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I'm a Preliminary Champ dancer who's been competing at various feisanna for a little over 5 years. I still remember my first feis very clearly. I was so nervous I sware I stretched out and went through each of my dances 10 times before competing. So I know how you feel.
1. Worried about forgetting your steps?
This is likely one of the things that can make a dancer very nervous. But it's very helpful to remember that none of the judges watching you know your steps. They do not judge your ability to remember choreography. What they do judge is your ability to execute the steps with proper irish form. It's only human to get nervous and forget your steps when many eyes are on you. I can't count how many times it's happened to me. If you forget your steps, just keep dancing. Show them some basic leaps and skips done with proper Irish form and stay with the counts in the music, ending at the proper time. Have some fun with it! The only thing not to do is stop. You may find it surprising, but I have made up whole dances on the spot and won first place. No kidding! Proof that the judges are only judging the way you dance, not what steps you do.
2. What if the other dancers are better?
I've heard many dancers worrying about this. The fact is it's just not true. Yes only 3 or 4 people place in each dance, but the dancers you will compete against are all at the same level in Irish dance that you are. They also are all around your same age. I know it can sometimes be intimidating to watch the other dancers in your level. It may seem as though their steps are more difficult than yours. This isn't true either. They have simply learned different steps than you have. They would most likely think the same thing about the steps they see you do.
3. How do I know when my competition is?
When you arrive at a feis, you'll need to check in at the registration desk. You will be provided a competition number and a numbered list of the dances you will be competing. The numbers for your dances will be called out or perhaps displayed near the stage when it is time.
4.How do I know if I placed in a dance?
At every feis there is a room or corner where results of each dance will be displayed. The best way to find this area is by asking someone at the registration desk. Printouts with competition numbers will be displayed soon after a competition is completed. If you find your name on the printout, congratulations! Medals are given to all winners, sometimes even a trophy for set dances. Don't leave without your reward!
5. What if I only know one or two dances?
That's okay! You don't have to compete in every dance available to you. If you know at least one reel dance, light jig or slip jig you should go to a feis! Feisanna are loads of fun. Don't miss out on one just because you only have a couple or even one dance. Competition can motivate you to improve and you'll meet other dancers who are at the same level you are.
6. Can my family and friends come and watch?
Family and friends are definately invited to come, but it is not the best show for them. After inviting my family to various feisanna throughout the years I have found that it is not a very entertaining thing for people who aren't in the competitions themselves. If you are a dancer it's a lot of fun to compare yourself to other dancers at your level, but for those who come to watch you it can be a long wait. It could be three hours and often longer before a dancer has a turn on stage. Especially at the beginner level. And once it's your turn, your family may have difficulty seeing you. In all the feisanna I have attended the stage is set up so the judges have an ideal view of the dancers, not the audience. If you come to watch, understand that you may be there anywhere from 3 hours to all day and you could easily miss the dancers you came to see. AND the fee is generally $5.00 a person. Don't get me wrong, if your a competing irish dancer, then staying all day, keeping on your toes for when they call your competition number, and sitting around snacking and chatting with other dancers can be a rare treat! But for those who can't get caught up in the excitement of competing at the feis it can be a very, very, long, long day. As an alternative, I highly reccommend going to a school performance to watch someone you know Irish dance. Except in rare cases, a feis is designed to be fun only for a competing dancer.
7. What do I wear?
This is a question for your instructor, all schools have different costumes. But there are some important basic aspects of all costumes. Girls must have a skirt or dress that is a few inches above the knee. This is important so the judges can see your legs properly. Either poodle socks or tights, bloomers or undershorts of some kind, and maybe an irish wig and headband. Again, you should ask your dance instructor what to wear, but this gives you an idea of what type of dress is required.
8. What if I fall?!
Been there, done that. It's not a big deal at all. In fact I am formulating a theory that the better the dancer, the more often the falls. In my school, the best dancers fall more than any other dancer. If you don't believe me, take some time and watch the preliminary or open championship dancers compete. I'm willing to bet you'll see a few falls. If you fall, get up as soon as possible and continue to the end. You still have a good chance of placing! If you're lucky you may be offered a chance to do your dance again, it depends on the judge. But if you feel pain or think your hurt, DON'T GET UP! And by all means, don't continue. A small injury can become a permanent injury fast if you ignore it! That's not a lie.
9. The actual fee for competing at a feis isn't too bad. Anywhere from $35 to $75 a dancer. If there is a feis near you then that's all you'll have to pay. But if a dancer is serious about competing and wants to move up a level they should go to more than one feis a year. It can get expensive to plan a road trip to a feis outside your state. For gas, food along the way, and one or two nights in a hotel, it can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 to attend a feis. I highly reccommend carpooling with other dancers from your school. It can make the trip a lot easier with the expenses split amongst a group of people. It's a lot of fun to road trip to a feis with friends. Much funner than competing at a feis nearby. It makes for a great vacation.
10. Everyone is just as nervous as you are
Finally, one of the most important things to remember is that every dancer is just as worried about messing up, just as unaware of where to go and what to do. Even if all the other dancers around you look cool and confident, they're bluffing. This is actually one of the thrills of a feis. When that adrenaline gets pumping you are able to dance with bursts of energy you don't usually have! I've done my best dancing when nervous. Use it to your advantage!