Practice Makes Less Terrible

Dance school is out for about a month, so what is a Novice/Prizewinner to do with herself? Suck a little less, naturally!20170704_095432

This month, without the added stress of getting to class and perfecting steps, I’m pulling back and focusing on technique as well as cross training. Yesterday I went down to my little personal studio (yea), strapped on the hard shoes, and spent about 30 min working solely on my trebles. I brushed out and in over and over, maintaining the proper treble start/end place of my foot flexed just about at ankle height of my non-working foot. I held on to the wall and trebled until all beats were consistently clear. Then I did the same, but without hanging on to the wall. Then I treble-stepped my way around the entire floor over and over and over again. Took a break by running Job of Journeywork, then realized there is no way I’ll be dancing that number at my feis in a couple weeks because I’d rather focus on perfecting my main four dances. Back to treble-stepping.

I started in my new hard shoes but they were just killing my feet and I couldn’t work well with technique, so I switched back to the old ones. I really need to stretch them more before I can dance at all. Being between sizes is the worst!

After exhausting my hard shoe attention span, I switched to my ghillies and ran leaps. I’m working on getting a better leap and moving towards the hanging leap. I thought I was doing better, so I took a video to confirm. The answer is no – I’m not doing better at hanging at all. The leap doesn’t look bad, but it’s still a “baby leap” and needs work if I want to get to Prelim. I did a drill where I tried to hold one leg out while jumping and tucking my leg underneath (basically this movement) four times, switching my working leg on the fourth jump but holding the first leg up and out as long as possible before making the switch. My jumping leg barely left the ground and I had a hard time switching, so I think continuing work on this drill and improving my strength in my jump will be a key component of getting a hanging leap.

My core goal is to do 20 min twice a week and actually be able to hold my plank or continue my drills for a full minute by August, which is what we do in our Drills class and I can never keep up with!

Outside of my little bubble, the North American Nationals are currently taking place. My teacher, who is my age and a huge inspiration to me, danced yesterday. She had been in a car accident recently and it really derailed her training, and she told me she felt very unprepared (to the point of almost pulling out of the competition). Instead, she placed 28th out of about 70 (maybe more) dancers! It’s her best placing in years (maybe even ever, I’m not sure). Of all the amazing things she does and is, the fact that she keeps improving every year since I started studying under her is hugely motivating. I’m hoping to make Open Champion before she retires from competing so I can dance with her at least once.


Building A Dance Floor

I benefited a lot from other blogs in designing and building my dance floor/exercise room, so I thought I’d give back by describing my process!

In theory what I did could be done in a weekend or two by someone dedicated, but due to all the other projects involved in purchasing a new house (and procrastination) I didn’t actually get around to finishing it for about six months. A lot of that time was spent collecting materials and designing. Fortunately my dance studio was expanding into a new space right around the time I bought my house, so I go a good discount on leftover materials:

  • Thick (about 3/4″) plywood boards for the dance surface
  • Dance underlayment foam
  • Shower pan liner (the cheap version of marley flooring)

I also had to purchase several materials:

  • Vapor barrier
  • 2×4’s to spring the floor
  • Hardware for assembly (screws, glue, tape, joining plates)
  • Mirrors (a great deal – $50 for 10 mirrored closet doors on Craigslist)
  • Foam flooring for the non-dance areas

All told I think I spent < $500 on the whole room. For comparison, I saw just the marley covering (proper marley, not shower pan liner) for sale for $355 in a size to cover my dance floor area, or putting up 8 new mirrors would have been around $400. It wasn’t cheap, but I tried to be thrifty!

Once we had gotten the plywood boards for the dance surface into our basement (we had to cut them in half because we have an extra small landing, which involved buying sawhorses and borrowing a circular saw), I was able to plan out the dimensions for actually springing the floor.


For my non-American readers who use a superior measurement system, there are about 2.5 centimeters in an inch, and about 30.5 cm in a foot. Also, in my defense, I really was looking for Duck Tape, which is a brand name for duct tape, because they had an electrical grade version.

I decided to go with one layer of 2×4’s with further cushioning provided by the dance floor foam underlayment. My fiancé and I went back and forth quite a bit on this one, trying to balance spring and reducing impact with providing enough support under the boards. We finally settled on the above design.

Once the boards and hardware were all purchased, we could finally start building. I first laid out the vapor barrier for the dance floor portion and then put out the boards.

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Before assembling the frame, I went ahead and cut out strips for each board from my roll of foam. There wasn’t quite enough from my studio’s leftovers to do both sides of the boards or to just lay it completely out under the plywood boards. We had the store cut the boards to size for us so they would fit in our car, but they weren’t particularly accurate so some adjustments were needed.


Next was putting the frame together. I used mending plates for the assembly. While good for this kind of joining, they were pretty painful to use properly. If I was doing it again, I would get the kind with holes to put nails through instead of the kind with little spikes on the back.


Once the frame was together, I glued the foam on the top using gorilla glue. If I were to do this again I would use a more instantaneous glue. Unfortunately my glue type required both clamping and several hours of set time. Progress was halted while I made some makeshift clamping attempts and let the glue dry.


Once all the foam was set, we screwed the plywood boards onto the frame. At this point I realized I had improperly measured and one set of boards was wider than the other two sets. Creative screwing was applied due to frame overlap and we declared it “good enough”, but if you build a dance floor remember to measure carefully and don’t assume things are symmetrical!


The final step for this part of the project was to cut and apply the shower pan liner (marley) covering!

To finish off the room, I wanted to set up an exercise area in the other corner of the L-shaped room using foam puzzle piece flooring and put up mirrors on as many walls as possible. That started with the vapor barrier on the basement floor.

As soon as the underlayment was down, I added the foam puzzle pieces. The ones I ordered sort of look like wood grain, which I thought was nice. These went down pretty easily though I had to cut to size in many areas. They cut with the boxcutter but it was a bit of effort due to their thickness. This flooring provides a bit of relief from the impact of weight lifting and are nice for floor work.


While I still have a few details to conquer (I want to clean the printing off the dance floor, add trophy/medal display shelving, add a short barre, and remove some of the clutter that remains), the room is mostly done, functional, and is looking way better than its previous incarnation as unfinished storage space! The foam flooring and mirrors especially help the room feel lighter and more spacious.



After two weeks out on work travel (including an ugly encounter with hail), I was finally able to get back to classes this week. That’s not to say I didn’t do at least a little bit of training – a bit of strength and conditioning in the hotel for example as well as using my nearly finished home studio. But, it wasn’t close to what was going on in class and I’m shuffling around on sore legs today!

A couple examples of my hotel exercises – toe raises/stands and working on my ankle and foot strength
with the resistance band.

Monday was our drills class, and I was the only Novice/Prizewinner of the bunch. It was very difficult to keep up in some aspects. While everyone else was breathing heavy too, I was trying not to throw up from the exertion. I really need to work on improving my stamina.

I had made some progress with my double ups previously, which is a trick where you jump on one leg and lift the other above your knee and shake your foot twice. A demo can be found here, with the full movement shown around 0:45. I practiced this move on Monday in class, but I couldn’t get the double movement in my raised leg at all. Same happened on Tuesday’s class… It’s frustrating to go backward.

I did do well, based on teacher praise, on a drill where we walked the length of the floor to practice straight legs. We would reach forward with a pointed toe on the right, bring our feet together (think turned out relevé in first or making a triangle between your feet and the floor), then reach out with the pointed toe on the left and repeat down the floor. Actually managing straight legs the whole way is great progress for me! I’m also getting good lift on my leaps and getting close to the hanging leap goal.

My regular class was on Tuesday and again was a haul due to having so few people (5) in the class right now. We practiced all our feis dances and tried to apply corrections. My foot placement on my light jig received praise from the teacher, plus a “keep the back foot turned out but it’s getting better.” Things to work on included making the reel nice and lively and focus on hard shoe turn out. Our teacher encouraged us to start by making each of our bangs with a nice turned out foot, and as long as I don’t space out (which happens a lot) during the feis I will try to apply this in hopes of a good score.

Today is my last class for over a month and I’m pretty bummed to be out of the studio so long. On the plus side, though, now that my dance space at home is functional I will make the most of this time to work on details like hanging leaps and better trebles, as well as spinning up some of my cross training.

I Think I Can Finally Consider Myself a Prizewinner

The problem with grades is it’s hard to tell what level you really are, because each dance is advanced independently. What do you call someone with 2 dances in Beginner 2, 2 dances in Novice, and 3 dances in Prizewinner?


Feis friends

For me, though, I think I might finally accept the title of Prizewinner, because I now have 4 dances moved up! Finally, finally, finally, I have advanced a dance that matters for prelim by winning 1st place in my slip jig last weekend!

I’m really happy about how the feis went. I placed solidly in my reel with a 4th, which was one of my goals, and I advanced my slip jig with a win which was the thing I was really hoping would happen! I also got a 3rd in my treble jig…just one place shy of advancement! I pooched my hornpipe, though. My step starts with 2 bangs, then a run straight forward. The girl dancing with me didn’t move over very far when we stepped forward, then she cut right in front of me as I tried to move forward! I never managed to recover, and generally it was just horrible after that. But, it was only horrible enough to get me 1 point shy of placing, so there’s still hope! I also placed 3rd in the slip jig special. For this I got a trophy that says, not third place, but just “Special” on it. I’ve spent more time than I care to admit the past week announcing that I’m special to friends and presenting my trophy to prove it. It’s probably my least favorite yet most entertaining trophy to date. It even beats the trophy of a bee I got in 5th grade for winning the spelling bee.


I’ve wanted an Irish dance crown for about three years now. It’s small compared to most, but I’m happy!

Between dancing and tearing down (my school hosts the feis so we must involuntarily volunteer to help), I had over 20,000 steps on the day. I also took the opportunity to buy a new headband to go with my new dress (as a purple flower fascinator no longer matches, of course) and I will be debuting a new wig at next month’s feis!

Despite getting turned around/lost on the way down to the feis, frantically buying a headpiece to go with my new dress before the feis started, realizing I didn’t know how to pin in a headpiece and having to cobble together something that wouldn’t fall off my head, practicing only modestly due to lack of space and high winds outside where the only practice space existed, losing my dress shields and making makeshift ones out of extra kickpants, getting dressed and waiting to start only to have start time pushed back an hour, running outside and finding my dress shields on the ground outside my car, returning and trying to keep warm, then finally getting to start only to have the music very difficult to follow, it was still a great feis. A friend of mine was in the adult competition at the same time so I wasn’t lonely, and I achieved my goals of placing in the reel, advancing my slip jig, and placing well in the treble jig. Sans the hornpipe mishap, I’m pretty happy with my results and I had fun doing it.

This one is always special to me, because three years ago this was my very first feis after about a year of recreational dancing and where the madness all started. I’ve found a picture of myself from each of the three years (four feiseanna total), mostly creeping in the background of others’ photos since I don’t have a feis mom to document me. From little adult Beginner to now an &Over Prizewinner, I’ve come a long way! Though, I still need to work on my stage face.

Last Practice

Last practice before the feis tomorrow, anyway. I have tons of practice to do for probably the rest of my life!


First official use of almost finished home dance floor

Overall I’m still feeling (fairly) confident. I don’t have room for long runs in my basement, so I focused more on smaller pieces of my dances. I practiced my lifts and buttkicks for my leaps for my reel. I still can’t quite do a hanging leap, but I really want to get some good lift going and get as close as possible. It helped to warm up by doing a one-two-switch-switch and swinging up my leg as if to leap, but not actually switching legs. This is something we always do in drills class, and I think I will do it at the feis for warm up as well, maybe even just before I dance. I also worked on thinking about pointed toes and turnout/cross while also dancing.

I practiced some of my more intricate footwork for the slip jig. Again, worried about pointed toes and turnout/cross. I also tend to sickle my foot on my cuts. I worked a bit longer on this dance because I think this is the one I have a chance of moving up tomorrow. Not too long, though, because I’m in that place where there are definitely improvements to make, but I’m also as prepared as possible for tomorrow so there is no


I couldn’t find the artist’s name, but this is accurate.

point in over-practicing now. The additional work can be done in the next month leading up to another competition. I’ll just have to remember to concentrate on the pointed toes/all the things while I’m dancing at the feis – but on stage I usually just go into autopilot mode unfortunately.

I spent most of my time on my hard shoe, because I’m terrible. I decided since hornpipe is always at the end of class and I’m exhausted, it would be important to run my hornpipe straight through before getting too worn out. So I did, two and a quarter times, and I made it. The first time I had to abort because I kicked myself on a front click (ugh), the second time I made it all the way through but had some timing errors, and the third time was the charm. I practiced some rhythm sections after to try to get better with timing and beats. Again, it’s as good as it’s going to get for tomorrow.

Finally, the treble jig. As I was getting ready to dance, my fiancé came down to express his desire for dinner, then decided he was going to judge my treble jig. I actually made it through the whole thing without mistakes and even my beats sounded pretty good (for me, anyway). His response: aren’t you supposed to turn your feet out? Yes, my feet turn completely straight during hard shoe. Ugh. I went through again thinking only about turn out, then got a nice soliloquy about practice and muscle memory. It finally dawned on him that I have a competition Saturday and it obviously wouldn’t be fixed in a day, so he tried to reassure me. In the end…I’m not going to worry too much about turn out in order to get good beats and look comfortable and fluid, but on rhythm parts where I face front I will try to focus on turn out and cross.

And that’s a wrap. Today is the traditional rest-before-feis day, then tomorrow it’s go time!


T-2 Days ‘Til Feis

Tuesday was my last dance class before competition this weekend. As always, there’s a lot of room for improvement, but overall I’m happy with where I’m sitting.

The hard shoe is more difficult than the soft shoe for most people in my class, so we ran through our start (always soft shoe) pretty quickly. Light jig went well for me, single jig went less well but still okay. Both are in Prizewinner and are not needed to qualify for Prelim, so I’m just doing them out of requirement now and not really putting forth much practice effort to improve. My teacher was pleased with everyone’s reel and we just did a couple times through with emphasis on pointing toes and keeping legs straight. My reel felt good in class with no major problems, so at the feis I’m going to focus on straight legs, pointed toes, and to a lesser degree turnout, and hope for the best. It’s always my worst soft shoe dance and I’ve only placed once out of five competitions and two specials since dropping down. Honestly, just placing out of the nine expected competitors would be an accomplishment.

Last soft shoe was the slip jig, which we spent a bit more time with. Pointed toes were again our biggest issue, so we ran through a few times with instruction to only focus on those. Our final time through we did a “recall”, which mimics a competition in that about ~50% of us are called back to do one more step down the line. I was part of the recall – shocking really considering how exhausted I was meaning my dancing wasn’t as good as it could have been. I didn’t win the sticker out of the three of us recalled (and a little sad I recalled because I needed a break). My teacher did say we all did well and it was hard to choose, but she went with the kid who was the most graceful as a slip jig should be (more flowing as opposed to the reel which is sharp and powerful). I usually grace it up okay so I’ll chalk that one up to being exhausted. I’ve been consistently placing in this dance my last few feiseanna, even second once, and it’s really the one dance I have any hope of moving up this weekend so I’m really going to try my best. There are just eight people signed up, though, so that means only a first place will move me up.

After the quick soft shoe session, it was time for lots of drilling on my weakness: hard shoe. We blew through traditional sets pretty quickly, and this is my other dance that I have in Prizewinner and doesn’t count for Prelim (whyyyy are those my only Prizewinner dances???), so I’m not particularly worried about my placing for that one anymore.

We worked mostly on the treble jig. For tap folk, trebles are similar to a shuffle – an out motion followed by an in. My trebles suck. I can’t do slow ones, my foot placement is wrong, and I can’t balance. My teacher said it’s probably the number one thing I need to work on. Fortunately I now have a dance floor so I can do so, but in the meantime I’ll have to fake it at the feis because bad muscle memory is a hard thing to break. I normally do a decent job on my treble jig, and there are 11 people signed up, so if everyone attends a 2nd place would do for moving it up.

I was dying during my hornpipe as per usual. We all went down the line due to many having timing problems. My teacher said it was okay but choppy for me, as in each piece did not flow well to the next, and it may have been due to having just recently learned the new step. I had a surprise 2nd place in my hornpipe last feis, and I’m hoping to keep the momentum as there are 10 people signed up which would make 2nd place count for moving up.

Overall, I’m going to practice once more tonight with a Friday night rest but I’m hopeful for a good feis this weekend. If I can place my reel and/or move up at least one dance, it will be a very awesome feis. If I can just keep from falling on my butt, as always that would be great too! But I’d really, really like to move up at least one of the four dances that actually count for getting into Prelim Champ level.

To finish, a quick glimpse into Irish dancer competition life – my leg tan is in progress for Saturday:


The Imbalance of Irish Dance

Every time I take my ballet class, I’m reminded that I’m not really a dancer. I’m an Irish dancer who can’t bend her knees very far.

Summer is starting and so now my ballet teacher’s romp around the country to guest teach at different workshops. Saturday was our first day with the summer substitute. She was actually my first ballet teacher ever, since I started ballet last summer while she was teaching. Which means – almost a year in ballet for me! Though, to be fair, I do only go once a week if I’m lucky.

There were only three of us in class, and substitutes are great for switching things up and focusing on different techniques. We did a lot more in fifth position than first position, which is where we usually stay, as well as prepping for standing with one hand on the barre to the side rather than straight on with both hands and the mirror as we usually do. Also – it was a very hard class! Quick movements, jumps, and the end of me: plié into retiré relevé and balance forever. I figured out that I can barely bend my knees because in Irish it is not a thing to have one’s heels on the ground and/or bending the knee except during a trick like a leap. I knew I struggled with the plié, but it’s especially apparent in fifth position. Well, ballet is supposed to help with these imbalances after all!

Another tough part of the class came from center. We usually have maybe 15 minutes in center out of my 75 min class, but this time we had a full half an hour. While I still can’t stand still on my retiré relevé (and I figured out this is because in Irish we’re usually hopping all the time with a still balance lasting maybe 2 seconds), I did finally, finally, FINALLY figure out the waltz step. The teacher was demonstrating it again after another one of my totally failed attempts, when she said “down down up” to signify when one’s heels should be on the ground versus up in demi pointe. Bam! Finally got it! I certainly don’t look graceful and I still don’t know how to use my arms, but it was awesome when that finally clicked and I can now at least keep in time and vaguely correct technique.

Last week was also my traditional set/ceili class. We had a last minute substitution for my teacher so it was a bit difficult for the sub not knowing what we were learning, but I’ve now learned most of Job of Journeywork. I won’t be able to use it at my competition on Saturday, but hopefully I will at the one in July. I also learned that my patience with small children not paying attention is low, and this is why I don’t teach.

Oh yeah, and my new solo dress is ready to bust out at Saturday’s feis!


Hoping Small Children Don’t Hate Me

Class ended on a weird note last night, and suddenly I was in elementary school again hoping for approval, or at least no hatred, from ten year olds.

One poor kid would be such an awesome dancer if she would buckle down and concentrate. I was paired with her for most of class, so she could ask and I could reply what exercise we were doing (1st step of dance, 2nd step, or whole dance, or a drill), but it fell apart towards the end. Our last exercise was to dance the 2nd step of the hornpipe. Myself and this kid have the same hornpipe 1st step, but different 2nd steps. My teacher told us just to go together because it was good practice for the feis. I’m not sure why, but my partner started doing my 2nd step instead of her own, and I’m pretty sure she hasn’t done anything related to my 2nd step in a year! She was chastised and not allowed to go with the second group, who also did the same 2nd step but different 1st step from me. Lo and behold, the other group screwed up too. One went into the treble jig, another into the slip jig (how?), and the third also screwed up on steps we’d been doing for a good 6 months at least.

My teacher expects two things: work hard and pay attention. So, since I was the only one who did as expected, I was allowed to go through my hornpipe step again for individual feedback while the other four had to go sit in the corner and do kicks the whole time – a horrible exercise where you lay on your back, raise your legs about 2 inches off the ground, and kick them back and forth rapidly.

On the plus side, my teacher likes my work ethic. But I still hope the kids don’t resent me for the praise!

Otherwise, it was a good if difficult class. My new hard shoes didn’t last as long as on Monday and I had to change after 1.5 dances. I’m just going to use the old ones for class tonight and will probably need to compete in them next weekend as well while I work on breaking in the new ones. They’re rubbing something awful on my heels since the bottoms aren’t flexible enough yet, so when I raise up on my toes the back heel slips down. Lots of improvements to make, but I think I’m in an okay place for the next competition. I’m really hoping to score well in my big four dances, which are all still Novice level, and maybe even advance one of them. I just need to remember to turn out, cross, jump, stay high on my toes, flex for clear beats, kick my butt, complete moves sharply and quickly, good and straight lift, and and and…

Drill Baby Drill

Work has finally slowed down a bit and I feel like I can get back to blogging. As I keep trying to up my training regimen, and failing, I’m hoping that staying accountable via blogging to my one loyal reader (hi Dork!) will help.

Some highlights from the last couple weeks:

  • My Irish teacher says my turnout is noticeably improved, and even used me as an example to the other Novice kids that I was “trying really hard and getting better turn out even though her feet turn in naturally so you can do it too.”
    • To be fair, this only applies to soft shoe. She notes my feet turn back in for hard shoe. Still, progress! I’m slightly pigeon toed and really need to concentrate to keep my feet turned out.
  • Last week in Novice/Prizewinner class there were only 4 of us, so we had a little contest for each dance. I was the Light Jig, Treble Jig, and Actually Remembered The Steps to Job of Journeywork That We Learned champion. I don’t care if it’s lame, I love being a sticker recipient in class with my fellow ten year olds.
  • My teacher says my bangs are much louder…now just to get my trebles louder too.
  • I’ve noticed some improvements with speed in my legs, though that still comes and goes.
  • I finally made it back to ballet class this past weekend after a month off for travel, performing, and competing. I did well and it was a super encouraging class.

And now, getting back to the post’s title: drills class last night.

Being a holiday there were only 6 of us in class, which for drills class is very…painful…due to an increased amount of dance and decreased rest time. My teacher was great about giving us some much needed breaks, though!

I thought my stamina was a bit better in class, which is wonderful, though there is a lot of room for improvement there still. Or maybe we just got more breaks than normal? I did a bit better with speediness in switches (which lead into tricks like leaps) and in one of our more difficult cross key drills. Hard shoe was particularly painful though because I’m breaking in new shoes. While the short (~15 min) amount of hard shoe drill time made wearing them possible, I could barely do anything towards the end of the class. Today I’m wearing athletic sandals at work because real shoes are not an option while breaking in dance shoes, and I may or may not be able to give them a go for class tonight. Prepare for tomorrow’s blister update.


Bonus: I led a performance a couple weekends ago. The kids were great minus one catastrophic wig meltdown (they’re kids after all!) and we were very well received by the festival where we danced. We had two performances – the first was on the main performance area and our full 30 min show, the second was in a back parking lot and a reduced 15 min show. After our first performance, though, they liked us so much they upgraded us to another full length show and left us in the main performance area. After, one of the moms bought me Thai Iced Tea ice cream. It was amazing. You must find and try it. It reminded me of bubble tea in Taiwan, but in ice cream form.


Bonus 2: Sneak peak at my home dance floor! I’m about halfway done building it.



Still Dancing

I’ve had a lot of non-dance things going on, so I haven’t been able to get back into blogging. Hopefully one day soon things will settle! In the meantime, I just had a feis this past weekend that I was dying to post results from.

Although I still have a long way to go, this was by far my best performance since dropping down! I moved up my traditional set by scoring a first – my first blue ribbon since dropping down. I also got second in my hornpipe, which I haven’t placed in since dropping down. I also had two thirds and a sixth, and two dances with no place but I was only 1 point behind the last placing. And I killed the traditional set – 5 points ahead of second place!

All in all I’m motivated to keep pushing forward!


My hardware