this is pretty cool. Made me more tired just reading it...
Burn Baby Burn!
How much effort does it really take to Irish dance?
Irish dancing and science wouldn't ordinarily go hand in hand, but Australian dance student, Alexandra Hahn, has just won the New South Wales Intel Young Scientist Award for proving just how tough her favourite hobby really is. Claire Spreadbury investigates.
Irish dancing is made up of a huge cross section of people: men, women, girls and boys, of all shapes and sizes, from utterly different walks of life. There's a huge cultural connection involved with this hobby, although it has to be said, many dancers have no Irish connection whatsoever and simply take dance classes for fun, for exercise, or just because they like it.
We've always known the intensity of Irish dancing and now, a 14 year old student has proved it, simply because she was fed up of her friends insisting dancing didn't take as much effort as other "proper" activities. And, after scooping the top prize for her project "Establishing A MET Value For Irish Dancing", it would seem Alexandra's not only proved you have to be fit to Irish dance, but that Irish dancing should no longer been seen as "just a hobby" and instead, a physically demanding sport.
It all began back in 2003 at science class. To show her friends just how tough Irish dancing really is, Alexandra decided to base her project on her biggest love. She called it "The Exercise Intensity Of Irish Dancing" and went to work comparing dancing to the likes of soccer and swimming.
She used a heart monitor during training sessions and calculated MET (metabolic) values, whilst asking dancers at class to rate their perceived level of exertion. The outcome was just as Alexandra had thought - Irish dancing took much more effort, with a MET value of 8.0, as opposed to swimming at 7.75 and soccer at 7.5.
Mrs Linbury, Alexandra's Science teacher, was so impressed, she submitted the project to the Science Teachers' Association's Annual Intel Young Scientist Of The Year competition. Alexandra attended the awards ceremony in Sydney (a ten hour drive from her home in Lismore, New South Wales) and was awarded third place in the Years 7 - 9 age category.
Alexandra, of course, was thrilled with this result and was encouraged by the judges to research further within her project. Her original study was limited, due to the fact she couldn't gain access to a Polar Heart Rate Monitor for long enough periods of time.
"I compared my own heart rate during my regular training sessions for Irish dancing, with soccer and swimming, and found the highest heart rates I recorded were during Irish dancing,"
"I also conducted a survey of Irish dancers, about the different sports they did and the results showed Irish dancing used more energy. The problem with the project was I needed more subjects than just me and more repetitions of measurements, to make the results more reliable."
Knowing what she knew, Alexandra delved deeper into the physical intensity of Irish dancing. Her follow-up project enlisted the help of some of her fellow dancers, for a five-week study, with the use of heart rate monitors, provided by the Polar Company, worth $2,500 (AUS).
"Dr Allan Davie at Southern Cross University showed me how to calculate a MET value,"
Alexandra continued. "After each session of heart rate recording, I had to transcribe pages and pages of data from the monitors, eventually calculating the METs and writing up all the information."
"A lot of people don't know very much about Irish dancing, apart from what they've seen in Riverdance and most people would see it purely as a cultural activity, rather than an intensive exercise or sport. It turned out Irish dancing has a MET value of 8.2 [at Intermediate/Open level], which means it uses more energy than high-impact aerobic dance (7 METs) and ballet (6 METs)."
It was these findings that led Alexandra to win her category and become the 2004 NSW Intel Young Scientist Of The Year, as well as achieving an extra award, the Powerhouse Museum's Experimentations Award, presented for the project that best explains a scientific or technological principal.
So, Alexandra has proven Irish dancing is far from a walk in the park. As well as practise, technical ability and a huge amount of dedication, Irish dancing uses up more energy than most other sports and requires a high level of fitness.
Is it any surprise then that the world of Irish dancing is becoming more focused on injury prevention? Its essential dancers warm-up and cool down, take care of their bodies by wearing the correct footwear and take advantage of all shock absorbing and general health and fitness products on the market today. They may add to the on-going costs of Irish dancing, but theyre a much needed reality in todays competitive world, where Irish dance injuries occur more frequently than wed like.
Definition Of MET Values:
How much energy you use up doing an activity such as Irish dancing can be measured in units called METS, which are multiples of your basal metabolic rate. Your basal metabolic rate is "the energy required for essential physiological functioning after 8 hours sleep and 12 hours fasting" - put simply: the number of calories to keep your body functioning whilst at rest. One MET is equivalent to your body's metabolism at rest.
Horse Riding 3.5 METs
Cycling (24 mph) 5.0 METs
Gymnastics 5.5 METs
Basketball 6.0 METs
Tennis 7.0 METs
Hockey 8.0 METs
Jogging 8.5 METs
Running 12.5 METs
* All MET Values as featured www.brianmac.demon.co.uk