S&C has been integrated into the training for elite athletes for all sports for many years to develop the physical qualities that can’t be optimised by practicing the sport itself. This is a completely new concept in the dance world. However in recent years other dance genres including ballet and contemporary dance have started to include strength training in their weekly classes to help dancers prepare their bodies physically for gruelling rehearsals, competitions and performances. Although still a relatively new concept in the world of Irish dance, many Irish dance schools are starting to realize the benefits of integrating s&c into their weekly training.
In dance as in all other sports injuries are prevalent. The research paints a clear picture that injuries to the foot and ankle are most common amongst Irish dancers.
“According to the latest research by Dr Roisin Cahalan at the University of Limerick, 77% of all Irish dancers get injured at some point in their career with the foot and ankle most commonly affected.”
Similarly stress related injuries, from over-use, such as stress fractures are also common. While all injuries cannot be prevented there is a lot of research to show that the risk of injury can be lowered with appropriate strength and conditioning for the dancer. For example a study by NIDMS confirmed that “a year of strength and conditioning can slash the injuries suffered by female dancers from 4.14 per 1,000 hours of dancing to 1.71”.
As a strength coach my main aim is to increase the physical capacity of the dancer to cope with the amount of dance training, competition and performances a young dancer will perform each week. As a result this will give the dancer more opportunity to practice, improve and to remain competitive throughout the year .
As the style of our sport continues to evolve, Irish dancers now need to be able to dance their steps with more power and speed to stand out on stage. If power equals force multiplied by velocity (P = F x V), then it makes sense that improving both your strength (force development) and speed (velocity) is going to help improve your ability to dance your moves more powerfully.
Bottom line: A stronger and well conditioned young Irish dance athlete will be better prepared to perform complex movements with power and speed, and sustain the demands of training and competition year on year.
Irish dance teachers must provide an effective training stimulus that is different from what dancers experience during dance training. Integrating weekly strength and conditioning training and proper warmup and cooldown procedures into an Irish dance athletes programme can help dancers to avoid muscle injuries as well as influencing their performance with improved power, jump height, balance, coordination, ranges of motion and stabiity.
1. Cahalan R, O’Sullivan K. Injury in professional Irish dancers. J Dance Med Sci. 2013 Dec;17(4):150-8.
2. Hrysomallis C. Balance Ability and Athletic Performance. Sports Med 41: 221–232, 2011.
3. Supplementary Muscular Fitness Training for Dancers. IADMS Bulletin for Teachers – Volume4, November 2012, Andrea Kozai
4. Preventing dance injuries: current perspectives, 2013, September 30, Jeffrey A Russell