In Ancient Ireland communities placed great importance on local festivals, where Gaels could come together in song, dance, music, theatre and sport. The largest of these was the Aonach, the great festival at Tara, which was then the city of Ireland's Ardrí, or "High King".
These feiseanna were a rich opportunity for storytellers to reach a large audience, and often warriors would recount their exploits in combat, clansmen would trace family genealogies, and bards and balladeers would lead the groups in legends, stories, and song.
Today the Feis has experienced something of a rebirth, both for ethnic Gaels and for enthusiasts of the Gaelic culture in Ireland and Scotland, as well as throughout the world. Typically they are community-based festivals seeking to promote and maintain Gaelic languages, traditions, and pride.
The most important Feiseanna in Irish Dance are the "Oireachtas"(pronounced oh-rok-tis) competitions. There are regional Oireachtas competitions in Eastern and Western Canada, Northeast, Midwest, Southern and Western US, plus locations in Europe (Especially GB and Ireland) and Australia. Regional Oireachtas are open only to dancers from their defined region, and serve as qualifying competitions for National and World Oireachtas. Important National Oireachtas include North American Nationals (NANs), All Irelands, and All Great Britons.
The most prestigious competition for top dancers is the World Oireachtas. Worlds were held in 2007 in Glasgow, and will be held 2008 in Belfast, and 2009 in Philadelphia. The World Oireachtas (Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne) is typically held Easter Week.
In Irish dance there are different levels of competition: beginner, advanced beginner, novice, open/prizewinner, preliminary championship, and championship. There are also special categories for adult.
Dancers advance levels by gaining medals in different dances. The dances include jig, Hop jig (single jig), treble jig (hard jig), slip jig, hornpipe, traditional set, reel, nontraditional set and treble reel (tipping reel).
In a feis a variety of soft and hard shoe dances are performed and individually judged.
1) Beginner to Prizewinner dances include:
Soft shoe Dances: Reel, Light Jig, Single Jig, and Slip Jig (Slip jig is very rarely danced by males and is normally classified as an all female category)
Hard shoe Dances: Treble Jig, Hornpipe, Traditional Set (Traditional Sets are St. Patrick's Day, Blackbird, Job of Journeywork, and Garden of Daisies)
Trophy Dances: Beginner and Advanced Beginner perform a soft shoe reel Novice and Prizewinner perform a hard shoe Treble Jig
2) Prelim and Open Champions compete in 3 individual dance competitions, which are then combined for an overall placing:
Soft shoe Dances (For overall placing): Reel or Slip Jig
Hard shoe (For overall placing): Treble Jig or Hornpipe
Hard shoe Set (Solo) Dances (For overall placing): There are a variety of set dances, that are performed as solo's by the dancer. These dances are too numerous to name, and may performed at a variety of speeds.
Trophy Dances (Not included in overall placing): Preliminary and Open Champions also compete in Trophy dances, usually limited to champion level dancers. These Trophy dances will usually be Hardshoe, and a Treble Jig or Hornpipe.
Different Rules and Dances are used during an Oireachtas or for a Beginner's First Feis
Placing of dancers For Individual dance competitions, placing is based entirely on a single judges subjective opinion. Ties are common, and can result in slightly skewed final results. For instance, a tie at 2nd place would result in the 4th best dancer receiving 3rd place (1st, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, instead of 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 4th).
Complete List of Irish Points:
1st 100 11th 41 21st 30 31st 20 41st 10
2nd 75 12th 39 22nd 29 32nd 19 42nd 9
3rd 65 13th 38 23rd 28 33rd 18 43rd 8
4th 60 14th 37 24th 27 34th 17 44th 7
5th 56 15th 36 25th 26 35th 16 45th 6
6th 53 16th 35 26th 25 36th 15 46th 5
7th 50 17th 34 27th 24 37th 14 47th 4
8th 47 18th 33 28th 23 38th 13 48th 3
9th 45 19th 32 29th 22 39th 12 49th 2
10th 43 20th 31 30th 21 40th 11 50th 1
In a 3 judge competition it is almost impossible to Not get first with 2 judges agreeing that 1st place is warranted, since with 200 Irish points, the 3rd judge would need to place a dance 7th or worse to overcome the 25 point bonus between 1st and 2nd. This scoring method helps ensure that a single bad adjudicator does not unfairly ruin the results. At a standard 3 judge Feis competition, a unanimous 1st place score is 300 (100 from each judge). At Regional Oireachtas competitions, there are 5 judges who rate all three dance programs, creating the possibility of a perfect score of 500. At the World Championship Oireachtas (Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne), there are 7 judges, which means that 700 would be perfect if all 7 judges agree that one dancer performed the best.