First Feis Guide

Scoil Rince SaoirseBeginner’s Feis Guide

The world of competitive Irish Dancing can be a confusing one, especially for those who are new to the feiseanna. Here’s a guide to help you understand the basics of grade level competition.

So, what is a feis?

Feis, pronounced ‘fesh’, is the Gaelic word for ‘festival’, but for our purposes it is a local Irish dance competition. Dancers can compete in feiseanna (plural of feis) in order to advance through the grade levels, of which there are 4 (Beginner, Adv beginner, Novice & Prizewinner) and eventually into championship levels. In grade-level feiseanna, dancers compete against other dancers in their age group and level and are given marks and a possible placement for each individual dance. 

How to sign up for a feis…

Due to the abundance of dance schools and Irish organizations in the tristate area, there are feiseanna on most weekends about an hour driving distance from our studio. Before registering for your dancer’s first feis be sure to check with Deirdre which dances you should sign them up for. Some feiseanna have “First Feis” competitions specifically for younger competitors who are brand new to the competition scene and require only one step instead of the usual two. 

Complete list of all feiseanna across the United States:

Different schools/organizations will specify which website to use when registering for their feis; here are the most popular two in our region:, On both of these websites you will have to create an account the first time you use it; this will include creating a username and password that you will use in the future to register for other feiseanna so you may want to write them down to remember! If this is your dancer’s first feis, indicate “Beginner” as the level of experience. Once you have created an account (or logged in if you already have an account) you can browse through the list of upcoming feiseanna in the Mid-Atlantic Region. As a Beginner, your dancer will most likely only register for reel, and sometimes light jig, but you should always check with your dancer’s teacher to be sure.

What to wear to a feis

Apparel is an important aspect of competition.  If this is your dancer’s first feis, please wear the school black leotard and the school skirt, both are available to purchase at the studio. There are two types of dresses, school dresses and solo dresses.  In the beginner and advanced beginner levels, dancers are permitted to wear a school dress.  These are dresses unique to each school.  They are available to rent at the studio for $25.  When your dancer gets into the novice level, they are allowed to wear a solo dress.  Every solo dress is unique, you’ll never see two of the exact same design.  They are available for rent or for sale at the studio. I recommend $300 to $500 for a 1st dress. Feiseanna are a good place to look for dresses. If you are going to purchase one online, ask for a 48 hour return policy as fit and suitability of colors are hard to measure and predict. Please show me any dress you are considering for purchase before you make the purchase.

On their feet dancers must wear dance shoes and Irish dance socks or black tights for girls, black socks for boys. To keep the socks from falling down, you should purchase what we call sock glue.  It might sound crazy, but yes, nearly all Irish dancers glue their socks to their legs, available at the studio.

Preparing for a feis…

Practice is the most important element of preparation for a feis and a foolproof way of improving your dancing in general. It is easy to get nervous and forget your steps on the day of a feis, it has happened to the best of us, but the best way to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is practice! Grade level dancers should practice for 15-20 minutes 3 times a week. Time spent at the studio before class begins and after class ends is perfect for working on moves and drills that need improvement! Class time is when dancers show their teachers the improvements they have made outside of class and it is just as important as practice time. Dancers should wear shorts or leggings with a tank top or t-shirt to class, no belly tops. White Irish dance socks are also required. Hair should be pulled back, away from the face. Class time is limited and precious so go to the bathroom before class! Discipline both inside and outside of class is crucial. This includes being on time and prepared for every class. Parents and students are expected to commit to the goal of punctuality together so that teachers can effectively and efficiently do their job. 

Plan to arrive at the feis 45 minutes before your first competition is set to start, so that you have time to find the stage, put on dance shoes, warmup, and stretch. It is also a good idea to pack your “feis bag” the day before a feis so you won’t forget anything in the morning. Here’s a list of essentials everyone should have at a feis:

  • Dance shoes
  • Dance socks (Clean!!! Keep a pair aside to only wear at competitions or shows; it is very noticeable if your socks look yellow or grey when standing in a line of dancers who have bright white socks!)
  • Dance dress/school skirt and leotard (and tights/bloomers if needed)
  • Wig (if you’re wearing one)
  • Hair brush/comb, hair ties, bobby pins, etc.
  • Safety pins or number holder
  • Sock glue & electrical tape if you need it for your hard shoes
  • Water and a healthy snack
  • Competitor number if it was mailed or emailed in advance
  • Print out of stage schedule with dancer’s competition numbers highlighted or circled
  • First aid kit
  • Tissues/wipes 

I made it to the feis, now what?

If your dancer’s competitor number was not mailed or emailed to you, there should be a registration desk near the main entrance of the venue, go there to pick it up. There will be a sticker on the back of the card with your dancer’s competition numbers, make sure they are correct. The number in parenthesis is the number of dancers in the competition. Competitor numbers are different from competition numbers: competitor numbers are unique to each dancer while competition numbers indicate the dances the competitor is registered for. Pin the competitor number to your dancer’s waist or use a number holder and ribbon if you have one. 

Next you should find the stages your dancer’s competitions are on. If your dancer is in the same level for all of his or her dances, the stages are usually all in the same room. Sometimes all of the competitions will even be on the same stage back-to-back so you won’t have to move around at all! While you are at the stage, check what competition is currently on; there will probably be a stage schedule nearby. If it seems that two of your dancer’s competitions will conflict, let the stage managers (not the judge or the musician) know, but do not panic! There will most likely be others in the same situation as you and oftentimes the stage manager will already be aware. Your dancer will not miss the competition/be penalized for a scheduling conflict. 

Now that you know where your stages are and how much time you have until your dancer’s competitions start, find a place to “camp” (put all of your stuff) ideally near the stages your dancer will be on. If you haven’t already, get your dancer dressed and ready to dance. This includes putting on a wig/pulling the hair away from the face and putting makeup on (for dancers in U11 and up only). It is also a good idea to do this preparation before arriving to the feis so you don’t have to rush once there. Have your dancer ready, checked-in, and standing by the stage entrance/lining up with other competitors in their competition at least one competition before their own. This way you can be sure not to miss your competition and your dancer can listen to the music and get used to it before getting on stage. 

In grade-level competition, there will be a stage hand to line the dancers up and count them in if necessary. Dancers usually dance three at a time, however, some feiseanna will dance two dancers at a time. While it may seem nice to stand next to your friend from the same dance school, you should always space yourself at least two dancers away from anyone else in your dance school. 

Videotaping your dancer or another dancer at a feis is forbidden! Do not risk getting your child disqualified by recording them dance! You may, however, take photographs without flash. 

I’m done dancing, did I place?

At this point in the feis you have probably already seen a sign with an arrow pointing toward “Results”. This is usually a room or hallway with posters hung that have all of the grade competition numbers written with boxes that indicate the competitor numbers that received a placement. Find your dancer’s competition numbers. If the boxes for placements are still blank you have to wait a little while longer to find out if your dancer placed (depending on how organized, or unorganized, the feis is, and the number of people in the competition, you may be waiting for about an hour). If there are numbers written in the boxes, check to see if your dancer’s competitor number is in any of them. If it is, congratulations, you placed! Go to the trophy room with your competitor number in hand to collect your prize (beginners will most likely get medals, not trophies). If not, congratulations, you did your best! With some more practice and experience you will get to see your number up there in the future.

If you want to see how your dancer compared to others in the competition you can get their individual “marks”. Marks show the number score of the dancers who placed, the number score of your dancer, and the judge’s comments. Sometimes marks are automatically emailed to participants after the feis and sometimes you can purchase them on the day. The marks table will usually be in the general area of the results and trophies. 

What do all these letters mean?

  • A.D.C.R.G. – “Ard Diploma Choimisiuim Le Rinci Gaelacha” or “Highest Diploma in Gaelic Dancing”, a Certified Adjudicator. 
  • T.C.R.G. – “Teagascóir Choimisiúin le Rinci Gaelacha” or “Gaelic Commision Dancing Teacher”, a certified teacher. 
  • T.M.R.F. – “Scrúdú Teastas Rince Céilí” or “Certified Ceili Dance Instructor”, a certified ceili teacher. 

A Quick Recap

GradesPreliminary ChampionshipOpen Championship
Dances1-6 depending on the level  2 – one soft shoe & one hard shoe3 – one soft shoe, one hard shoe, and a set piece
Set DancesNone (unless traditional set competitions are offered)None (unless traditional/contemporary set competitions are offered)U9 – Traditional Set  U10 & Up – Contemporary Set
Practice15 – 20 minutes 3-4 times a week30 – 60 minutes 4-5 times a week (min)60 minutes 4 – 5 times a week
FeiseannaAll dances scored as individual competitionsCombination of scores from both rounds determine placementCombination of scores from all rounds determine placement
OireachtasTraditional Set Competition, Ceili dances, or Championship Solo at Teacher’s discretion (U8/9) or two 1st’s in PrizewinnerChampionship Solo & Ceili dancesChampionship Solo & Ceili dances
NationalsChampionship Solo at Teacher’s discretion (U8/9 only) or by Oireachtas qualification & Ceili dancesChampionship Solo at Teacher’s discretion (U8/9 only) or by Oireachtas qualification & Ceili dancesChampionship Solo & Ceili dances
WorldsN/ABy Oireachtas or Nationals qualificationBy Oireachtas or Nationals qualification
JudgingOne judgeThree judgesThree judges

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