In traditional Irish Dance, a Feis is a competition for dances of all ages and skills, where they can showcase their talent.
What is a Feis?
First and foremost, s“Feis” (pronounced phonetically “fesh” in English) is an Irish word meaning “festival” and has come to describe a traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival. The plural form of the word is “feiseanna” (prounounced “fesh – anna.”)
Feiseanna are held all over the world, in Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, all over Europe, the USA, and Canada.
In Irish dance, there are different levels of competition: beginner, advanced beginner, novice, open/prizewinner, preliminary championship, and championship. The names of categories vary by region. There are also special categories for adults.
In a feis a variety of soft and hard shoe dances are performed and individually judged.
Types of Dances & Levels
In the solo dancing events, the children compete in one of six levels, depending upon their abilities – as evidenced by awards won in previous competitions. Within each of these six levels, competitions are further broken down into age brackets. Scores are from independent, certified judges and are based on an evaluation of the dancer’s Timing (rhythm), Carriage (deportment), Construction of Steps (complexity), and Execution (presentation). The levels are defined in the standard feis syllabus as:
- Beginner is a competitor who has not taken Irish dancing lessons from a registered teacher prior to September 1st of previous year. Dancer must move into Advanced Beginner the following year regardless of wins.
- Advanced Beginner is a dancer who has taken lessons from a registered teacher for more than 1 year. An Advanced Beginner who wins a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place will advance to the Novice category in that particular dance the next year. NO SOLO COSTUMES ALLOWED. Skirt & blouse or school costumes ONLY.
- Novice is a dancer who has previously won a 1st, 2nd or 3rd in Advanced Beginner. A Novice who wins a 1st place will advance to the Prizewinner category in that particular dance the next year.
- Prize Winner — is a dancer who has previously won a 1st place in Novice in a particular dance.
- Preliminary Championship— competitors who have placed 1st in Prizewinner solo light (reel/slip jig) AND heavy dance (jig/hornpipe) at any feis. Dancers do not have to move out of Prize winner until they feel prepared.
- Open Championship — Dancers who have won THREE 1st place Prelim Championships.
Different Rules and Dances are used during an Oireachtas or for a Beginner’s First Feis
How They Appear on Stage
Children appear on stage in twos or threes (depending on stage size), dancing simultaneously to the same music. Each will display a number on the front of the uniform. They will most likely not be paired with a student from the same school, and therefore will not be performing the same steps. Competitors step out in turn and perform their steps, return to line and wait for the rest of the competitors to finish.
Competitors (with the exception of beginners who will have assistance) need to rely solely on their knowledge of the music to know when to start (since they will not recognize the steps from other schools). When the preceding dancer has 8 bars remaining (the left foot of the second step) the next dancer should step out of line, into a good starting position.
One should place oneself where the judge has a clear view, as close to the center of the stage as is sensible, and should be in front of the on-stage line (that way their feet won’t cause any tripping). Considerable time is spent learning when to start and McDade-Cara dancers really should not need help. Count the bars of music just as is done in class – each dancer does two steps (32 bars in total) and then the next dancer begins.
It is important to appear confident and to let the judge see the talent !! ( a nice smile never hurts either).When all the competitors on the stage have danced, the next line of competitors will advance to the stage and dance. A full competition may have several stages full of dancers.
A costume is required of each dancer entering a competition or performing with the school. Schools vary in their requirements for their students’ first feis but most teachers require that their students be properly outfitted right from the beginning. As dancers advance to a competitive level and/or participate in performances with the School, a costume becomes a requirement.
Currently our McDade-Cara dancers should follow these rough guidelines:
- Beginner –NO SOLO COSTUMES ALLOWED. Skirt & blouse, Jumper or school costumes ONLY
- Advanced Beginner — NO SOLO COSTUMES ALLOWED. Skirt & blouse, Jumper or school costumes ONLY
- Novice — solo costumes are permitted but not encouraged
- Prize Winner — solo costumes are permitted
- Preliminary and Open Championship— Solo costumes
Complete costume details are available on the costume page of the website.
Beginner / Adv. Beginner Jumper
Solo Dress for Champs+ Level
During the Performances
It is very important to properly secure the laces on your shoes. A loose lace may come untied while dancing and cause mistakes or injury. It is advisable to have a parent/adult double knot the laces – checking them prior to each event.
If a dancer should make a slight mistake he/she should always recover and continue – DO NOT STOP (no score is even given to those who do stop)
If a shoe comes untied, a headband falls off, a dancer falls, dancers bump into each other…. These things should be ignored as much as is possible. Do not pick up anything that falls – until finished, do not stop dancing, don’t make any on-stage apologies – continue dancing.
Please be patient with event organizers as there are many many dancers, parents, musicians, judges etc that they are trying to accommodate.
And, as always, have fun – it’s really NOT all about winning or losing !! Good luck dancers!!