Three Top Tips to Keep your Arms in for Irish Dance
Updated: Feb 12
Whether it be from judges or from teachers, you’ve probably heard the comment “keep your arms in” at least once in your dancing career (or more!). As Irish dancers, we don’t think about developing the same strength and mobility in our upper body as we do our lower body because it should be easy to just hold your arms at your sides, right?
The perfect upper body posture for Irish dance includes several key components - arms in, shoulders back, back straight, no leaning, arms straight etc. In this blog, we're going to break down how to keep your arms in with our top three tips!
Tip 1: Improve Shoulder Mobility
Just like hip mobility is key to good turnout, shoulder mobility is critical to keeping your arms in. Due to the repetitive nature of our day (sitting at a desk, being on your phone, etc), our shoulders begin to round forward. This causes tightness in the muscles in your chest and weakness across the muscles in your back...including the very muscles that help keep your arms in! Improving your shoulder mobility with arm circles before you dance or rolling the muscles on the front of your chest with a massage ball can help improve the range of motion in your shoulders.
Tip 2: Develop Strength in your Lats
Developing the muscles in your latissimus dorsi, also known as your lats, is crucial to keeping your arms in. This huge muscle spans your entire back and attaches to your upper arm and functions to adduct your arms, or pull them in towards your sides (Jeno & Varacallo, 2019). When your lat is strong and being used properly while you dance, it will hold our arms in at your side without any movement. A great way to strengthen this muscle is through lat pull downs with a band. To perform this exercise, grab a resistance band overhead with a wide grip, then keeping your core engaged and shoulders down, pull your arms down behind your head.
Tip 3: Increase Flexibility in Hamstrings and Hip Flexors
While dancing, you most frequently see a dancer's arm come out during a swing or click. Flexibility in both your hamstrings and hip flexors are key to that high kick, but also important for maintaining good posture. If you struggle to get your kicks up, due to tight hamstrings and hip flexors, chances are your body is finding another place it can “cut corners” in order for you to kick as high as possible, and this place tends to be your upper body. Instead of forcing your kicks higher by swinging your arms or hunching your shoulders, work on your flexibility and mobility! One great mobility exercise is a lunge with hip flexor stretch. As you perform this stretch, work to keep your back leg straight to maximize the stretch in that hip flexor, and be sure to keep your glutes activated and core engaged.
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Jeno, S.H. & Varacallo, M. Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. (Updated 5 April 2019). In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/