These guidelines provide a general idea for parents of dancers at other schools too, but please remember to check with your Academy or Director for your unique requirements!
What do I wear?
Unless otherwise directed, the proper attire for a performance or competition is as follows:
FEIS (pronounced fesh)
OIREACHTAS (pronounced o-rock-tas)
At most dance schools, it is the dancer’s choice to participate in a particular Feis. You are NOT required to do so. However, if you are planning on participating, you MUST have the consent of your TCRG. Dancers are required to wear the complete school uniform in the Beginner, Advanced Beginner and Novice categories. (Some schools begin wearing solos during Novice -- as always, check with your TCRG to be sure!) Dancers in the Open, Preliminary and Championship levels of dance may obtain a solo costume. When considering a solo costume, you are to consult with your TCRG for approval, information and guidance.
Participation in Oireachtas (November) and National Championships (July) in both solo and Ceili sets will be at the discretion of the TCRG.
Attendance at as many Feisianna as possible is encouraged. These are rewarding experiences in good sportsmanship, dancing skills and team togetherness. Besides the dancing competition, there are also vendor booths set up for purchasing Irish music, jewelry, shoes, etc. Food is generally available for purchase as well. (Coolers are highly recommended but most venues will require you to leave it in your vehicle.)
Be aware that most Feisianna prohibit flash photography or video recording at the stages.
You're at the Feis!
Prepare for pandemonium! The first Feis is an event that you will never forget. (Even if you tried!) Imagine some 3,00 to 4,000 people crowded into one building, 1/4 or so of which are dancers. Some of them are crying. Some of them are puking. Some of them are laughing a bit too giddily. Some of them are deadly calm and others look like they’re about to attend an execution or a funeral. Underlying everything is a keen sense of excitement and hopefulness that you can literally FEEL in the air. The competition is fierce and emotions are high, yet when a girl does poorly on stage or slips and stumbles, even her “opponents” will wince and offer reassurance. Feis’ing will introduce you to aspects of your dancer’s personality that you may have never known she had. She may not have even known some of it herself!
ENROLLING … For your first (and subsequent!) Feis, you’ll want to do the old Boy Scout thing and BE PREPARED. Start by enrolling early. You will not believe how quickly some of them fill up. Some of the more popular ones are closed the very next day after opening to registration! When you enroll be sure to select your dancer’s proper age and skill group. Never move up to the next category unless your TCRG tells you to move up.
ACCOMODATIONS … Plan ahead on accommodations. If the Feis location is more than an hour or two away, you’ll most likely want to plan on spending at least the night before in a nearby hotel. Most Feisianna begin by 8:30 a.m., and you don’t want to try to get up, get everyone ready, get all your gear gathered, fix your dancer’s hair and then drive for four hours to get there on time. You’ll all be much better off with a full night’s rest and a more leisurely start to the big day. We usually plan to arrive at the hotel around 3:00 or so on Friday afternoon. We then can have an early dinner, and if the Feis offers a pre-reigstration, we do that too. It helps in the morning when we already know the way to the venue! By arriving early we have plenty of time for showers and all that, and can still turn in fairly early. In the morning, Dad loads the car while we check out and head for the Feis. After the Feis is over (or at least we're done!) we can then head for home at our leisure and have plenty of time to stop to eat and etc. on the way.
ARRIVAL … Plan to arrive no later than 1 hour before your dancer’s first performance. If your dancer is a beginner, you can figure that’s going to be bright and early — possibly even the first dance of the day. If the start time is 8:30, you’ll want to be there no later than 7:30 to have plenty of time to find a parking space and pay your entrance fees (mom, dad and the siblings have to pay, the dancer gets in “free”).
REGISTRATION … Next, unless you pre-registered the night before, register your dancer. There will be a spot where you will check in and give the dancer’s name. Usually these are sorted by last name. They will give you a card with a large number on front and a bunch of numbers on back. You’ll want to have a string the same color as the dancer’s dress to tie the card at waist. There are clear pouches you can purchase at Feis vendors or online which will hold the card and keep it from crumpling or folding. This number is your dancer’s identity for the Feis and you want the Judge to see it!
COMPETITION NUMBERS & STAGE ASSIGNMENTS … The Feis system is really very simple, though the first time you’re looking at the columns of numbers and pages upon pages of information, you’ll likely feel like a fish out of water. You’ll receive a card with your dancer’s competition number on the front. On the back of that card, you’ll usually find a series of numbers which will correspond with the dances in which your dancer is competing. The numbers are usually something like “5R” “5J” and “5SJ” … or perhaps three consecutive numbers, 113-114-115. The booklet you were given at registration will contain the “Stage Schedule” or “Stage Assignments.” Each dance will be assigned to a specific stage. Find your dancer’s competition numbers under the appropriate stage column to locate each of her dances. For the younger dancers, *most* Feisianna attempt to keep them all on the same stage or very near to each other.
PUT THE DRESS ON … When your dancer’s next dance is drawing near, it’s time to put the dress on. Remember to remove shorts (Judges WILL deduct points if you forget and they see them when you kick!) and allow a few moments extra for a last minute smoothing and once-over.
ON DECK … Your dancer must be “on deck” one dance before hers. The stage will have a sign or placard announcing which dance number is currently underway and which is up next. When your dancer’s *dance* number (4R for instance — R for the Reel) is “next” your dancer will report to the Stage Assistant and “check in” to let them know she’s there. They will send her to sit or stand in a line beside the stage.
I HAVE A QUESTION! … Whatever you do, NEVER approach the Judge to ask questions. If you must speak with someone or ask a question, ONLY deal with the Stage Assistant. Judges have to be very cognizant of any hint of impropriety, and it would be a bad thing if you’re seen talking to the Judge (or worse, giving him/her something!) and then a few minutes later your child places first — there are people who will wonder about that conversation. If the Judge speaks to you, by all means, respond appropriately!
SIGNS, SIGNALS AND READ MY LIPS … You cannot accompany your dancer from the point that she checks in and goes on deck. You must stay in the audience area and watch. It’s best to NOT attempt to send signals or even try to catch her attention at this point. If she needs you, she’ll make eye contact. Otherwise, let her do what she’s there to do. Don’t try to mouth instructions or send signals to stand or smile or smooth a wrinkle. She’s already under pressure, don’t distract or interrupt her as she tries to do her best in the very limited time she has allocated to her. Remember, she only gets one chance!
THE DANCE … Depending on age, and level, the group of competitors may be small (especially for male dancers!) or very large. Exceptionally large groups are usually split into two (or even three) groups, while the small groups may be lumped in with the next age group up or down to make a more populated playing field. It seems like it might be fun to be the only dancer and always take first place, but that’s not an honest assessment of your dancer’s skill and progress and your dancer will not be truly happy with this.
Dancers line up on stage when directed. All of the dancers in that group will assemble in a line (or lines if the group is large). When they get to their spot, they should stand tall and straight, in position, and wait. Remind your dancer in advance not to slouch or fidget. By the time they reach the competition level, they’re probably well acquainted with standing in position for interminable lengths of time! The music will begin and the Stage Assistant will send the first two dancers forward. Each set of two dancers will perform their set of steps, take a bow, and move back into the line where they will again assume position and stand tall while the other dancers have their turn. If your dancer has been performing, you’ll understand the rotation system and have a better idea of what to expect. (And of just how short her actual performance time will be!)
RESULTS & AWARDS … Results are posted (usually within an hour or so of the dance’s completion) in a centralized location. Basically it’s a series of big sheets of butcher’s paper or poster boards, with the dance numbers in order down the sides, and with rankings in columns across the top. You go down the dance number column to find the dance in question (say 4R) and then look in each column, to see which dancer’s competition number took each ranking. In the case of ties, there will be two or more numbers in the box under the appropriate ranking. If your dancer took one of the places (*usually* 1-2-3 or 4th, but some Feisianna also award for 5th and even honorable mentions) you report to the Award station and present your dancer with her competition number. They will usually have her sign or initial to indicate she’s received her award. First through third places usually earn medals (sometimes fourth as well) and fourth (and sometimes fifth) places will usually earn a ribbon.
ENGRAVERS & TROPHIES … If your dancer wishes, there is almost always an engraver amongst the vendors who will inscribe the back of each medal with the dancer’s name, the dance and ranking (and sometimes Feis and/or date information) so that this time next year you won’t be trying to remember which one is for which dance. It’s usually a very nominal $5 per medal and it’s very much worth the investment. You can also purchase trophies and other award display merchandise if you desire. The trophies will be custom engraved for your child while you wait and they are very reasonably priced. The styles and colors are very broad to satisfy most any taste. These are memories that will last a lifetime, the investment is negligible in comparison. You may also wish to obtain (or make) a journal for competitions for your dancer. These books provide a spot to write down the Feis name, date, your dancer’s level and age information, their competition number, and their rankings on each dance. A spot is provided for their actual score as well as for notes and special memories. (I originally bought one and then when I didn't like the format and all the wasted space, I sat down and made my own. Now Missy has the only Irish Dance Record Book in town with a bright pink cover and pink parchment pages!)
VENDORS ... Feisianna are a great place to grab extras that you may have to order from home. I try to get Missy's ghillies and hard shoes at Feisianna so I don't have to guess on sizes. It's also a great way to find things on sale!
JUDGE’S RESULTS … You are not allowed to look at the Judge’s scoring sheets, but you can usually obtain a copy of your dancer’s summary. Sometimes it is included in the Feis entry, other times it will be available at a cost of a couple dollars. They are *usually* mailed to you, although some Feisianna (Dayton and Cincinnati most notably) will provide the results to you on that day if you are willing to wait around for an hour or so after your child’s last competition. These results will show your dancer’s actual scores and often Judge’s comments to indicate what your dancer could have done better — or what they did extremely well. This information can be invaluable at the NEXT Feis.
THE JUDGING …. Your dancer is judged on appearance, style and dance. Appearance includes hair, dress, shoes, socks, posture, poise, etc. Style is dance style, and therefore varies by Judge. Dance is judged on execution — timing, feet positioning, leg extension, etc.
PARENTING NEEDS … Comfortable shoes and clothes. It can be a long day. Also be prepared to practice all your usual parenting skills. Depending on your dancer’s personality, it can sometimes be hard for your child to compete. It can especially be hard for your child not to win, especially when they feel they danced really well. No matter what place your child takes (or doesn’t!) the important thing is she did it — she danced, she did her best and she is making herself known to the Judges. If she “only” takes fourth, point out the other dancers who didn’t even place at all who would have loved to get that fourth place ribbon. Bring a water bottle, so that your child is not drinking soda all day long. Most importantly, remember to support your dancer and HAVE FUN!!
©2002-2011 by Kathleen Helms. All Rights Reserved.