Irish dance ghillie iPod Touch cozy
by HoneyBeeBungalow

By Caitlin Buck Feis America LLC contributor

Remember in "The Lion King" how the hyenas flinch whenever someone nearby uttered Mufasa? I'm a competitive Irish dancer who started when I was 18. I have a flinch word too. Mine is... timing.

I had done high kick and jazz on my high school dance team so I was used to learning routines to 8 counts. I did pretty well competing in Irish dance until I got into Novice. In Novice, the dances were no longer taught count-by-count like in Beginner. There was no jump 2,3,4,5,6,7 over-one 2 point hop back... There were just movements taught and the dancers had to assemble the movements to music themselves. I began to struggle with timing. BIG time.

"Listen.  Listen to the music."

A friend confessed that when she started Irish dancing at 15 she thought if she started with the music and ended when the music did she was golden. When we would step up to dance our teacher would meaningfully tap his ear. Listen. Listen to the music. But something would happen after the 5,6, and here you go! It is like my brain would disconnect with the music much like a train might disconnect with railroad ties. Not having counts or words cues to stay with the music, I inadvertently focused solely on my steps.

"Slow down!!"
"Speed up!"
"You were behind from the beginning."
"You were 2 bars ahead the whole time."

Timing. Timing. Timing. My marks were always the same. Timing. Nothing else... but that one word. If it said turn out, flexibility, higher jumps, move more in the steps - those are all understandable corrections. The word timing does NOT pinpoint a problem that is easily fixed. It does not explain when or where a dancer gets off time or whether the problem lies in that they aren’t fully completing a step or if they are adding unnecessary steps. It is in short... not helpful.

Mikela Milozzi trying on hard shoes.
Photo: Bodhran Irish Dancers

So many dancers seem to have the gift of musicality. Like being born with blue eyes, they were born to put steps to music easy as breathing.

Timing. I would go home and put music on and listen as hard as possible. I would perform the dance with my hands and within my head visualize the steps. And I could see it. Then I would dance and be able to hear myself getting behind or speeding ahead. I loved Irish dancing, but I was beginning to feel like the world’s most rotten dancer.


It seems eons ago that one of my teachers said, “When you get this timing issue taken care of you’re going to do really well.” The thing was I had flexibility from being on a high kick team, I could almost kick my face, I could get height on my jumps, I had grace, I could perform... I just couldn’t seem to dance on time with the music to save my life. Seriously it was bad. I had Irish dancers half my height coming up to me with advice.

Read more:

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Healthy snacks for competitive Irish dancers

Niall O'Leary adult Irish dancer, musician and teacher


What helped in my hard shoe above all else was having private lessons with another Irish dancer. She had struggled with timing too and thus knew better how to help. She instructed me to say "but-ter-fly" over and over in my head while dancing hornpipe. I found that saying "Christ-mas-tree" over and over helped me stay with the beat in treble jig. Thanks to her help I made it into Preliminary Championships. Listening to the music while falling asleep has also proven helpful.

I still don’t have great timing, but Irish dancing is something I love to do and at 23 I'm not ready to give it up yet!

Are you an Irish dancer of any age or level struggling with one particular issue? Share in the comment box below and let’s get a discussion started. If there’s one thing we are ALL good at, it’s helping out our Irish dance friends!

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