knees slightly on landing to cushion your descent and make a light landing.
Concentrate on pushing your legs down to the ground as well as pulling them up in the air; pushing your legs down as well as up will give you greater control over your speed, allowing you to do the exercise fast enough so that the tuck only takes 1 bar.

Extra advanced form, straight tucks: Do 8 or 16 tucks in a row with no jumps in between. These are difficult and you will have to concentrate on pushing your legs to achieve your goal of 2 tucks per bar. Land high on the balls of your feet and don’t let yourself sink into the floor or it will be very hard to get back up again. Try to land with as little noise as possible: keeping your toes together as you land on the ball of your foot will help you land lightly.

Now that you’re trying to do all these things at once, try to smile, too. :)
Smiling helps keep you positive even when you have no energy. Remember that Irish dancing is all about looking like very difficult things are easy, and part of that is looking like you’re energetic even when you’re exhausted. Like everything else, this illusion takes practice.

Used with permission from Ariel Bennett, Heritage Irish Stepdancers

Foot Position – Hopping point exercise, Point and lift exercises

Hopping point exercise
*Begin in standing position. Cross your feet and point your right toe on the spot you have chosen in front of you, checking turnout.

*Hop in the air and point your right toe on the spot on your floor, keeping your arms tight at your sides. Your back knee will bend a little, but do not let it bend too much. Keep your front leg straight and your toe nicely pointed. Your toe should not make noise as it touches the ground.

*Repeat so that your toe touches the ground 8 times. Then switch your legs, hopping and pointing your left toe on the same spot 8 times. Switch back and forth several times.

*Now, hop and point each toe on the ground 4 times, switching back and forth. Then hop and point each toe 2 times, switching back and forth, and then finish your exercise by pointing each toe on the ground once, switching legs after every point.

*If you are doing this exercise with music, your toe should touch the ground twice per each bar of music.

Point and lift exercises
There is a basic exercise and three variations to choose from. (see note)

*Begin in standing position. Cross your feet and point your right foot, checking turnout.

*Lift your right leg into the air a short way, keeping the leg straight and your toe pointed.

*Now, bend your knee and pull your foot (still pointed) towards your back leg, stopping when your front foot is right in front of your back knee, almost but not quite touching the back knee. Your upper front leg should be flat, and your front toe should be pointed at the ground.

*Reverse the movement, straightening your front leg before lowering it to the ground. Your toe should stay pointed during this whole movement.

*Repeat the point and lift on your right leg 8 times, then on your left leg 8 times.

*If you are doing this exercise to music, each lift should take 1 bar and each return to pointing should take 1 bar, making each point and lift 2 bars long. You may want to practice more slowly at first and work up to this speed.

Variation 1: Lift your leg straight into the air and then return it to the ground instead of bending it to your knee. Make sure your legs stay straight and your front toes stay pointed. Pay special attention to your upper body: keep it straight and do not let your shoulders come forward. Your leg does not have to lift very high, but it does need to be straight, as does your back. Repeat 8 times both legs.
Variation 2: From the pointing position, tuck your leg behind you so that your foot is close to your buttocks in back, then return your foot to its pointing position. In this point and lift exercise, you should try to keep your knee down, so that it does not stick too far out in front. Your foot should stay pointed behind you. Repeat 8 times on both legs.
Variation 3: Lift your leg, bend your foot to your knee, straighten your leg out again and then, leaving your leg straight in front of you in the air, rise up on your back toe, hold it for a bar, and then relax back onto your whole foot as you lower your front leg to the ground. This is a more advanced variation. As you get better at this variation, you should gradually increase the amount of time you hold yourself up on your toe.
*Note: many people have difficulty keeping their toes pointed straight when first learning these exercises. If you notice that your foot tends to turn inward when you lift it, then you need to practice point and lift in front of a mirror. Whenever you see your foot turn, push it back so that it is pointing at the ground. If you are not sure which muscles control that motion, or if the muscles are weak at first, use your hand to help adjust your foot until you can move the foot on its own. Unfortunately, like many form problems, this one can only be corrected by diligent practice.

Used with permission from Ariel Bennett, Heritage Irish Stepdancers

Foot Position – Standing point exercise, Cross/Turnout/Balance Exercise

Standing point exercise
*Begin in your standing position. Cross your feet, checking turnout. Pick a spot in front of you and point your right toe so that it is resting on the spot you have chosen.

*Return your right foot to your crossed feet position.

*Point your right foot again, making sure your toe touches the same spot.

*Repeat 8 times. Then repeat 8 times with your left foot, which should touch the same spot in front of you.

*If you are practicing this exercise with music, pointing your toe and returning it should each take 1 bar of music, making one repetition for every 2 bars.

Cross/Turnout/Balance Exercise
*Begin in standing position, leaving your heels together and arms by your sides.
*Slowly lift up onto the ball of your feet, leaving your heels touching (there should be no space between your heels). You should be as high on the ball of your foot as you can go comfortably while keeping your heels together. Hold this position for a count of 3 (or, if you are practicing to music, for 3 bars) and then return to the standing position.
*Repeat 3 more times (which takes 16 bars with the music).
*Now, cross your right foot in front of your left. With your feet crossed, lift up onto the balls of your feet, pulling your feet as close as you can together and keeping your legs squeezed together. Think about lifting your chest up towards the ceiling, which will help you maintain your balance. Hold this position for a count of 3 (or 3 bars) and then relax.
*Repeat 3 more times (16 bars total).
*Now, cross your left foot in front of your right and repeat the above 4 times total.
*If you have your trouble with your cross, turnout, and/or balance, simply repeat this whole group of exercises again.
Used with permission from Ariel Bennett, Heritage Irish Stepdancers

Foot Position – Crossing your feet, Pointing toes

The position of your feet is one of the main things that make an Irish dancer proficient. These exercises should help you improve your pointing, and turnout, and hopefully you will also end up a much better dancer!

Crossing Your Feet
*Start from your standing position, checking to make sure your stance is correct.

*Place your right foot in front of your left foot, keeping both feet turned out. Your right heel should be touching your left toes.

*Your feet are now what the Irish call “crossed.” This means that your feet are one in front of the other, with your legs together so that no space shows between them.

*Try crossing your feet with the left foot in front now.

Pointing Your Toe
*Start in your standing position, checking to make sure your stance is correct.
*Cross your feet with the right foot in front, making sure your feet remain turned out.
*Slide your right foot forward several inches so that your right heel is in a line with your left arch. Your weight should now be entirely on your left foot (your back foot). The exact distance you want your feet apart depends on your height and balance, which is different for each person, so experiment to find the best spot for you. Make sure your toes remain turned out from your hips.
*Keeping your leg straight and your toes on the ground, slowly lift your right heel as far as you can, using mainly your calf muscles and rotating your hip very slightly up as your heel rises. You may need to slide your right foot forward or backward somewhat to keep your leg straight as you do this.
*Now, use the muscles of your foot to curl your toes. Your weight is still entirely on your left foot, your back foot. Ideally, then, you should now be standing with your weight on your back leg, with only the tips of your front toes resting on the ground. Make sure your toes are still turned out. (You know they are if you can see your front heel in the mirror).
*The muscles of the arches of your feet are what control your toe point. To strengthen them, you can sit with ankle weights attached around your feet, or sit with your toes under the bottom of a chair or couch (or other heavy object). Make sure that whatever your toes are under is not heavy enough to damage your toes or feet. Leaving your heels on the ground, raise and lower your toes, lifting whatever object they are resting under. Repeat numerous times.
*Repeat your toe point with your left toe.
Used with permission from Ariel Bennett, Heritage Irish Stepdancers

It’s good to be back in class!

Thanks to all our wonderful Irish dancers; from the littlest Shamrock and newest Beginners, to the seasoned pros.  We had a great set of classes today! You all really gave a lot to make things go as smoothly as possible.

Welcome Shamrocks! We hope you enjoy your classes with Stephanie.  Remember to practice your skipping at home!

To the Intro Three; Great work today!  We’ll be working on leaps next week so remember to stretch, even if you hate it. :)

We’re learning a new dance in the Beginner class and they are really working hard to make every step look nice.  Keep up the great effort!

Prep class has a few new students, which will add greatly to the group!  It’s going to be a little frustrating at first, but remember that everyone else in that class was where you are now.  It’s a great class that helps each other out, so be sure to ask questions and for help when you need it.

And last but not least, the Performers also added a couple of new members to the ranks.  Welcome to the craziness and fun that is our group!  We’re excited to have you join us and can’t wait to start performing together.

Practice, practice, practice this week; but don’t forget to enjoy life as well.

Improving Irish dance turnout

The most important thing to know is that turnout actually comes from your hip, not your foot: in other words, your whole leg is turned out, not just your foot. If you have trouble doing this, either you don’t have enough flexibility in your hip yet, or you don’t have enough strength in your hip to maintain the turnout.

Try these simple exercises to improve your turnout.

Exercise 1
Lie on your back. Place your hands under your hips with the palms facing down, so that you are basically sitting on your hands. Put your legs straight up in the air so that they are perpendicular to the floor. Bend your knees slightly so that you can see them. Flex your feet and put your feet side by side. Now, leave your heels touching and your feet flexed as you turn your whole leg out; you will know that you are doing this if your knees and toes are going the same direction (your feet should never, ever go farther out than your knees). Now return to your feet side by side. Repeat 8 times, than rest. If you feel any discomfort in the sides of your knees, that means you are trying to turn out farther than your hip is ready for (and so you’re twisting your knee, which is very bad). Don’t turn out so far right now; wait for your knee and hip to tell you that they’re ready to go a little farther.

Exercise 2
Stand with your heels together and your feet turned out. Again, your knees should be going the same direction as your toes; you can bend them a little to check (and then straighten them back out). If your knees are not over your toes, then you are trying to turn out too far and need to bring your feet closer together for right now. Now, place your right foot in front of your left so that your right heel is touching your left toe. Start to walk forward along an imaginary line, lifting each leg all the way up behind and then placing it in front of the other foot with the heel of the front foot against the toe of the back foot, making sure you maintain your turnout. Do this slowly. Once you reach the front of the room, reverse and go backwards, watching again that you maintain your turnout with each step. This strengthens the muscles needed for turnout.

Exercise 3
Do your 3’s very slowly forward along your imaginary line, watching that on each step both feet stay turned out, with your knees turned the same direction as your toes. If you have trouble with your foot staying turned out, do your 3’s even more slowly, perhaps even walking them, until each time your foot touches the floor it is turned out and stays that way. When you reach the front of the room, try them going backwards. Once you feel good about that, try one of your steps very slowly, watching your turnout each time you switch feet, hop, leap, etc. If your foot turns straight, go over that section until it stays turned out. Go more slowly, walking through the moves if you have to.

Used with permission from Ariel Bennett, Heritage Irish Stepdancers

Better Irish dance stance

As we come to a set of new classes this weekend, I thought it would be beneficial to post a few things about form, stretches, and exercises to improve your Irish dancing. This is helpful to newbies, but also a great reminder to dancers of all levels. Watch for more posts to come!

Better Irish dance stance

Standing Position (Stance)
*Stand with your feet and legs together and your arms hanging at your sides. Your legs should be straight, but do not lock your knees.

*Tighten your buttock muscles (squeeze them gently together). Then, starting from the bottom of your spine, concentrate on tightening each vertebra all the way up to your head. Imagine the pole running up your spine. You are sliding along it toward the ceiling, getting taller as you straighten. If you inhale as you straighten your back, you should feel as though your body is getting lighter.

*Pull your shoulders back gently and let your arms hang straight down from them. If you have a seam on the side of your shorts or pants, your arms should be hanging just behind that seam now.

*Fold your thumb into the palm of your hand. Curl your fingers gently over your thumb. Make sure you do not hold your fingers and thumb too tightly, or your hand will go numb. However, your fingers should touch your thumb during your whole exercise or dance, and your hands should stay touching the sides of your legs.

*Leaving your heels together, rotate your legs from your hips and turn your toes away from each other until they are at about a 45 degree angle. This is called turnout. Make sure you are turning your legs out from your hips. You can check this by bending your knees slightly. If your knees are bending over your toes, you are turning your toes out from your hips. If your knees are not in a line with your toes, then you are turning from your lower leg, which will put damaging pressure on your knees. If at first you are not very flexible in the hips, try turning your feet only slightly out, and gradually turn out more and more with each class.

*This is your standing position. You should always start in this position before doing dance exercises or your actual dance. If you have trouble staying in this position, practice it on your own.

Used with permission from Ariel Bennett, Heritage Irish Stepdancers

Irish dancers and shin splints

Lots of dancers get shin splints. If you don’t know what shin splints are, count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Basically, the term “shin splints” corresponds to any pain you feel at the front of the lower leg (your shin). Pain can be mild and annoying, or razor-sharp and debilitating. Numerous causes can be attributed to shin splints symptoms, so it’s best to see a physician if pain is severe or persistent.

“The pain is your body’s way of saying you’ve had enough,” says sports injuries specialist Craig Hersh, M.D., of the Sports Medicine Center in Fort Lee, New Jersey. “If you ignore the pain and don’t let up on the activity, it could result in a stress fracture. It’s like bending a piece of metal back and forth over and over again–eventually it breaks.”

How can an Irish dancer treat shin splints? At Rinceoiri, we recommend ice on the shin for 20 minutes, a little massage of the affected area, and rest.

Want to avoid shin splints altogether? Stretch daily. Stretch your hamstrings, your achilles tendons, calves, and of course your shins. Try using Thera-band. You can also try lower leg exercises such as drawing each letter of the alphabet or making big circles with the big toe of each foot in the air (like we do in class). Stretch before practicing as well as after.

Remember, no advice online is a replacement for your own physician’s advice and treatment. Always check with yours before trying any treatment or remedy.

New Irish dance classes begin again Saturday, Jan. 8

It’s a new year already. Hard to believe isn’t it? To everyone involved in Irish dance, this means it’s time to start readying for St. Patrick’s Day. At Rinceoiri, we’ll be finishing up some new choreography and welcoming new beginning students and Shamrocks. It’s always fun to see the littlest dancers learning their dance. They are so cute!

We have some fun new steps to perfect in the Performing group, so be prepared to work. No more vacation for us!