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What do researchers study about Irish dance?

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

A few weeks ago, we introduced you to Maggie, an Irish dancing University student who is working on a project compiling academic research on Irish dance training and injuries and conducting survey research about conditioning training used by dance schools. She's back with some more detail about her project that we thought would be interesting to our TT readers. Check it out below.

- Read more about Maggie and her project HERE.

What do researchers study about Irish dance?

Multiple researchers have collected data about injuries and shown that most injuries happen in the feet and ankles (McGuinness & Doody, 2006; Stein et al 2013; Cahalan et al. 2016). They’ve collected data at the North American Championships, used medical histories, and had long term studies where dancers reported their health over a full year of regular dancing. All of those studies showed almost all injuries in Irish dancers are in the lower body, but besides foot and ankle being the most affected, hips, knees, and shins had different numbers of injury reported depending on the study.


Another study looked specifically at professional Irish dancers (performing in shows), to see how their ankles compared to “normal” (non-dancer) ankles (Cahalan et al. 2019).  Using MRI, they saw that most of the dancers had ankles that did not look normal. They mostly noticed injuries from overuse, which are common in Irish dance. Overuse injuries appear to be one of the most common types in Irish dancers. A study in young, competitive Irish dancers found that of the knee injuries they saw, 90% were from overuse (Cahalan et al. 2019).  


Other dancers face similar injuries and training situations, but when they’re compared, Irish dance students are still very different. One study comparing Irish dancers to contemporary dancers saw that Irish dancers spend fewer hours per week in the studio but do more non-dance exercises (Cahalan et al. 2019). In this group, Irish dancers had fewer injury complaints, but didn’t do as well on balance tests, and spent less time warming up compared to the other dancers.  Last year a student tried to figure out how different Irish dance is to other sports based on the intense demands of hard shoe and soft shoe dancing. They showed that Irish dance causes heart rates and oxygen amounts similar to other sports with moderate intensity and high intensity intervals (Trebour et al 2019).   

What can Irish dancers do to avoid overuse injuries?

Warming up and recognizing risk factors for injury are really important. A good warm-up is roughly 15-20 minutes, elevates your heart rate up, mobilizes your joints and loosens your muscles (Surgenor, Kozai, & International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, 2017).  Knowing risk factors means listening to your body: paying attention to previous pain areas, knowing how well you are sleeping, and taking care of your general health and your mental health (Cahalan et al, 2016). If you’ve had an injury before, you are more likely to feel pain or get injured again. If you aren’t sleeping enough, your body can’t recover from workouts as quickly and your not as mentally sharp.  When you’re sick, your body is not in top shape for focusing on dance and when you’re not mentally in a place to focus on dance you are also more likely to get hurt.  


Presently, the majority of Irish dance research highlights the risks and many injuries that are possible and emphasizes the importance of warming up and recovering from heavy workouts.


Stay tuned for more updates from Maggie as she continues her senior research project!


Resources

- Cahalan, R., O'Sullivan, P., Purtill, H., Bargary, N., Ni Bhriain, O., & O'Sullivan, K. (2016). Inability to perform because of pain/injury in elite adult irish dance: A prospective investigation of contributing factors. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 26(6), 694-702. doi: 10.1111/sms.12492

- Cahalan, R., Comber, L., Gaire, D., Quin, E., Redding, E., Ni Bhriain, O., & O'Sullivan, K. (2019). Biopsychosocial Characteristics of Contemporary and Irish University-Level Student Dancers A Pilot Study. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 23(2), 63-71. doi: 10.12678/1089-313X.23.2.63.

- McGuinness, D., & Doody, C. (2006). The Injuries of Competitive Irish Dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science,10(1&2), 35-39. Retrieved February 20, 2019. doi: 10.12678/1089-313x.17.4.150.

- Stein, C. J., Tyson, K. D., Johnson, V. M., Popoli, D. M., D'Hemecourt, P. A., & Micheli, L. J. (2013). Injuries in Irish Dance. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science,17(4), 159-164. doi:https://doi.org/10.12678/1089-313X.17.4.159

- Surgenor, B., Kozai, A., & International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. (2017). The Importance of a Good Warm-Up: Are you warm enough to start dancing? Journal of Dance Medicine and Science. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.iadms.org/resource/resmgr/resource_papers/warm-up-importance.pdf.

- Trebour, M.P., Cutten, M.M., Coffey, T.G., Jimenez, L.Q., & Morrison, J.P. (2019). Physiological Demands of Hard Shoe and Soft Shoe Irish Dancing: A pilot study. Unpublished manuscript.

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