What is a Feis?

“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.

In Ancient Ireland communities placed great importance on local festivals, where people could come together in song, dance, music, theatre and sport. The largest of these was the Aonach, the great festival at Tara, which was then the city of Ireland’s Ard Rí, or “High King”.

These feiseanna were a rich opportunity for storytellers to reach a large audience, and often warriors would recount their exploits in combat, clansmen would trace family genealogies, and bards and balladeers would lead the groups in legends, stories, and song.

These gatherings eventually gave rise to athletic and sporting competitions, including horse and chariot-racing, as well as feats of strength and endurance.

Modern Feiseanna

Today the Feis has experienced something of a rebirth, both for ethnic Gaels and for enthusiasts of the Gaelic culture in Ireland and Scotland, as well as throughout the world. Typically they are community-based festivals seeking to promote and maintain Gaelic Culture, tradition, and pride.

Some events called Feiseanna are comprised  exclusively of Irish Dance competition (they a  re more properly called  “Feile”).  A similar event comprised only of musical competitions is called a Fleadh Cheoil”.   The Nassau County Feis is proudly held in the more classic form, including dance and musical competitions and performances,   art displays and competitions , Irish language classes and soda bread baking competitions.

The most important Feiseanna in Irish Dance are the “Oireachtas”(pronounced oh-rok-tis) competitions. There are regional Oireachtas competitions in Eastern and Western Canada, Northeast, Midwest, Southern and Western US, plus locations in Europe (Especially GB and Ireland) and Australia. Regional Oireachtas are open only to dancers from their defined region, and serve as qualifying competitions for National and World Oireachtas. Important National Oireachtas include North American Nationals (NANs), All Irelands, and All Great Britons.

The most prestigious competition for top dancers is the World Oireachtas. Worlds were held in Glasgow in 2007, Belfast in 2008, and will be held in Philadelphia in 2009. The World Oireachtas (Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne) is typically held Easter Week.

Dance Competition

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 adult.

Dancers advance levels by gaining medals in different dances. The dances include jig, Hop jig (single jig), treble jig (hard jig), slip jig, hornpipe, traditional set, reel, nontraditional set and treble reel (tipping reel).

In a feis a variety of soft and hard shoe dances are performed and individually judged.

1) Beginner to Prizewinner dances include:

Soft shoe Dances: Reel, Light Jig, Single Jig, and Slip Jig (Slip jig is very rarely danced by males and is normally classified as an all female category)

Hard shoe Dances: Treble Jig, Hornpipe, Traditional Set (Traditional Sets are St. Patrick’s Day, Blackbird, Job of Journeywork, and Garden of Daisies)

Trophy Dances: Beginner and Advanced Beginner perform a soft shoe reel Novice and Prizewinner perform a hard shoe Treble Jig

2) Prelim and Open Champions compete in 3 individual dance competitions, which are then combined for an overall placing:

Soft shoe Dances (For overall placing): Reel or Slip Jig

Hard shoe (For overall placing): Treble Jig or Hornpipe

Hard shoe Set (Solo) Dances (For overall placing): There are a variety of set dances, that are performed as solo’s by the dancer. These dances are too numerous to name, and may performed at a variety of speeds.

Trophy Dances (Not included in overall placing): Preliminary and Open Champions also compete in Trophy dances, usually limited to champion level dancers. These Trophy dances will usually be Hardshoe, and a Treble Jig or Hornpipe.

    • Beginners to Open Dancers may compete in a Special Trophy Dance which is either a Treble Reel (hard shoe) or Slip Jig(soft shoe, females only)**

Different Rules and Dances are used during an Oireachtas or for a Beginner’s First Feis

Competition Scoring

Competitions for each individual dance are scored on a 100 point system, which indicate the subjective opinion of each different judge. Most scores seem to be in the 60-95 point range, and can vary wildly depending upon the judge. However, each competition is judged in its entirety by the same judge(s), so what really matters is the relative placing of each dancer.

Placing of dancers For Individual dance competitions, placing is based entirely on a single judges subjective opinion. Ties are common, and can result in slightly skewed final results. For instance, a tie at 2nd place would result in the 4th best dancer receiving 3rd place (1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, instead of 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 4th).

Irish Points

Preliminary and Open Championship competitions are judged by at least 3 adjudicators (Judges) and at regional, national and world “Oireachtas” competitions, there can be 5 or more. Because of the subjective nature of judging, the varying scales used by each judge, and fact that the scores of 3 dances must be combined to determine overall placing, an additional [Irish Points] method of scoring is used. Each individual adjudicator derives from their own scoring, a final placing. Ties in these placings are discouraged but do happen. Each of the placings from 1st to 50th are assigned an Irish Point Value, which when combined with the other adjudicators, determines final placing. The Irish Points per individually judged place are vaguely logarithmic, in that 1st == 100 points, 2nd == 75, 3rd == 65 etc, until 50th == 1. This gives higher marks by single judges more weight than average marks by more judges.

In order to compete at the Feis, a dancer must be registered with An Coimsiun le Rince Gaelacha and its subsidiary the Irish Dance Teacher’s Association of North America.

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