what exactly is a feis?
A feis (pronounce "fesh" - plural: feiseanna, pr. "feshenna") is an Irish Dancing competition. For a mainland European, "dancing" will be mainly associated with art and culture, and so to many it may seem strange to see it in a competition context. But in Ireland, it is thé most important aspect of Irish Dancing. It was a natural, historical evolution: the "travelling dance masters" (dance teachers travelling from town to town) would meet up at village fairs, and would hold competitions between them, much to the enjoyment of the audiences. So for the Irish, competing with dance is truly an expression of their history and culture.
By now, it has become a huge organisation, with world level competitions: the very first Irish Dancing World Competition was held in Dublin in 1970, in a school on Parnell Square. If you'd like a comparison: the Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne 2009 - the Irish Dancing World Championship 2009 - was held in Philadelphia in the US, in the gigantic Kimmel Centre. There were more than 400 participating schools, and more than 6000 dancers, showing the world the cream of Irish Dancing.
What is an Oireachtas?
An oireachtas (pronounce: "oroktus" - plural Oireachtasaí) is a feis at a high level: usually qualification competitions (local or regional championships), they lead to a place in the World Championships, the "Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne". For example, the European Mainland qualifying competition is called "Oireachtas Rince Na h-Eorpa", the Irish championships "Oireachtas Rince na h-Éireann".
What is an Open Feis?
Participation at feiseanna are often limited to dancers from the region where the feis is held. When a feis is an Open Feis, dancers from all regions are allowed to participate.
What is a class feis?
A class feis is a small feis organized by a school, and only the school's own pupils can participate. Although the adjudicator is an official CLRG-adjudicator - an ADCRG (see further down) - and prizes and medals are awarded, the results do not count towards the official grading of the dancers. A class feis is for fun, and to teach the pupils how a real feis works.
Who organizes the feis?
There are several organisations involved in organizing Irish Dancing competitions, and rules and systems differ from organisation to organisation, of course.
Here, we will limit ourselves to CLRG-feiseanna; CLRG (An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha - the Irish Dancing Comission) is the oldest and largest of the Irish Dancing organisations. CLRG was founded in the 1920's by Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League - an organisation set up to protect and promote Irish culture), and has thousands of members (schools) and tens of thousands - if not hundreds of thousands - dancers.
"Normal" feiseanna (and of course every class feis) is typically organized by a school; Oireachtasaí by the CLRG Feis Committee, or by one of its regional daughter organisations.
The organizer writes a syllabus, and submits it to CLRG for approval. Once the syllabus has been ratified, it is signed by the Feis Registrar (the person in charge for the region where the feis is taking place of registering feiseanna with CLRG), en the competition can take place.
What is a syllabus?
A syllabus is a kind of "planning" of all the competitions that will be taking place during that particular feis, sorted by age category and by levels.
Furthermore, the syllabus contais all useful information about the feis: date time, venue, prices, how to enter and when the deadline is, contact information, and of course the feis rules.
The syllabus should also mention the following: : "Claraithe Leis An Coimisiun Le Rince Gaelacha" : "Registered by An Coimisiun Le Rince Gaelacha": this means that the syllabus has been checked and accepted by CLRG.
Feis musician at work...
The music being played during a feis is traditional, Irish dancing music. Some music can be dated - the Blackbird, f.ex. dates from somewhere at the beginning of the 19th century - but other music has just been handed down from musician to musician during generations, and id therefore part of the rich, but anonimous Irish music heritage.
Written scores of this music are rare. Melodies have been written down (and there are books with collections), but they consist only of a single line of 16, 24, every now and then 32 bars, with no arrangement whatsoever. It is up to musician to use magic on these lines, and to improvise them into an interesting piece of music.
Therefore, a good feis musician is worth his or her weight in gold.
At Open Feiseanna and Oireachtasí, the music is always played live by a Feis Musician. The Feis Musician is capable of keeping a strict, even tempo (which, by the way, is set in the rules), and knows the whole required repertoire (which is huge!).
Playing a feis is a very intensive job for a musician. So it's only polite for the dancers to thank not only the adjudicator, but also the musician, when they leave the stage.
Very often, the musician is an accordeonplayer, although the use of a synthesizer is more and more popular at feiseanna these days.
At Class Feiseanna, participants dance to recorded music, which of course also meets all rules of repertoire, time signature and tempo.
What are feis rules?
The feis rules are the rules in place for a particular feis.
They consist of:
The CLRG rules about feiseanna are very extensive, and it would take us far beyond the scope of this page to talk about them in detail. But rest assured, both the feis organizer and the teachers of the competing dancers will make sure that all CLRG rules are followed.
- the CLRG rules and regulations;
- - rules issued by the local authority or local represention of CLRG, if such exists;
- - the specific rules issued by the feis organiser.
Apart from the rules "running in the background", here are a couple of rules that affect the dancer directly:
Dances are played at fixed speeds. These speeds may vary according to the region, but the teacher will know at which speed which dance should be danced at which feis. It is not possible to dance at a feis at other than these fixed speeds.
The only exception are the (non traditional) setdances, where a minimum speed is fixed. At the time of registering for the feis, dancer and teacher choose a preferred speed above that minimum speed, and pass it on to the organizer, who will in turn pass it on to the musician.
Children are not allowed to dance on pointe before the year when they will be turning twelve years old.
Talking to the adjudicator
During the feis, it is not allowed to talk to the adjudicator, or to disturb him or her in any way. Only the stage stewards, the organizer, and other feis officials are allowed to approach the adjudicator.
When a dancer in is a restyling period (see also "who can participate?"), he or she is not allowed to participate in the feis.
When a dancer (or a co-dancer at the same school, or a teacher of the school) has taken a workshop with a registered teacher, who also happens to be an ADCRG, he or she (and any other dancer from the same school!) is not allowed to participate in feiseanna judged by that adjudicator, up to two years after having taken the workshop.
Also, if the workshop teacher - registered or not - is taken to be "associated" with one or more adjudicators (close family member, his own teacher, etc…), neither may the dancer (or any other dancer from the same school!) participate in feiseanna judged by any of these adjudicators, again, for two years after the workshop.
This is not an easy rule, as the dancer may not always know who the workshop teacher may be associated with.
Therefore, it is important that any dancer who would like to take a workshop, ask his or her own teacher first, especially as it has consequences for the whole school. The teacher can then try to find out about the workshop teacher's associations, and advise accordingly.
The dancing costume has to be neat, long sleeved, the neckline no lower than the clavicula, and the skirt length no shorter than 10cm above the knee. The last rule is seldom being followed these days, as dancers (and their teachers) want the legs to be visible, to show off the dancing better, which is understandable. Unfortunately, nowadays it is often taken to ridiculous extremes, where skirts become shorter than the kickpants; therefore, CLRG has taken a stricter stand on this rule - so be careful before you spend a lot of money on a new solo dress!
Bun-ghrad en Tús-ghrad dancers are not allowed to dance in solodresses - schooldress is allowed, or a simple top and skirt, that comply to the same rules as the solodress.
Dancers can wear poodle socks (white socks up to the knee, or halfway up the calf), or - for the older dancers - black tights of minimum 70 deniers.
On the European mainland, it has been decided that dancers over 35 are not allowed to wear poodle socks.
In Bun-ghrad en Tús-ghrad no make-up is allowed in the categories up to 12 year-olds.
Taking pictures and filming:
It is never allowed to take pictures or to film during a feis. This rule exists to protect the copyright of the dances. Apparently, as far as we understand (?), in Ireland there is no protection for the choreographer (through organisations like Sabam in Belgium or Gema in Germany, etc...), should a dance, or part thereof, be "stolen".
However, usually there is an official feis photographer, who takes pictures during the feis (pictures that are usually much better than the ones you can make yourself ;))) ); these pictures are then available after the feis, for free or for a small fee.