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The sad thing is, there are many schools out there that do not have TCRG certified instructors. TCRG stands for Teagascóir Choimisiúin le Rinci Gaelacha (Gaelic: Commission Certified Irish Dance Teacher). Teachers who have qualified to receive TCRG certification have proven their skills in teaching traditional Irish dance. Unlike some Irish dance teachers, TCRGs will do a lot more than teach you a few cool moves they learned while watching Riverdance on PBS. In order to receive certification, potential TCRGs have to go through a difficult testing process, proving their knowledge and execution of traditional and modern Irish dancing technique.
If you take classes from a certified TCRG you won't just learn cool moves, you'll learn how to execute them properly. After a few years of classes, once your technique begins to improve, you'll hardly recognize yourself when you dance. It's the proper execution of Irish dance technique that makes an Irish dancer's feet look like a blur to the untrained eye. Proper technique is also the key to mastering lightness in your feet and the illusion of flight when you leap. An Irish dancer who has trained at a certified school is always working on improving their technique.
So for those of you who don't train at a certified school, or if you're a beginner who hasn't mastered the basics yet, here's a list of 10 things to remember every time you Irish dance.
1 ~ Turn Out Your Feet
As a beginner, it took me about 6 months to realize what Tina Shelley meant every time she shouted, "Turn out your feet!" Then I realized this means from start to finish, your feet should always be turned outward as far as possible. A dancer with bad technique often dances with their feet straight forward or sometimes even turned inward. Tina often refers to 'a diamond' when she wants dancers to turn their feet out. Stand in front of a mirror with your feet crossed and turned out. If your feet are turned out properly, you should be able to see a diamond shaped space between your legs and ankles.
2 ~ Keep Your Arms Straight & Behind Your Back
This is something most people notice about Irish dancers right away. It's a huge element that makes Irish dance unique. Yes, Michael Flatley's arms love to flail about every which way in Riverdance, but proper Irish dance technique requires that your arms are straight with hands hidden behind your back at all times.
3 ~ Point Your Toes
This seems simple enough, but a really great Irish dancer points her toe every time she lifts it off the ground, kicks her butt, or leaps through the air. There are exceptions to this rule, but when in doubt, ALWAYS point your toes.
4 ~ Keep Your Knees Crossed
This is possibly the hardest technique to master. It may sound easy, but keeping one knee in front of the other knee at all times is very difficult. Since the leg in front switches from right to left constantly, a dancer must keep her knees as close together as possible when they switch. Tina Shelley often refers to this as 'kissing your knees' because when the front leg switches to the back, the knees should always touch or 'kiss'.
5 ~ Keep Your Shoulders Back
When you've been dancing for a few hours, it can be really hard to keep your shoulders back. A great Irish dancer always keeps her shoulders back, which gives her excellent posture. Keeping your arms straight is not enough if you droop your shoulders and your posture is hunched over.
6 ~ Head Up, And Eyes Up
You should always have your head up and eyes up. For years I didn't realize my eyes were looking down at the ground when I Irish danced. I mastered having my head up and straight, but it wasn't till my 2nd year in champs that I finally trained myself to look straight forward as well. Looking up at your audience instead of at the ground adds confidence to your performance. It's more challenging that you think it would be!
7 ~ Stay High On Your Toes
Irish dancers should be as high on their toes as possible, in soft AND hard shoe. Tina Shelley came up with a fantastic way to remember to stay on your toes. Imagine there are oranges or even grapefruits under your heels. If your heel comes down, you'll squish it. Don't squish the orange!
8 ~ Imaginary Tightrope
This one can be easy to forget, even if you're in championship. You should always imagine a tightrope in front you. Every step, lift and leap should be danced on that tightrope. This keeps your dance tight and your moves right in front of you, instead of lazily to the side.
9 ~ Travel
Move your dance! This is one way to recognize whether a dancer has learned from a certified school or not. Dancers who have unqualified teachers never learn that a great Irish dancer uses her stage! Often she'll fly from once corner to the other in only a few moves. It adds excitement and energy to the performance. A little jig danced in place is nice, but it doesn't constitute a powerful performance.
10 ~ Make It Look Easy
There are Irish dancers who have been training for 10 years that still make what they do look hard and tiring. The intense workout can drain you long before the dance is over and that's when you need to force a pleasant smile on your face and pretend like what your doing is the easiest thing in the world. Irish dance is so intense that many people see it as more of a sport. But I've never seen NBA basketball players do everything they do with perfect posture, light feet and a big smile on their face. Irish dancers have to be masters of making what they do look easy.
Keep in mind, once you start working hard on improving your technique, the intense concentration might cause you to forget to let go and just dance. Technique is extremely important, but it's not everything. The way you feel when you dance has a huge effect on your performance. Don't forget why you started dancing in the first place. Irish dance is supposed to be fun, so while you're working hard on perfecting your technique, make sure you give yourself a chance to enjoy it!