For Irish dance, a weak center or core (arms moving, body bending, shoulders twisting, etc) will make you less efficient while dancing. This means you have to put forth more energy to execute the same movements as someone with a strong and stable core. And without that strong foundation, you’ll be “fighting” to keep your shoulders in place and your arms in and down. When we start working on posture, turning our focus to core stability is the first step.
As athletes, we hear a lot about our core - that we should be engaging it, strengthening it, etc. - but what muscles make up the ‘core?’ And why should we worry about making sure they’re strong?
Your core’s function is to stabilize your entire body by supporting your joints. This means that while it’s true your core includes your ‘abs,’ it also includes the muscles on your back, pelvis, hip and shoulder girdle. Strength in these muscles is critical to the stabilization of your spine, pelvis, and legs, especially for dancers.
Important Core muscles - abdominals and back
Rectus Abdominis (the “six pack”) - The most well-known muscle in this group are the superficial (closer to the skin) rectus abdominis (the ‘six-pack’ muscle). It enables the pelvis to tilt.
Internal & External Obliques (side of your torso) - The internal and external obliques are responsible for twisting the trunk, moving the spine in any direction and stabilizing the core.
Transverse Abdominis - The TVA is a deep abdominal muscle that stabilizes the spine, moves the trunk, and increase intra-abdominal pressure for bracing the core. Like a corset that wraps around the torso.
In addition to your abdominal muscles, the core also includes deep back muscles that run along your spine and play a critical role in its stability. There are three main muscles we tend to focus on (but many that help support the core): the multifidus, the quadratus lumborum, and the erector spinae.
Multifidus & Erector Spinae - Both the multifidus and erector spinae run the entire length of your spine and work together to rotate and extend your back.
Quadratus Lumborum - The quadratus lumborum connects your lowest rib to the top of your pelvis and supports good posture while stabilizing your spine when you bend to either side or extend your back.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a lack of core control increases strain on the surrounding bones, joints, and ligaments and has been related to increased risk of injury in the lower back and legs.(1) Additionally, an underdeveloped core can also lead to compensatory mechanisms in your dancing - your body’s way of ‘cutting corners’ around weak muscles to achieve movements like jumps, kicks, and even rhythms - that can lead to strain and overuse injuries (2).
One of these compensations we see commonly in Irish dancers is an excessively arched back, or an anterior pelvic tilt. In order to achieve that perfect ‘Irish dance posture,’ dancers often compensate by squeezing their shoulders back so hard that their chest sticks out, their backs arch and their core is compromised. This anterior pelvic tilt can lead to pain in your low back or hips, weakness in your core and glutes, and make executing Irish dance technique more challenging. To correct this anterior tilt and maintain a neutral alignment in your spine and hips, stabilizing your core is essential.
Important Core muscles - glutes and hips
Hips & Glutes
These three muscles, gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, are essential to Irish dancers. Not only do these three muscles stabilize your leg and pelvis by supporting your hip joint (meaning that strengthening and stabilizing them will reduce your risk of injury!), they also contribute to good Irish dance technique--turnout, posture, crossing, toe height, power, and more.
Your adductors are a group of muscles, on the inside of your leg, that run from your pelvis to the inside of your femur. They assist in providing pelvic stability and are responsible for adducting the leg, (moving the leg towards the midline of the body). For Irish dancers, that means strong adductors are the key to enhancing your Irish dance crossover.
Your abductors are the group of muscles on the outside of your leg that assist with lifting your leg out to the side and providing pelvic stability.
For the next week, we’ll be focusing on various elements that impact Irish dance posture and how you can develop these areas to improve it. Stay tuned for more newsletters this week breaking down this overwhelming topic into manageable, bite-sized pieces!
If you’re a member of the TT Online Institute, we have a couple video recommendations for you to start developing your core stability today.
TTOI VIDEO RECOMMENDATIONS
Core & Hip Strength video
Not yet a member of our subscription based online training platform the Target Training Online Institute? Join today and get the first month free on the "Trainer" level subscription when you use the code 1MONTHFREE. Get started at institute.targettrainingdance.com
1. International Association of Dance Medicine & Science, Education Committee, (2015). Core Control: "Not Just Abdominals." IADMS, retrieved from https://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/211325/Core-Control--Not-just-abdominals?hhSearchTerms=%22core%22&terms=.
2. Fredericson, M. & Moore, T, (2005). Muscular Balance, Core Stability, and Injury Prevention for Middle- and Long-Distance Runners. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 16, 669-689. Retrieved from https://www.pmr.theclinics.com/article/S1047-9651(05)00026-4/abstract.