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Q&A for Adult Irish Dancers


My old TCRG recently forwarded an email to me from an adult competitive Irish dancer named Kandace who had read an article of mine written years ago. She had some questions about how adult dancers can advance to Open championship. I thought a lot of the information in our conversation could be helpful to many adult Irish dancers wanting to do the same, so I asked Kandace if she wouldn't mind me sharing our little Q&A session here on my Irish dance blog:


My name is Kandace and I am a competing adult Irish dancer in California. I am contacting you because I recently read a story about one of your adult Irish dancers (Shelly Allen) who managed to drop down and advance to Open Championship level. I'm now in Adult Prizewinner (after just one year competing) and hope to do the same. What I would like to know is the amount of hours Shelly practiced each day/week (and how many days per week) as well as additional exercises she did to advance to the highest level.


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Hi Kandace!

My old TCRG forwarded your question to me. My biggest advice would be to make sure you have a TCRG who allows adult dancers to compete in prelim and open championship. I've heard of schools that discriminate against dancers who started after the age of 18. There's no reason for it since Irish dance isn't like ballet and anyone can start at anytime in their life and no one knows the difference. I started at 20 and reached prelim in 3 years. We adults learn a lot faster than kids, actually. I passed quite a few young students by as I progressed. If your TCRG allows adults to compete with 18&over champs, that's awesome! If he/she doesn't - find another one that does! Switch schools if you have to, because it will be worth it! It's unfair to be held back for no reason at all, champs get to learn and compete the really great stuff, if your TCRG won't allow you to learn and compete it simply because your an adult, they are wrong!

You mentioned something about "dropping down". I never did that actually, though I do know an adult at my school who did. Once I won enough 1st places in prizewinner, my TCRG put me into prelim. If you don't drop down, then you may be in prelim a little longer since the competition is tough, but it's better than dropping down in my opinion. Level placement is purely TCRGs discretion, so again make sure you have a TCRG that allows it. Theres no reason not to allow it. Obviously you are better than most adults (having reached prizewinner in only a year!) so you should have no problem reaching prelim.

For practicing, I practiced about 1 hour 3 days a week on my own (besides class) in my socks on the carpet at home ;). Once I really wanted to win into open champs though, that was the hardest. So I started volunteering to help with beginner classes and then would stay after class and practice. But more than that I started going to like 1 feis a month for a while. Going to more feisianna gives you more chances of winning. That's the real key.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents! Hope it helps you!!

Shelly Allen

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Hi Shelly,

Yes, my TCRG does and has allowed adults to dance in the "& Over" competitions, provided they are physically capable and willing to learn more. I started Irish dancing at age 27 (on and off at first), began competing at age 28, and moved my last dance into Prizewinner at age 29. Although I moved all my dances from Beginner to Prizewinner in only one year (and all my dances are still placing in the top 4), it is more difficult to win firsts because some of the adults have been dancing for at least 5-10 years and look pretty good. My next feis is in 3 weeks, and I feel more confident about placing higher since I started practicing more.

In addition to running through my dances outside of class (in my socks on the carpet like you did), I am currently taking classes in Ballet, Pilates, and Yoga on the side to help build my muscles and core strength. Basically what I would like to know is what kind of exercises you did to help achieve your hanging over 2-3 (with the front leg extended and the back one tucked under your bum at the same time while leaping in midair.). My TCRG said that getting my height on my jumps/leaps is what I need to work on the most. Do you happen to have any advice on that? What did you do to help build up your strength up to that point?


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For leaps, I would suggest its all about momentum. Give yourself plenty of space and build up all your power beforehand. Then you can get enough height to 'freeze' the leap. I've noticed dancers who dont freeze their leaps have no power going into it. Its the difference between leaping on the spot vs. building up to it. Travel more before hand. Thats what works for me. :D I wrote a blog about freezing your leaps. You can find it here ().


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Thanks for your help. I will definitely think about that in class. :-)

Although my TCRG will allow adults to compete with the & overs, she prefers to have them 1) advance to adult prizewinner and win firsts 2) drop down to & over Novice and work toward prelim/open level (she mentioned to me that the standard for adult PW is not as high as that for &over PW) . Your opinion that moving straight into Prelim from adult prizewinner is better than dropping down and starting in & over novice/pw (which your TCRG allowed you to do). What are your reasons for this?


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I'm sure it's pretty much just as challenging either way, I just preferred to be in prelim than prizewinner myself. Much funner steps and the rhythms are much funner too. But like I said, I was in prelim 3 years. It took a while to win into open since it was a big jump.

Either way, I'm glad to be through with competition now, don't get too caught up in it and don't let the judges make you think your not a good dancer. I dance on my own now, choreographing my own steps because I got really sick of all the politics at my school and the obsession with winning, solo dresses, tan legs, poofy wigs, etc. It's all pointless and messes with your head. I'm enjoying Irish dance more than ever on my own now. But I'm glad I did compete for 9 years, it made me a better dancer.

Anyway, good luck to you, Kandace!


Article & photography by Shelly Allen

TAGS: irish, dance, adult, questions, answers, dance, dancing, ireland, riverdance, school, solo, choreography, shelly, allen, art

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Irish Dance Memes


I created a bunch of Irish Dance Memes a while ago. Feel free to share any of these on Facebook or Pinterest, etc.

All memes feature Shelly Allen Photography.

TAGS: allen, art, dance, dress, feis, funny, humor, inspirational, ireland, irish, meme, motivational, photography, photos, quotes, riverdance, shelly, solo, wigs

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I'm Back! It Feels Good to be Irish Dancing Again


This is for all the adult Irish dancers who either run out of money for Irish dance classes, get sick of dressing in puffy stiff dresses, or feel out of place in a school full of younger dancers. Keep Irish dancing on your own!

I danced with a local certified school for about 10 years and quit about a year ago. I wasn't feeling the passion for dancing anymore and was tired of dancing other people's steps, not to mention tired of the politics, the elaborate costumes, and always being told I was doing everything wrong. Don't get me wrong, for 8 out of those 10 years I was enjoying every minute, but about 2 years before I quit I started to feel an itch for something more. I wanted to choreograph my own steps, I wanted to focus more on heart than technique and I wanted to find my love for Irish dance again.

So I made a really hard decision: I took a break from Irish dance. I wasn't sure how long it would be, but I knew I would one day feel like dancing again. It ended up taking a whole year to get past all the junk in my head that was making me feel like I wasn't a good dancer anymore.

Finally, a few months ago, I decided to add some Irish dance drills to my exercise routine. It was like I'd never stopped dancing! It felt really good to be dancing again. After a while I pushed myself a little - I decided to start choreographing 8 bars a day, 3 times a week. After day one I was hooked! In only a month I choreographed an entire dance to Dance Above the Rainbow, a song I've been wanting to choreograph my own piece to for over 5 years! ...and I did it in only a month!

I recorded myself dancing the full piece at my old dance studio and even sewed myself a pretty dress to wear for the video. I also wore a comfortable pair of sneakers instead of my slippery hard shoes or 'feet squeezing' ghillies. I have always done my best dancing in sneakers, so that's what I wore in my video. Anyway, here's the video, I've very proud of it: Click here to watch the video

So if you're an adult dancer like me, you need to know that there is so much you can do all on your own. I still have huge Irish dance goals for myself and none of them involve classes, elaborate hard as a rock solo dresses, feiseanna or tan legs. In fact like the video I just recorded, I may be doing all my future videos either barefoot or in sneakers.

The fact is, I don't care what anyone tells me, you're never too old to Irish dance, you CAN do it your own way, and technique is NOT everything.

Anyway, I hope this article inspires someone else to keep dancing on their own. You don't need anyone but yourself.

Happy Dancing,
Shelly Allen

See my Irish dance graphic art >>
I sell Irish dance stock photos >>

TAGS: above, adult, allen, alone, art, barefoot, black, choreographer, choreography, dance, dancers, dress, green, irish, original, rainbow, sewing, shelly, sneakers, solo, video

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Dance Above the Rainbow: Irish Dance Video Featuring My Choreography


I've been working on this dance video for over a month now and I finally put it all together yesterday. The entire dance is choreographed by me, and I'm so proud of it! I even designed a cool dress to wear in the video. This is Irish dance done my way. Screw perfect technique, this is what Irish dance is all about - doing your best & having fun! I also decided it was about time I wore comfortable shoes while I danced. Those hard shoes always slip and soft shoes squeeze so hard you almost twist your ankle every time you attempt a leap. It was so nice to throw out the parts of Irish dance I'm sick of and embrace the parts I love.

CLICK HERE to watch the full video!

This is my first serious video after quitting my old dance school. I'm so glad I found a way to love Irish dance again. In fact, now that all the sparkly dresses, wigs, tan legs, obsession with perfect technique, and even the annoying shoes are gone, I love Irish dancing like never before. So anyway, I hope you enjoy my video! I had a lot of fun making it. I'll be making a lot more videos in the future so check back for updates and follow me on youtube!

Video by Shelly Allen

TAGS: irish, dance, video, dance, above, rainbow, ronan, hardiman, choreography, original, riverdance, shelly, allen, art, sneakers, casual, technique, Ireland, dancing, celtic, folk, leap, twirl, kick, green, black, dress, woman

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Green & Black Irish Dance Dress, Designed & Sewn By Me!


I finally finished choreographing my own Irish dance moves to 'Dance Above the Rainbow', a song I've wanted to choreograph and dance to for many years now. So I decided to make myself a dress to wear in the final video. I love how it turned out and will definitely be wearing it all the time, not just when I dance. I'm so proud of this dress! I designed it myself without a pattern.

I'll be posting the video soon!

Dress designed and sewn by Shelly Allen.

TAGS: irish, dance, dress, green, black, comfortable, cute, adult, short, flowing, long, sleeves, sheer, layers, riverdance, sewing, sew, machine, fashion, pattern, design, womens, clothing, shelly, allen, art

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