Dance Shoes vs. Shoes for Dance?

I was recently asked by a new Irish set dancer what shoes I would recommend for dancing. I hesitated in replying, not sure why. I realised that to answer this question, I had to ask a question in return. You have to decide if you want:

1. Dance shoes or
2. Shoes for dance
They are not necessarily one and the same thing.

For dancers, your feet are the most important part of your body to look after. I have been  largely ignorant of this and realise only now how lucky I was to grow up in the Pacific, barefeet most of the time, and have avoided many problems that come for most people from wearing poorly-fitting shoes. READ MORE HERE

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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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Irish dance: On pointe – is it safe?

“I’m jealous. I’d like to be able to dance up on my toes like this”.

About six months ago, my new young FaceBook friend from Vietnam emailed me, including a photo of Irish dance shoes on point or toe dancing.

My instinctive response was quite horrified (also shows I am out of touch with what Irish step dancers are up to),  and I told him that it wasn’t safe to do this without training and knowledge of how to do this properly. After my initial response, I then reflected on why I was horrified. I did ballet for 5 years as a youngster and dancing en pointe (on point or tips of toes) was something you had to be selected to do and undertake considerable training for.

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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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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

Irish dance is not all the same!

A guide to 6 different Irish dance styles

I was reminded yet again this week that most people are only aware of one style of Irish dance- Irish step dancing, brought to world fame by the Riverdance production. However, there are many other Irish dance styles –  at least six that I am aware of. The biggest difference in style is being whether the dance is balletic – with pointed toes and high on the balls of the feet – or a relaxed, flatter, gliding style with more use of the heels. 
Have a look at the videos below and see if you can spot the difference? Whatever the style, the essence is that they all use Irish music, are very rhythmic and should be fun to do!

1. Irish Set Dancing– FLAT DOWN STYLE
Social dancing with four couples in a set of eight dancers; feet flat, gliding style, relaxed body and arms, having fun!
Set dancing is a vibrant and fresh style of dance, based on dancing Quadrilles, which originally came from France. The Irish have added their own unique steps and music to this dancing to make it energetic, rhythmic and great fun.The style is with the feet very low and flat to the floor, sometimes silently pushing and swishing around the floor, and other times making a rhythmic tattoo on the floor that is hypnotic. Set dancing uses the whole body in a relaxed stance.  Irish set dancing has similar roots to American square dancing, although sets have a more disciplined structure determined by the structure of the music.

 

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Irish dance – no laughing matter?

My last post alluded to my view that craic – fun, humour and general horsing around – is a treasured part of Irish culture, and has been an important part of my life and dance experience in Ireland.

Amuse yourselves with examples of a few well-known Irish people – Niall Tobin and The Builders, Maeve Binchy and her famous Veal Casserole, Dillie Keane and the Fascinating Aida troupe doing Cheap Flights – to name but a few.

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GET A RHYTHM…when you’ve got the shoes!

It was ten years ago now in 2004 that I went to my very first Irish dance workshop to learn the sean nós or old-style of Irish dancing from Kathleen McGlynn. Kathleen has an inclusive  and encouraging approach to teaching and she put everyone at their ease – as much as you could have with about 50 of us keen learners crammed into the smallest space imaginable at the venue An Grianán in Co.Louth (the workshops have since been moved to bigger venues).

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Irish dance shoes: Well-heeled and well-travelled

Now that I am able to wear shoes again, I was looking at all my footwear for dancing and thinking about the progression of how they came to me and why I love them all.

The oldest in my collection by a country mile are my very traditional Australian RM Williams horse riding boots. Beautifully made with leather soles and elastic sides, they are the most comfortable boots you’ll find anywhere. I bought these off a friend (second-hand/ foot) for $20 when I was 13 years old and they are well over 30 years old (so am I!). Extremely well-travelled boots, coming to Ireland with me and back again, they have been re-soled and repaired many times since then and I gave them an outing in my first film “Sean-nOZ”.

My first set dancing shoes I bought in 1999 from the Talbot Dance Centre in Dublin – black lace-ups with leather soles and hollow, plastic heels.   There are three screws in the base of heel and these make a tappy, tinny little sound. I was pleased with them: they made me feel part of the crowd. Those are now retired, hanging up in my cupboard with holey soles from 5 years  and more of constant use. I bought another pair in 2005 from the same place, lovely people, and they are still going strong.

It was about that time that I got interested in doing sean nós dancing and I started to really look at the difference between mens shoes and ladies shoes, and noticed the effect it has on dancing style. It seemed to me that mens shoes were flatter and wider, and much better for the batter!  The shoes are wider and the soles are quite often thicker and heavier than ladies shoes, giving better sound and stability, particularly if you want to dance more on the back of your heels, rather than on your toes or balls of your feet. Have you ever noticed that?

So, I decided to try it out and I got lucky – very, very lucky. I found a gorgeous pair of MaxMara brown Italian leather lace-up shoes (right) in a second-hand shop here in Australia for $6.  They are narrow fitting – perfect for my feet but they have a very wide, heavy sole that gives a good sound, and I think they look great, too. They were initially a bit tight, so I filled them with wet newspaper and wore them a bit while they were wet… you know, we do a few mad things for our dance passion!

The greatest compliment I got was when I turned up to the céilí at Mullaghbouy, Co.Louth end June 2012, and met up my lovely friend, John Joe Brannigan (his daughter Fidelma dances, too). We had both done the sean nós dancing class in Hilltown in early 2004 with Alison Heatley, and we always met up for at least one or two dances together every year I came back to Ireland. He took a great shine to my brown Italian shoes and I offered to swap with him. So, there were were, little (him) and large (me) doing the Clare Lancers together, dancing in each other’s shoes. I promised I would put them in my will to him!

Since then, I have found numerous pairs of Italian leather shoes – second-hand – and my current favorites are black, flat heeled and buckled Santorini shoes. They are a little bit too big but a thicker pair of socks has fixed that! More about this here

So right now, it’s pouring outside now, so I am going to exchange my dance shoes for gumboots, put another log on the fire and keep warm.

An áit a bhuil do chroí is ann a thabharfas do chosa thú.
Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.

 

Nora Stewart
Irish Bliss

Irish dance: The heel of the reel

Stone Henge in Bywong, Australia winter morning

You don’t realise how important your feet are until you are injured and can’t get about. Fortunately, mine is not permanent and my burn is heeling(!) well with the help of regular applications of aloe vera, growing conveniently in our North-facing sunroom. I have been unable to wear anything but very loose slippers for nearly 3 weeks now but in the last few days, going without slippers, socks or bandage has allowed the air to help the skin to grow back quickly. Thankfully, it’s warm inside the house while we have had some absolutely freezing days here in Bywong (see photo), with -6⁰C on Thursday and something similar when I was up at the crack of dawn on Saturday. Continue reading