Hi! My name’s Kaia Lang and I’ve been a competitive Irish Dancer for 20 years. I reached State and National level by the time I was 7 and since then I’ve continued to compete at this level, achieving the state title in 2009, and podium places at Nationals multiple times in my late teens. By the age of 15, I was qualifying for the World Championships and have been lucky enough to compete in Dublin and Glasgow at this prestigious event, as well as the All Ireland Championships in Dublin and the Great Britain Championships in England. Irish Dancing has been my passion throughout my life, and I’m currently studying to sit my teacher’s exam, so it will always be a huge part of my life.
- What drew you to Podiatry?
Being a dancer and having a strenuous training regime since a very young age, injuries are unfortunately sometimes part of it. I needed to see podiatrists, as well as physios etc, myself at times and this is what opened the world of podiatry to me. As I got older, it was a profession I could see myself doing and thought that one day I’d love to incorporate my dance knowledge into the field.
- Performing as an artistic athlete requires many different skills and abilities which you may not see in your traditional sports athlete, what does it take to be involved in your area of competition?
I guess a major difference between traditional sports athletes and dancers, is that not only do you have to be the strongest, the fittest, or the most agile, you also have to make it look good while you do it! So, there’s this aesthetic part of dance that requires poise, grace, rhythm and technique, that may not necessarily be required in other sports. As a competitive dancer, you have to hone your performance to be strong, technically perfect, make it look effortless, stay in time, perform for the judges and the crowd, and make it look like you’re enjoying yourself!
- Is there specific training involved? Although perhaps not traditionally utilized do you believe there is room for a strength and conditioning component to your training?
Training for Irish Dancing is largely dance based, in that we learn the steps and drill them to perfection. Then will dance full dances over and over again for stage fitness. From my own training experience, 4-5 classes a week at around 2 hours each is very normal. As I’ve furthered my podiatric career I’m now seeing the need and room in dance training for more strength and conditioning within our sport. Every dancer would benefit from strength training by getting the right advice about which muscle groups to target and how to perform specific exercises to get the most out of their bodies, while also reducing the amount of overuse injuries as much as possible.
- As a podiatrist but also an artistic athlete, how to do feel about the impact of the dancing you do on the lower limb from an injury and future issue perspective?
There’s no denying that Irish Dancing is hard on the lower limb and foot. In Solo dancing, we don’t use our upper body and keep our arms very still and straight by our sides So, all the force, strength and load comes from and goes through the lower limb. Injuries within the sport will always unfortunately be present at one time or another. Acute sprains and strains sometimes just happen when you’re putting your body through something that strenuous, regardless of the amount of strength, conditioning and preparation you do. An area that I think Podiatry can help greatly in though, is in the area of overuse injuries, like stress fractures and tendinopathies. Increasing conditioning and honing training regimes to allow our bodies to heal when needed, and perform accurately is so important.
In terms of future issues, from personal experience its common to have digital deformities from the tight dance shoes and toe work we perform. A lot of older dancers have arthritic digits and after years of ankle sprains have very lax lateral ankle ligaments. I don’t see is as being much different from many footballers needing knee replacements years down the track for example! It’s just part of such a physical sport, and I still wouldn’t take any of it back or change a thing!
- What do you have planned for the future? Do you have advice for any other young budding dancers out there?
I still compete at National level in Teams dancing will do for the rest of 2017; as well as studying for my teacher’s exam at the same time which is held at the end of the year. Whether or not I start my own school, I’m not sure! But dancing will always be a part of my life in one way or another. One thing that I’m now always thinking about is how I can more so incorporate my dance knowledge into my Podiatry practice to benefit all young dancers out there.
My advice to those dancers is to listen to your bodies and know when you need a rest! Pushing yourself too far never has a good outcome and you put yourself at risk of injury which only leads to time away from dance. Take the advice from the health professionals you see! It’s in your own best interest. Even if doing exercises and stretches seems tedious at times, it will make you a stronger and better dancer. And lastly, just love what you do. Dance has to come from the heart.