• Feis Dad:
  • 05 December 2014

Oireachtas Lessons Learned

If you have never been to an Oireachtas before, here are some things you might want to know...

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If you happened to read my post, An Introduction to Irish Dance Terms, you may remember me mentioning an Oireachtas. Well, last weekend, I had the opportunity to go to the Mid America Oireachtas held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. To say it is an overwhelming event is an understatement. If you have been to a feis, multiply the number of people at the biggest one you have been to by 3, add a few days, wrap it up in glitz, glam and fake tans, sprinkle on copious amounts of bling and you might scratch the surface on what this event is really like. With every new event in your Irish Dance life, there is always a learning curve, and though this was not my first trip to the O, it seems like I picked up more pointers here that I thought I would share with you. So here, presented in no particular order, are Lessons Learned at Oireachtas, written with the new O goer in mind.

Pre-Oireachtas

  • Bring money, lots of it. Imagine the costs of an average feis but raise it 20% or so since you will probably be in a bigger metropolitan area, at a bigger venue with bigger costs, not to mention the fact you will probably be there for multiple (in our case 4.5) days.
  • Prepare for every occasion. Minneapolis had the coldest Thanksgiving in 30 years while we were there and it was -5° F when we woke up Thanksgiving morning. I heard from many people that were not prepared for that, and had to spend money listed in the first bullet on warmer clothes. On the other extreme, our hotel had a pool, and us without our swimmies :(
  • If you drive, make sure your car is ready too... mine was not sure it was going to start when I needed it during that cold snap.
  • If you have any plans to bring enough food to get you through 4 days, and you bring a hot plate, pots, pans, plates, utensils, food, etc.... be ready not to use it. We planned, but really only had two meals in the room and some of the snacks. There was just to much to do, and see, and eat in a new place. If you have willpower, you can ignore this one, but if you are like me, leave most of the groceries at home (and bring more money).
  • Plan for Irish Dance needs WELL IN ADVANCE. Vendor booths will be crazy, long lines, and there is a chance they will run out of whatever you might need. I say well in advance because we bought new hard shoes a month before the O and it was not enough time to break them in, so we reverted to the old shoes. Also check wigs and things with your teacher with time to buy new before getting to the Oireachtas. We ended up standing in the wig line, but thankfully I had contacted the vendor in advance and she held some options for us.

At Oireachtas

  • Scope out the venue the night before if you can. The venue for Mid America was huge with stages on four levels and O related areas spread all throughout it. Even with advanced scouting, keeping track of where we had to have our single dancer, and when we had to have her there, was tedious, I can only imagine the struggle for a multi-dancer family.
  • If you do need to see a vendor, try to get there right when they open. If you can wait however, and you know the vendor has plenty of what you need, morning of the first day at competition was a pretty good time to visit them. People are either at stages or not to the venue yet. This may not be an option, but something to keep in mind if it is.
  • Buy a program, can't tell one dancer from another without a program. Actually, these come in handy for having an idea when your dancer might dance as well as for noting results later in the day. Plan on spending around $20 for it.
  • Plan on being to the venue early and staying late. The schedule in the book is very detailed, and the times are inevitably wrong starting shortly after the dancing starts as things get delayed. Plan on that, but don't count on it.
  • If you are lucky enough to be on just one stage for all your dances, mark your territory early. For Mid America, there was plenty of seating at every stage so 'reserving' a few for yourself was not frowned upon. Be nice about it though.

The Dancing

  • Your dancer will do at least 2 dances. Be at the stage early and make sure you are there for check in, and back after the dance for number checks. Number checks allows the judges to see the dancers one more time, to check their notes before submitting them for tally. It is important your dancer is there.
  • Be quiet, considerate and polite, and clap for everybody. These dancers did a lot of work to get here.
  • Be ready for any emotion from your dancers, and actually other people around you.
  • Have a little snack and drink for your dancer to recharge between sets.

Recalls

  • If you are new to Oireachtas, you may not have experienced Recalls. Recalls are when the top half of the competitors are announced. These dancers will have to dance a third dance to determine final placement.
  • They will not go off when scheduled. Actually, everyone just kind of wandered into the recall room and waited, so just follow the crowds.
  • Numbers for each recalled dancer are read out in numerical order, and it is typically eerily quiet in the venue, with the exception of the occasional squeal of glee from a recalled dancer, or the sound of hundreds of people turning pages as they mark off who was recalled in their programs.
  • Recalls will also be one of the most extreme emotional roller coasters during Oireachtas as dancers find out who both made the cut, and who didn't.

IF YOU TAKE NOTHING ELSE FROM THIS ARTICLE, TAKE THIS:

  • If you are new to Oireachtas, the chances of a recall are, while not impossible, less likely for a newer dancer. Typically a new Oireachtas dancer is competing against dancers in levels senior to theirs, many of whom have been dancing a while. There is a chance your dancer can dance the very best they ever have, and not get a recall. I know, it has happened to my dancer, twice. It was not until we had a chance to look at all the recalls that we realized how everyone was ranked. When my dancer saw that she was still ranked with her peers, and actually a little better in a case or two, she began to realize that that is how this Oireachtas thing works, and it helped her bounce back. Champion dancers are going to take the majority of the recalls, and depending on numbers, not even every champ will recall. When you can get your head around that, and help your dancer understand, it helps.
  • Bottom line - prepare your dancer. That is a tough balancing act between building them up to do their best, while letting them know their best may not be good enough, while not demotivating them... GOOD LUCK smile They made it to Oireachtas, they are already a star, no matter what recall says.

The Final Dance

  • If recalled, your dancer will do a set dance which will be scored along with the first two dances to determine final score. See the dancing rules above.

Awards

Even if your dancer doesn't recall, I suggest you attend the awards. A few specifics:

  • They will not go off when scheduled. Another lemmings kind of event.
  • Bring a snack, awards will most likely go late.
  • Alcohol may be available, you might want to consider taking advantage of it.
  • BRING EARPLUGS! You will not drowned out the noise, but you may reduce it to an OSHA safe level.
  • If you sit near a large group, from a school for example, and they scream for a result, DON"T LET YOUR GUARD DOWN! They may be screaming for the fact their colleague did not get called, which means they placed higher, so screaming will continue for each number called until their schoolmate's number is called.
  • Have some tissues, it really is beautiful to see these dancers get rewarded for all their hard work. I got choked up watching.

I am sure there are things I forgot, and sorry this got a bit long-winded. There is so much involved in all this, between the dance, the people, the new places and all the new things you may not have not experienced as a dance family before. It is an experience your dancer will never forget, and something you will walk away from with fond memories, I know I did, and I am actually looking forward to the next time I can go.

My little girl absolutely loves her Irish dancing shoes, they are perfect and the fact they come from near her granny and we live in Australia amazes her.

Debi - Australia
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