What happens at the feis?
The very first thing you’ll need to do when you arrive at the feis is locate the office to check in. The office can be any room in the building, on any floor, or sometimes in a different building altogether.
When you find the office, a feis worker will tell you what stage you’ll be assigned to and they’ll usually hand you a folder containing important paperwork, including a stage assignment sheet listing the competitions that will be happening on your stage. You may need to go to the area where the dancers check in to pick up a stage assignment sheet, or you may need to rely on the one that you already downloaded & perused the day before from the feis website (you smart cookie, you). Musicians are stationed at one stage throughout the day, while judges rotate from stage to stage. The exception is a designated musician who rotates between the stages in order to allow breaks.
If you arrive at the feis early enough, you can take advantage of the free food & drinks that are usually provided and you can participate in the morning meeting explaining the days’ rules and itinerary.
Locate your stage and look over the stage assignment syllabus. The abbreviated dance categories & dance levels competing at your stage are all listed for the day.
** I like to draw lines on the page in between the dance categories. This helps me to stay focused and ensure that I’m playing the correct tune type
Most local feiseanna begin the feis with the National Anthems of Ireland, America & Canada. (You should learn them, just in case). Then they’ll make a short announcement and the feis competitions begin.
The dancers have a waiting area off to the side of the stage where they sit while gathering into groups for their competitions. When it’s time, the dancers are lined up at the back of the stage in rows. The judge writes down the competitors’ numbers on a score sheet.
The first dancer(s) step forward from the lineup. When the judge nods in your direction (or stops writing for a moment and looks up) you begin playing!
Usually you’ll play one A part (8 bars) as an introduction. You’ll only play the intro at the beginning of the entire group, not for each individual dancer.
The dancers usually point their toes before they start to show that they’re ready. The dancer listens to the introduction being played to hear the tempo and tune. They then dance their steps.
You’ll see the next dancers get into position as the current dancers are finishing their turn. Current dancers will usually bow to the judge and then the musician after finishing their dance, before heading back to the line. Most feiseanna use the ‘pick up’ system where there is no break between dancers. Keep playing until all of the dancers in the line(s) have finished.
• One time through the dance for first feis/beginners/novice (jigs/reel/hornpipe) is generally an 8 bar introduction, then dance 32 bars (AABB or ABAB). Note: Traditional Set Dances have their own formats. Study those. Write them down.
• Figure dances, ceili dances, championship level dances may be longer.
For example, IDTAMA 2017 says: The length of 2 hand and 3 hand dances in competition are to be 48 bars of music plus an 8 bar introduction.
• General rule: Watch closely & keep playing until the dancers stop.