FEIS 101 – for new parents

What is a Feis?
Feis (pronounced fesh – plural ‘Feisanna’) in Gaelic means ‘festival’. Today it is what we call Irish Dance and Cultural competitions. Besides dancing, there could be music, arts and food competitions. There is a Feis taking place nearly every weekend of the year throughout North America. A full listing can be found on the North American Feis Commission website: http://www.northamericanFeiscommission.org

So what is a Feis, really?
It is exciting, crowded, dramatic, hot, sparkly, loud, competitive, nerve-wracking, confidence-building, long, friendly, and tiring.
But most of all, it is FUN!

How do I sign up for a Feis?
Nearly all competitions have online registration. There are currently three websites devoted to handling Feis registration in the United States:
You will have to create an account on these websites first and then you can register for competitions. You can also pay online for most competitions. You might need a PayPal account to complete the transaction.

To register your dancer(s), you will need:
• the dancer’s full name
• age/birthdate
• the dance school you are affiliated with (Murphy Irish Arts)
Once the dancer is registered, you can sign up to compete. The dancers ‘Feis Age’ is the age of your child as of January 1st of the current year (not necessarily the age that your child is at the time of the competition).
For example – dancer is 5 years old on January 1, 2013, dancer will be registered in ‘U6’ competitions for all of 2013 (even after their 6th birthday has passed).

Registration usually opens up several weeks to several months before the Feis is scheduled to take place. If you choose, some of the Feis registration websites will notify you when registration is set to open.

What are the competition levels and categories?
Every Feis has a syllabus that will list all of the dance competitions, broken down into age groups and skill level. Competition levels are:
First Feis (not always offered)
Advanced Beginner
Prizewinner (sometimes called Open)
Preliminary Championship
Open Championship
A first-year dancer will register in the Beginner category. Generally, beginner dancers will only compete in the Reel and Light Jig. If you are unsure, your dancer’s teacher can let you know which dances to sign up for.

After a full year of Irish dance instruction, dancers will move to the Advanced Beginner level. After that, progression through the levels depends on how well the dancer places in competition.

How do I pay for the competition?
Once you have registered for a competition, you can usually pay online. In fact, most competitions accept online payments only.

Some competitions will include a “Family Fee” in the cost of registration which can be as much as $20. This is in lieu of a per-person entrance fee at the door and many competitions are moving to this practice. If you are not charged a Family Fee at the time of registration, expect to pay an entrance fee (usually around $10 per person) at the gate for each non-dancer who attends the Feis. Competitors will never have to pay an additional entrance fee.

What do I need to do before the Feis?
A few days before the Feis, check online for the Stage Schedule and print it out. This is usually on the Feis website or the Feis registration website. You will want to double check the start time of the Feis so that you are sure to give yourself enough time to get there. You could also get maps, directions and any other Feis-day info that you might need. You will also want to check the Feis website to see if there is anything you are not allowed to bring – coolers, folding chairs, etc.

Being prepared for Feis day will go a long way in preventing unnecessary stress for the dancer and the parents! Be sure to have a ‘Feis bag’ packed with everything you might need the night before. There are always vendors set up at competitions for things you might have forgotten, such as socks or bobby pins. Just keep in mind that you are a captive audience and their prices will probably be much higher than if you had bought those items beforehand. The same goes for food at a Feis – most will have something on hand, however your choices will be limited and you can expect to pay for the convenience.

What should my dancer wear at the Feis?
Dancers should wear their class costume.

Hair should be clean and neat. It is not necessary to curl girls hair, although you can if you would like to. Wigs are generally not used until a dancer has been dancing for a couple of years.

Make-up is prohibited on dancers up to and including the U12 age group in the beginning grades (First Feis, Beginner, Advanced Beginner). Nails should not have colored nail polish. Jewelry, including necklaces and dangling earrings should also not be worn.

Every school has a unique costume and color scheme, so you will see many different styles of dress at a Feis. Also, as competitors advance in skill level, they have the option of purchasing a Solo Dress. Per NAFC rules, dancers must be at least at the Novice level to wear a solo dress in a competition. Each solo dress is custom made and unique. For these reasons, they are usually quite expensive. You will see many used solo dresses for sale at a Feis, ranging in price from a several hundred to several thousand dollars. Wearing a solo dress is a reward for a dancer’s hard work and dedication, but it is not necessary to have one in advanced levels. When you feel your dancer is ready for a solo dress, you should talk to your dancer’s instructor about the color, style and price range that suits you best.

What happens on Feis Day?
This is where the fun starts! No, really – it’s fun! Trust me!!

Morning – Get up early and be sure to eat a good breakfast. Plan to arrive 60 minutes prior to the anticipated start time of your competitions. Load your car with all of your Feis gear and hit the road!

At the Venue – As soon as you arrive, find the Registration Table and get your Competitor Number Card. Do Not Lose This!! Your dancer will need to wear this card and will not be allowed to compete or collect awards without it! Attach the Competitor Number card to your dancer’s costume with a safety pin. Some vendors sell ribbon that you can use to tie around their waist instead. Either is fine. You will also want to pick up a program, if one is provided. These contain alot of great information, including how the venue is laid out and the names of all the competitors. It also makes a great memento of the day.

Find a place to settle in, unpack your gear, and get organized. The venue will be crowded and chaotic! Take a minute to walk around and familiarize yourself with the layout of the stages. There can be anywhere from 4 to 12 stages, depending on the size of the Feis and they may be spread out through several areas. Also, your dancer might not compete on the same stage for all dances, so you will want to know ahead of time where you will need to be throughout the day.

Once you are settled in, finish getting ready for competition. This means visiting the restroom if needed, getting your full costume on with competition number attached, hair done, shoes on and double knotted.

At the stages – Competitions are listed in order at every stage. It is important to keep track of how the stages are progressing – you don’t want to miss your competition! The stage monitors do not wait for missing dancers.

When your competition number is the ‘next’ up to dance, it is time to check in at the stage. This is a good time to remind your dancer which steps they will be competing in (“This is where you’ll be doing your reel steps”.)

Take your dancer side-stage and have them check-in with the stage monitor. They will have a list of all of the competitors signed up for that particular competition and will check each dancer off. They will line the dancers up and lead them onto the stage. For beginners, the stage monitors will usually help ‘count off’ the beats and let them know when to begin dancing.

Once you’ve dropped your dancer off at the stage, find a good place to watch the competition. Dance choreography is different for every school, so don’t be surprised to see other dancers doing different steps.

After all dancers have finished, the stage monitors will let them know to bow to the judge and then walk them off of the stage. You can then gather your dancer and get ready for the next dance.

If you have a question, you can find a volunteer or talk to the stage monitor, but do not get in the way of the dancing. It is not okay to speak to the Judge or musician!

How do I know how well my dancer did?
Throughout the day, Feis volunteers will gather the results from the judges and take them to be tabulated. Tabulation can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours. Remember, these are all volunteers! The final tabulations will be posted on a Results board or wall. Find the competition number that your dancer was in and see if his or her competitor number is listed in any of the placements. Places are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but can go up to 6th place, depending on the number of competitors.

If your dancer’s number is listed – Congratulations! Have your competitor number in hand, find the Awards table and collect your medal!

What if I don’t agree with my dancer’s placements?
So your dancer has now competed in a Feis and maybe didn’t place as well as you think he or she should have? Some feedback would really be helpful, right? Fortunately, most competitions will provide you with a printout (sometimes for a small fee) of your dancer’s Marks including any comments made by the judges during their performance. You can ask at the registration table at the Feis if they will be providing printed results and where to pick them up. If printed results are not provided, many competitions will email them or provide them

The results will list each dance that your dancer competed in, along with:
• Your dancer’s score
• Your dancer’s placement
• The total number of dancers in the competition
Comments are sometimes provided, however these are infrequent at best. Comments must be recorded by the Feis volunteers during tabulation. Feis tabulation is a very hectic and hurried task, so sometimes they are left off if the tabulators are in a rush. And there are some judges that just don’t leave comments. Remember, you can always ask your dancer’s instructor for specific tips on what they should concentrate on during competition, or what a particular comment might mean (they are not always easy to interpret!).

A few things for parents to remember:
• It is never okay to speak with the judges regarding your dancer’s results.
• Try not to compare your dancer with others that were on stage. Even very experienced ‘Feis parents’ are not able to tell the difference in skill levels amongst dancers.
• All of the dancers have worked very hard – Keep any comments positive.
• All judges have different preferences.
• Judges are watching two or three dancers at a time and will not see everything that parents see from the stands.
• Keep your criticism constructive. Dancers know when they have messed up – they don’t need anyone to remind them!

What are the judges looking for?

Again, it’s different for every judge, however there are some basic things that judges will notice – especially if they are absent!
• Good timing – the dancing matches the rhythm of the music
• Pointed toes and arched feet
• Legs crossed (one behind the other) and feet turned out (so that they look like they are pointing away from each other)
• Upright upper body with arms straight at the dancer’s sides, level chin and eyes forward
• High elevation on toes
• Good jumps and a sense of ‘lift’ throughout the dance
• Pleasant smile
• Confident attitude

Not every dancer wants to compete. While participation in competitions is encouraged, your dancer may find that although they love dancing, competition is just not for them. If competition causes more anxiety and tears than excitement and joy, don’t push your child to participate. Give them some time off from competition and let them decide when they are ready.

Most of all, remember that this is supposed to be a fun time. In a week your dancer will have forgotten what their placements were and remember only the fun they had with their friends.

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