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A Feis (Irish pronunciation: [fʲɛʃ], roughly fesh) or Fèis (Scottish Gaelic pronunciation: [faɪʃ], roughly feysh) is a traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival. The plural forms are feiseanna (Irish: [ˈfɛʃənə] fesh-a-na) and fèisean (Scottish Gaelic: [ˈfaɪʃən] feysh'n). The term "feis" is commonly used referring to Irish dance competitions.
In Ancient Ireland communities placed great importance on local festivals, where Gaels 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 Ardrí, 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.
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 Celtic Culture, tradition, and pride.
Feiseanna are generally centered around Irish Dancing competitions, and sometimes include music competitions, art competitions, Irish language classes and soda bread baking competitions. An Irish Dance competition that features only dancing is called a "Feile", or simply "Feis" in the Americas.
When competitors begin to dance in these competitions, they traditionally wear a dance costume decided on by their dance school. When these students reach a competition level decided on by the dance school, they have can design or choose a costume of their own. Girls wear ornate dresses with long sleeves and short skirt. The skirt panels are sometimes stiffened with cardboard inserts, but ballet-like "soft-skirts" have become the norm. Boys usually wear a dress shirt, tie and/or vest, and dress pants or a kilt. Girls that are competing also curl their hair or wear a curly, full wig.
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, Philadelphia in 2009 and returning to Glasgow for the 40th Anniversary. The World Oireachtas (Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne) is typically held Easter Week.
Feiseanna are held all over the world, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, all over Europe, South Africa, the USA and Canada. Feiseanna are held by all the organisations which oversee Irish dance, with most feisanna being confined to only those dancers who take lessons with a teacher certified by that particular organisation. However, there are a number of organisations (primarily CRN and WIDA along with its affiliated organisations) who organise 'open feisanna', which are open to any dancer regardless of their teacher's organisation (or if they are self-taught). The organisers of 'closed feiseanna' frown upon dancers from their organisation competing at such open competitions, and may sanction competitors/teachers found to participate in such open feiseanna.
There are different levels of competition offered at all feiseanna, however the number of levels, and the names of each level vary by country (and even region within that country). Competitions are offered for both solo and team dancing, and are separated based upon the age of the competitors. At some competitions, ceili categories are offered for teams of 4 or 8 dancers, the ceili dances performed must be done so as espoused in the book 'Ar Rince Foirne' which lays down 30 of the traditional Irish ceili dancees. Competitions for teams of 2,3 and 8-16 dancers, called figure dances, may also be offered, choreography for these dances is made up by the teacher and/or dancers themselves, though must adhere to certain rules and parameters, a notable rule for figure dances being that 'any move in which a dancer is thrown across the stage is prohibited'.
The commonly competed dances are reel, slip jig, light jig and single jig, in soft shoe, and heavy/treble jig and hornpipe in hard shoe. Treble reels (hard shoe reels) may be offered as 'special dances', as may traditional set dances and special trophy dances in soft and hard shoe in addition to the regular competition. Grade dances are when competitors dance, are judged and are placed in each dance separately. Championships consist of three rounds, an initial soft (reel or slip jig) round and a heavy (heavy/treble jig or hornpipe) round danced by all entrants, the scores from the soft and heavy round are combined, and a percentage (usually circa 50%) of dancers with the highest combined score dance a third round of a modern set dance, the winner is the dancer with the highest combined score across all three rounds. Championships must be judged by a minimum of three judges, preliminary championships in the UK may offer a recall of the heavy dance not danced in the initial heavy round instead of a modern set dance upon recall. Modern set dances are of the teacher and/or dancers own choreography and are danced to a specific set dance chosen from a list compiled by the overseeing organisation. Modern set dances are rarely offered to dance outside of championship competitions, though may occasionally be present as a 'special' competition. Slip jig is only danced by girls, with the exception of male dancers from the CRN organisation.
In CLRG affiliated competitions in the USA, Canada and Mexico these levels of competition are offered: beginner, advanced beginner, novice, open/prizewinner, preliminary championship, and championship. The names of categories vary by region. In some regions of the USA there are also special categories for adults, to be eligible the adult dancers must not have competed in the standard age-defined competitions for a stipulated amount of time (usually circa 4 years). Some feiseanna in the US also offer a 'first feis' category for the youngest dancers, to give them a more gentle introduction into the world of competitions.
In the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand almost all of the organisations separate the competitions into beginner (sometimes referred to as novice), primary, intermediate and open levels. In recent years an a preliminary championship level has begun to be introduced at many feiseanna, unlike in the US this level is not compulsory, and is an opptional level to bridge the gap between placing out of intermediate and entering the open level. Apart from in the younger age groups, the majority of feiseanna in the UK operate only an open championship competition, rather than open grade dances.
The most common way for dancers to advance between levels is though winning a dance when there are 6 or more competitors in the competition. However in many regions a dancer can only win 3 competitions with fewer than 6 dancers before they must move up to the next level. Teachers may also choose to move a dancer up a level. Once a dancer has met the requirements to move up a level they are no longer allowed to compete at the lower level of competition, however in the UK if a dancer in the open level has not placed in the top 5 for a period of more than a year, they may return to the intermediate level of competition.
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).
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.
Complete List of Irish Points:
In a 3 judge competition it is almost impossible to Not get first with 2 judges agreeing that 1st place is warranted, since with 200 Irish points, the 3rd judge would need to place a dance 7th or worse to overcome the 25 point bonus between 1st and 2nd. This scoring method helps ensure that a single bad adjudicator does not unfairly ruin the results. At a standard 3 judge Feis competition, a unanimous 1st place score is 300 (100 from each judge). At Regional Oireachtas competitions, there are 5 judges who rate all three dance programs, creating the possibility of a perfect score of 500. At the World Championship Oireachtas (Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne), there are 7 judges, which means that 700 would be perfect if all 7 judges agree that one dancer performed the best.
In order to compete at a feis in North America, a dancer must be registered with An Coimisiun le Rince Gaelacha and its subsidiary the Irish Dance Teacher's Association of North America.