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An Irish Dance Primer for Parents


Irish dancing is a niche activity. When Riverdance hit the world stage in 1995, it brought to public attention an aspect of Irish culture that previously had been largely confined to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, cultural events and dance competitions. Since then, the popularity of Irish dance has skyrocketed. For those who are new to the world of Irish Dance, this brief introduction may help. In Irish dancing, a step is a sequence of foot movements, leg movements and leaps, choreographed to fit a certain musical cadence through 8 bars of music for the “right foot” and is repeated through 8 more bars of music for the “left foot” of the step. Steps are choreographed for the various Irish music tempos: reel, light jig, slip jig, treble jig and hornpipe. There are many steps of each dance, varying in level of difficulty. Steps are created by the TCRG’s (teachers) of an Irish dance school, and are unique to that particular school (with the exception of the traditional set dances and the treble reel finishing step). There are two kinds of dance shoes for Irish step dancing – soft shoes and hard shoes. Reels, light jigs and slip jigs are performed in soft shoe. Treble jigs and hornpipes are the first hard shoe dances taught, first at traditional (fast) speed and later at a slower speed, which allows for more complicated footwork. Lastly are the traditional set dances, of which there are five. Experienced dancers will also learn treble reels and contemporary set dances, both performed in hard shoes. Celtic Irish Dance Academy dancers will begin by learning the soft shoe dances. Figure and Ceili dances are performed in teams comprised of a set number of dancers, and are usually named by the number of dancers in the group (i.e. 4-Hand reel).


An Irish dancer’s basic skills include (but are not limited to):

• Good timing (meaning the dance movements match the rhythm of the music).

• Pointed toes with arched feet.

• Legs crossed (so that it looks like one knee is hiding behind the other) and legs turned out (so that when the legs are crossed, the heels splay out with toes toward the midline).

• Upright upper body carriage with arms straight at the dancer’s sides, chin level, eyes forward, head evenly balanced atop relaxed neck, with shoulders open (down and back).

• Graceful and energetic movement, including high elevation on the toes and snappy legs that kick the dancer’s bum when feet move from behind to in front or vice versa.

• Well-executed jumps that incorporate all of the above principles, and an overall sense of “lift” throughout a dance.

• Confident and pleasant affect. (Dance is a performance art…please SMILE!)


Some Irish dance enthusiasts choose to dance in competition, which can be a great way to stay motivated while striving to master steps. A feis (pronounced FESH) is a sanctioned Irish dance competition offering dance events for multiple skill levels, each further divided by age groups. Oireachtas (pronounced O-ROCK-TUS) is a regional championship competition, where solo championship events are divided by age group only, and many figure team championship events are also offered. Find additional information about competitions later in this handbook. Whether a dancer chooses to compete, perform, or dance recreationally, we’re very glad that you’ve chosen to be a part of the CIDA family! Welcome to our Irish dance family – Damhsa Teaghlach!





Most students enter the Celtic Irish Dance Academy program by enrolling in an entry-level class. Enrollment is ongoing throughout the year. Students with previous Irish dance experience may interview for possible transfer into our program, by contacting our TCRG’s directly. (Note: Conferences with teachers are very difficult to do “on the fly” due to the fact that the studio space is limited and classes are scheduled back-to-back. To arrange a meeting with a teacher, please either call or email the teacher to establish a convenient day and time.) The pace of each student’s progress through the lessons program varies. Some students advance more quickly than others. Usually this is because of a combination of diligent attendance and attention in class; effective independent practice outside of class; participation in summer camps; and participation in as many as possible of the extra classes provided throughout the year. Dancers and parents should remember this progression will vary between dancers and to never compare dancers. Independent practice is recommended for every student who is interested in competing, and is required of all advanced level students. We also recommend purchasing music to practice along to. There are many different musicians on iTunes with Irish dance music. Private lessons are available for students who need extra work or to be able to achieve a certain step or skill, or to break down the critical aspects of certain drills and skills. Priority for private lessons is given to those dancers who practice independently and will therefore be able to maximize the productivity of their private lesson time. Time is limited; partnering with another dancer for a semi-private lesson is encouraged, when appropriate. Private lessons are scheduled independently through a TCRG.




Some students enjoy the opportunity to compete, and some students prefer to focus their efforts on other aspects of Irish dance as a recreational sport. Choosing to compete is a personal and family decision; CIDA supports and respects each dancer’s various interests. When the TCRG’s feel a dancer is ready to compete they will discuss the opportunity with the parent. CIDA also has a parent liaison to help families new to Feiseanna navigate the process. Andi O’Regan, is a seasoned dance mom who has two dancers competing within the school. She can be reached via email at She will periodically offer Feis preparation workshops and is available to answer questions. For families who are new to Irish dance…. The Irish word ‘feis’ (pronounced “FESH”) means festival, but is more commonly used to describe a sanctioned Irish dance competition. Dancers who compete must be students in good standing of a TCRG (certified instructor). With instructor’s consent, these students are eligible to compete in feiseanna (plural of feis, pronounced “FESH-nah”). GENERAL INFORMATION The North American Feis Commission (NAFC) is the governing body for sanctioned competitions in our region. Only students of teachers certified by An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha (CLRG, or in English, the Irish Dancing Commission) are eligible to compete at sanctioned feiseanna. CIDA is part of the Western US Region. The information in this document offers a summary of the NAFC Dancing Competitions Rules for the Western US Region and specific guidelines that pertain to students of the Celtic Irish Dance Academy competing in solo dance events. Dancers (and their parents) are encouraged to carefully read the syllabus of any feis in which they plan to enter. Important information can be found in the syllabus, and frequently answers to most of your questions. Solo dance competition events at a feis are categorized by Grade level competitions and Championship competitions. Competition groups are further divided by age. Age groupings are determined by the age of the competitor on January 1 of the year in which the competition is held. For example, a dancer who will turn 8 at anytime during this calendar year was 7-years-old on January 1, therefore that dancer qualifies to compete in the “Under 8” (U8) competitions for the entire calendar year. (For the purposes of this rule a competitor whose birthday occurs on January 1 shall be deemed under that age for the competition year). Dancers who are new to Irish dance competitions will begin in the Grade level solo dance competitions. For each dance, a dancer must perform two steps in sequence. Competitors will dance two or three at a time, and will typically be lined up next to dancers from other schools. Therefore, competitors will not be performing the same steps as the dancer(s) next to them on stage. It is important for your beginner dancer to know this! A judge marks scores for each dancer’s technique, timing, poise and presentation. Results are sent to the designated tabulation room and the winning competitor numbers are posted. Competitors check the posted results and may then claim any awards given. (The dancer will need his/her competitor number to claim an award.) Reminder: many dancers like to see their results themselves so please never tell a dancer their results. Judging is somewhat subjective, and competition results will vary. Remember that there are two or three dancers competing onstage simultaneously. Part of a judge’s subjectivity is because he/she must split their attention between all dancers AND try to write comments. Dancers (and their parents!) are advised to keep their competitive drive in check. Please note that ANY derogatory comment about judges or other dancers is embarrassing to the school and completely unacceptable. Participating in Irish dance competitions offers many benefits, and some benefits are more tangible than others. Keep it fun. Even the most skilled dancer is not going to compete well if he or she is not having fun.





There are seven competition dances at Grade level, each a separate event: reel, light jig, slip jig, single jig, treble jig, hornpipe and traditional set. Some feiseanna offer other special competitions such as reel special or treble reel, however, those events do not “count” toward competition level progression. Grade level competitions require one adjudicator per event. Prizes are awarded in proportion to the number of entries and to the degree of proficiency shown. First Feis is a Beginner dancer who has not yet entered into at Feis, just as it name states. Please check with your teacher to determine which dances your dancer should register for. Beginner I Dancer has participated in their first Feis and now enters into the “Grades”. Beginner I dancers who place first, second or third in a dance will move that dance to Beginner II at the next Feis. Beginner II Dancer does not qualify as a Beginner, or any subsequent levels. An Beginner II who wins 1st, 2nd or 3rd place can advance to the Novice category in that particular dance the next feis. Novice Grade Dancer has moved beyond the Beginner skills and is ready to perform more difficult steps in competition. A Novice who wins a first or second (if there are greater than 10 dancers ) will advance to the Prizewinner category in that particular dance. Prizewinner Grade Dancer does not qualify as a Beginner, Advanced Beginner or as a Novice. A dancer remains at Prizewinner Grade until qualified for Preliminary Championship. A dancer must gain a first in all dances prior to moving to Preliminary Championship level. All firsts do not need to be obtained within a single feis or set time period.





A CIDA student is expected to place 1st in all Prizewinner Grade dances before competing in a Preliminary Championship. Preliminary Championship competitors are typically required to perform a soft shoe dance (reel or slip jig) and a hard shoe dance (treble jig or hornpipe). A dancer who wins two 1st place Preliminary Championship awards will move to Open Championship.





Parents need to know that dancers from the same school do not move as a group under the direction of a teacher at a feis. Therefore, especially for young dancers, the role of the parent becomes that of “sport manager” (aka “Feis Mom” or “Feis Dad”). Parents often learn this role by networking with experienced Feis Moms and Dads. If you don’t know someone personally, ask your child’s teacher and they will be happy to connect you with another family. Between the dance teacher, a mentor family, and the resources offered by our parent liaison, Andi O’Regan, parents will be able to learn what their dancer needs to wear the day of the feis (i.e. costume and hairstyle or wig); what to bring (i.e. safety pins, bobby pins, hairspray, duct tape, water bottle, snacks); and hopefully a few extremely useful tips relevant to the particular feis the dancer plans to attend. Logistically, it is helpful to know that a dancer may be competing on several different stages. If parenting more than one dancer, those dancers might have to compete at the same time in different (and sometimes distant) locations. It is helpful to have one-on-one coverage, if at all possible, and perhaps an extra set of eyes for non-dancing siblings, if necessary. On the day of a feis, it is important to remember that the more relaxed and encouraging a parent is, the more likely the dancer is to have fun. Dancing in a feis is very different from dancing in a class or in a performance. Supportive parenting can make a huge difference in a dancer’s comfort and confidence.





• Pack the essentials: dance shoes, socks, costume, hair accessories (hair spray, wig,bobby pins), safety pins, black gaffers tape (to be worn on the bottoms of hard shoes if the stage feels slippery), water bottle, nutritious snacks, the registration and entry information, and a copy of the schedule, directions to the feis, and a pencil/pen/highlighter to mark the stage schedule. See our Feis checklist.


• Arrive early!!! Plan to arrive at least 60 minutes before the anticipated start time of your competitions. Better to be too early than too late and Feis can start a competition up to an hour before the scheduled time.


• Visit the registration table to pick up competitor number. Check to make sure that you are entered in all of the correct competitions.


• Find each of your stages. If the stage is empty (meaning, the judge and musician aren’t there yet), do a quick practice on it to see how it feels. Otherwise, do a quick practice the designated practice area, or in a quiet corner of the venue. You should be warmed up by the time your competition starts, but not tired. Don’t over-practice! Look for an older dancer to TCRG to help you warm up.


• If you have been taking notes in class, now is a good time to review your notes.


• Allow plenty of time to change into your costume and fix your hair, if you haven’t done it yet. If you are wearing a wig and/or a tiara, use enough bobby pins to keep them securely in place. Use sock glue to keep your poodle socks up.


• Tie your shoes in double knots! Check them between competitions to make sure they haven’t loosened.


• Be patient! Sometimes things run right on schedule, but often there are delays.


• When the competition two groups before yours is running, check in with the Stage Manager. Do not line up next to another CIDA dancer if possible. Dancers from the same school should not be dancing together.


• If you are competing in Novice Grade hard shoe dances, the Stage Manager will ask you if your music is slow or fast.


• When it’s your turn, take a step forward and AWAY from the other dancer. SMILE! Keep your eyes up and your chin up; don’t look down and don’t move your neck. LISTEN to your music and dance your steps with lots of controlled energy. Remember to MOVE (practice this beforehand) the way the steps are supposed to take you. The judge won’t be able to see you if you dance only at the back of the stage.


• Bow to the judge at the end of your dance. Make sure you don't bump into the dancers that immediately follow you when you go back into line. While standing in line as the other competitors are dancing, stand nicely with your feet crossed. (Some judges will take points off your score if you are disrespectful to the other dancers by being too fidgety in line.) After all of the competitors have danced, the judge will take a moment to review his or her scores, then all of the dancers will bow together and walk off the stage in line.


• You may not approach judges or musicians. Any problem needs to go through your teacher or a feis Stage Manager.


• Scores will be posted in a separate room shortly after each competition is completed. It is best to wait until you have finished all of your dances before going to the score room. In the score room you will also have the opportunity to purchase the judge’s scores and comments (or to request them to be mailed, if they’re not ready). It is helpful to start a feis log keep track of your placement for each feis.


• Remember, winning a medal is always fun, but the real reason for competing should be because the dancing is fun! Judges are people, so results vary. Try your best, and remember that this is not the only feis.


• Support and encourage your CIDA classmates. Although some of the competitions are individual, you’re all part of the same school team representing the CIDA dance family !







• Please help to manage your child’s excitement. Your child should be nervous enough to be energetic and sharp, but not so nervous that they are incapable of dancing their best.

• If your child is signed up for a dance that he or she is truly not ready for, do not force them to compete in that dance. It is common to have "no shows" in a category - there is no penalty.

• Please help to manage your child’s nutritional needs. You want your dancer to have enough fuel to do their best. Keep your child’s digestive sensitivity in mind. If sugar makes your dancer overly-hyper, don’t feed them doughnuts for breakfast! Keep a water bottle or other drink with you for last minute thirst quenchers.

• Be calm. Things will go wrong or get forgotten. To the extent possible, try to keep minor glitches from becoming major distractions.

• Please be familiar with the feis rules as posted on the syllabus (or on the NAFC web site). Any questions or concerns on the day of the feis need to be directed to a CIDA teacher, a stage manager, or another feis volunteer, never to a judge or a musician.

• It is helpful to gently remind your young dancer which dance they are competing in as they check in at the stage. “This is your reel competition. Which ones are your reel steps? Dance those ones on this stage!”

• Once your child has checked in with the Stage Manager and is “on deck”, you become simply spectators. Enjoy! Dancers will remain with their section until the entire group has completed that particular competition.

• Smile, nod, and encourage your dancer, but don’t coach from the audience. It’s not permitted.

• Compare your child’s performance with their own past performance, not with the other competitors’ performances. Unfortunately, judges don’t always see what the parents see, or may see something that the parents did not! Do NOT predict results!

• Keep criticism constructive.

• Enjoy your day, too! You should be very proud of your dancer(s)! It took a lot of work to get here – celebrate together! It’s a great chance to spend time with the other CIDA families.




Reel – a lively dance performed in soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm with an even 1-2-3-4 count; musical cadence is either 4/4 or 2/4 time, tempo is approximately 113 on a metronome

Light Jig – a bouncy dance performed in soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm that can be counted aloud as ONE-2-THREE or 1-2-3-FOUR; musical cadence is 6/8 time, tempo is approximately 113 on a metronome

Slip Jig – a graceful, flowing dance performed in soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm that can be tricky to count until familiar, ONE-2-THREE-4-FIVE-6; musical cadence is 9/8 time, tempo is approximately 113 on a metronome Single Jig- the least common of the jigs, performed in soft shoes, in a 6/8 or less commonly a 12/8 time.

Musically, the Single Jig tends to follow the pattern of a quarter note followed by an eighth note (twice per 6/8 bar), tempo is approximately 120 on a metronome. Treble Jig – an energetic dance performed in hard shoes, characterized by a 1-2-THREE-1-2-THREE rhythm; musical cadence is 6/8 time, tempo is approximately 92 on a metronome for “fast speed” (aka “traditional speed”) dances, and approximately 73 on a metronome for “slow speed” dances Hornpipe – a catchy, rhythmic dance performed in hard shoes, characterized by a 1-TWO-1-TWO rhythm; musical cadence is either 2/4 or 4/4 time, tempo is approximately 138 on a metronome for “fast speed” (aka “traditional speed”) dances, and approximately 113 on a metronome for “slow speed” dances Treble Reel – performed in hard shoes, and just as with soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm with an even 1-2-3-4 count, but with seemingly “reely” fast feet! Set Dance – a dance performed in hard shoes and choreographed for a specific piece of traditional music (either treble jig or hornpipe tempo); a traditional set is a specific dance sequence performed at a specific speed to a specific piece of traditional music; a non-traditional set (also called contemporary set) is original choreography developed by a TCRG and performed at an optional speed to a specific piece of traditional music Solo Dances (aka solos) – choreography that can be performed individually Figure Dances/Ceili (aka figures) – choreography that is performed in teams TERMS FREQUENTLY USED FOR DANCE SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES: Cross – refers to a dancer’s legs being crossed in such a way that it looks like one knee is hiding behind the other (Note: the term “cross” is almost always used in conjunction with “turnout”) Turnout – refers to a dancer’s legs being rotated in such a way that, when legs are crossed, heels are pushed out across the midline and toes face toward midline; IMPORTANT: proper turnout comes from the hips, not from the feet – a dancer’s toes and knees should be facing the same direction Point – a basic Irish dance movement of pointing the foot in front with proper technique (hop on back foot, legs crossed and feet turned out, pointed front foot gently brushes the floor in a staccato movement); “a point” refers to the shape the foot when it shows a proper arch, with heel clearly visible to the inside, top of the foot turned to the outside, toes long and tight Hop 1-2-3’s – a basic Irish dance movement whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer steps moving forward “right, left, right, hop (on right foot), left, right, left, hop (on left foot), right, left, right” etc… 7’s & 3’s – a series of basic Irish dance moves whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer steps laterally “right, left, right, left…” for seven counts, then “right back-2-3, left back-2-3” and repeats (to the rhythm of the music) through a right foot and left foot section Switch – a basic Irish dance movement whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer jumps straight up (in place, not traveling) and switches which foot is in front with which foot is in back. Over – the basic Irish dance movement of leaping from one foot into the air with one leg extended, other leg tucked underneath, then landing on the opposite foot from that which took off; over-the-bridge refers to an over performed in reel tempo, also sometimes called “over-2-3” Treble – the basic Irish dance movement whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer brushes the floor using the tip of their hard shoe outward and then inward in such a way that it makes two distinct sounds; other Irish dance schools may use the terms “treble” or “rally” to refer to the same movement (note that each term is two syllables, representative of the two sounds) Click – the basic Irish dance movement of one foot passing by the other foot in such a way that the heels of the hard shoes hit each other and make a clicking sound; clicks may also be done in soft shoe, but the heels don’t actually touch NOTE: There is MANY other Irish dance terms commonly used, but this brief list is intended to give those new to Irish dance a jumpstart. Soon we will be posting a video of the First Steps. This video is intended to supplement or support steps they have already learned in class. As always, if you have any additional questions please ask! TERMS RELATED TO IRISH DANCE COMPETITIONS: Feis – (pronounced “FESH”) an Irish word that means festival, but is more commonly used to describe a sanctioned Irish dance competition Feiseanna – plural of feis, pronounced “FESH-nah” Oireachtas – (pronounced “O-ROCK-tus”) an Irish word that means gathering, but within the context of Irish dance generally refers to the Regional Championships Majors – championship events with entry restricted to dancers who have qualified for Open Champion level, and/or who have qualified from a prior championship event North American Irish Dancing Championships (NAIDC) – one of the majors; sometimes referred to as “Nationals” or ”North American Nationals” (NANs), which is a conundrum since North America is a continent, not a nation Solo Dress – a unique costume (and quite an expensive one) worn for champion level solo dance competitions; please read the guidelines regarding Brady Campbell dancers and solo dresses on this page – ACRONYMS FOR ORGANIZATIONS AND CERTIFICATIONS: CLRG – An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha – the Irish Dancing Commission based in Dublin TCRG – a teaching certificate awarded by CLRG to candidates who have shown a competence in teaching the ceili dances as described in Ar Rince Foirne and have also shown a competence in teaching solo dancers ADCRG – a certificate awarded by CLRG to candidates who already hold TCRG certification and have shown a competence in adjudicating (judging) at official competitions IDTANA – Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America NAFC – North American Feis Commission – They approve and schedule the Feis throughout North America .

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