Why We Feis

I just returned from Grand Rapids, Michigan where we attended the Mid America Oireachtas. It’s always a chaotic weekend filled with delays, stress and practice sessions but it’s also fun. This year my daughter missed qualifying for solos by one dance but was on a ceili team so we were only there for about 24 hours. In that time we managed to see several friends and got to “catch up”.  Most of the conversations were light and positive however, there were a few times when the phrase “Why do we do this?” was uttered in frustration. I’ve been there myself and on a long drive home I came up with my top 5 answers to the question: Why do we feis?

1.    We feis because our children are Irish dancers who want to compete and succeed in their chosen sport.

2.   We feis to support our kids – act as their cheerleaders and crying towels.

3.   We feis because deep down we enjoy it. As parents we get satisfaction out of watching our children dance and interact   with their friends and share in their victories.

4.    We feis because of the friends we’ve made at our school and those we’ve met along the way. No one understands what feising is all about better than another feis parent and if you’re a social media butterfly it’s fun to cheer your friends on vicariously when your family isn’t at a feis.

5      We feis because the competition can lead us to places we wouldn’t otherwise travel. We turned a trip to Louisville,   Kentucky into a fabulous Father’s Day weekend. Louisville wasn’t on our radar so we would not have gone there without the feis and we are looking to returning some day.

Feising is a big source of stress for the parents and most importantly the dancer and it can become frustrating. When those times hit me I have to remind myself that she’s 11 and will probably only be doing this for a few more precious years before she’s off to college or on to something else. (Sniff) Why not make the most of these years? It’s a tremendous bonding experience and one that I hope my daughter will look back on fondly when she’s older – taking the good with the bad – and be glad that we feised.

Til next time – Slainte!


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Review of the St. Catharine’s Feis

photo.JPG   On July 27, 2013 my daughter ventured across the border to attend the St. Catharine’s Feis in St. Catharine’s Ontario, Canada. It was our first experience with a Canadian feis and we were looking forward to the trip. 

Unfortunately this was not my favorite feis. The venue was a small college campus which was lovely but crowded with several activities that day (including a hockey tournament AND a soccer tournament) and no clear signs directing us to the feis. We found the parking by accident when my daughter spotted a girl in a wig. The parking lots were small and parking was at a premium.  Luckily we snagged a spot and proceeded to the feis which was a bit of a walk.

The registration process was a nightmare! The feis was in one building and registration in another which shouldn’t have been a problem because the buildings were close. However, only one side of the double doors leading into the registration building would open which met you had people coming and going through the same door often with chairs, dress bags, suitcases and even strollers. The process was going so slowly that feis volunteers were forced to grab a stack of cards and walk up and down the already long line calling out to those who last names began with the letter of the stack they had in their hands. Needless to say the feis was delayed by a half an hour with anthems beginning at 9:05am when the feis scheduled at 8:30am.

Camping space was very limited as well. We got a spot with other families that was comfortable at first but soon discovered we were directly where results were to be posted. Rather than being forced to move the majority of people decided to stay put and tolerate the dancers and families looking over us to find results.

The feis space itself was comfortable with plenty of room to move around and a composite floor which was easy on the feet.  Once the feis got started it moved along at a nice pace with results posting quickly. Once lunch came around everything came a to stop. In addition to the Treble Reel, St. Catharine’s offered a Rock n Reel competition which was fun but between both specials the lunch break was extended by an hour. My daughter, who danced at her first dance at 10:30am didn’t dance again until 2pm! Needless to say she was tired and frustrated from waiting so long. Thankfully the feis resumed a good pace and we were finished by 3pm.

The feis food was interesting but not in a bad way. Breakfast was a bake sale with everything from coffee to fruit and baked goods all at reasonable prices.  Lunch was a cookout with hamburgers, hotdogs, sausage sandwiches, chips and bottled water and soda. again at reasonable prices. Combo meals of a sandwich, chips and a beverage were offered at $5.00 for a hamburger and sausage platters and $4.00 for a hotdog platter.

As for judging it could have better. My daughter had the same judge for her soft shoes and a different judge for both her hard shoes.  Again, I’m not a fan of only using 1 or 2 judges at a feis. I much prefer rotating judges amongst all of the dances and unfortunately you don’t know that until you get to the feis.

Results were posted in a timely fashion but you had to buy judges comments for a dollar after your competitions were finished and results posted.  Really? Why not just add it into the feis fees?     

I’m glad we went to the St. Catharine’s Feis and met some very nice people. However, I’m not too sure I would venture to this feis again unless I was building a mini-vacation around it since St. Catharine’s is close to Niagara Falls, Niagara on the Lake and Toronto.

Til next time – Slainte!

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Safe Feising

For those of you who read Irish dance Blogs I really hope you had the chance to read the post on a safety issue at a recent feis on the What The Feis site. If you haven’t please go to http://whatthefeis.com/parents-dancers-please-read/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=facebook and take the time to read through this post including the comments which show this wasn’t an isolated incident.

I’ve felt for a long time that we Irish dance people are a trusting community when it comes to feising. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve walked away from our camp site leaving my purse behind without even thinking about it. Now that my daughter’s older I’ve let her go off to find her friends or venture to the restroom on her own – especially in venues we’ve been to several times and are comfortable in.  It’s only been when I’ve heard of a tragedy like a school shooting or similar event that I’ve considered that this type of thing could happen at a feis because the events are open to the public. After reading about the creepy guy in Milwaukee I realize it’s time re-evaluate how we feis.

An important piece of advice I’ve tried to pass on to my daughter is be aware of your surroundings. Observe the people and atmosphere – if something doesn’t feel right or look out-of-place listen to your gut and move away from the situation and tell someone in charge – like a “Feis Boss”.  If someone touches her inappropriately she is tell me and we will go together to the proper person to report the incident immediately.

The same holds true for hotels. We where in Niagara Falls this past weekend and something didn’t “feel right” on our floor. Instead of leaving my daughter in our room while I ventured out for ice I made her come with me. I’m not sure why, I just felt it was important that we stick together. However the next day I left her at her stage alone to keep track of her competition while I went to the other side of the venue to settle a dress I was selling. Mad move mom, bad move. Now I realize I should have left her with friends who were the next stage over. Then again we’re at a feis and we’re all friends right?

A lot of this is common sense – don’t go to the restroom with out a buddy, don’t fall for the “can you help me find my dog” routine, etc. but it takes an incident like a creepy guy filming dancers to remind us it’s time to have the “safety talk” with our children again and this time put in terms of feising.  I tried to come up scenarios that could happen at a feis to advise my daughter to be wary off and told her to not to leave the venue with anyone she didn’t come in with – including people she knows – but especially someone who wants to show her a dress or wig that’s in the car. If someone comes up to her saying something’s happened to me she is to go to the nearest feis volunteer and ask to have me paged and stay with that feis volunteer until I show up.

Is this inciting fear in my dancer? In some ways I hope it is but not because I want her to be afraid but because I want her to be aware that while I believe the majority of people on this earth are good people there are some that aren’t and could potentially harm her – or me or anyone. We’ve had some very disturbing things happen with teenage and adult women in Cleveland in the past few years that have made the national spotlight and we as parents have to protect ourselves too.

What can a feis do to increase security? I noticed security personnel at the Dublin Feis earlier this month and I know Cleveland still has the non-dancers pay at the door before getting your dance card and program. Has the convenience of paying a family fee online made us more vulnerable because people can simply walk right in unnoticed? Should there be a tighter check-in process? Of course that would mean increasing volunteers and that might be easier said than done. Maybe we need to increase the number of feis dads to act as bouncers. It’s sad to have to think this way but better safe than sorry.

So when traveling to your next feis – think of ways you can improve how you feis to keep yourself and your dancer safe while still having fun.  I’ve decided the first I’ll do when we get to the Great Lakes Feis venue is instead of locating the nearest restroom or beer vendor I’ll find  the “information” or “security” area instead then set up camp and get ready for the day. 

Until next time – stay safe & be well – Slainte!

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Rochester Feis Review

http://www.flickr.com/photos/99336009@N02/9360800402/A week or so ago we had the pleasure of going to the Rochester Feis in Rochester, NY. We’ve been to several New York feiseanna and for the most part they have been an enjoyable experience even if DD doesn’t do as well as she hoped. A friend of mine helps with Rochester and I’m hoping this will be a fair review of the feis. So let’s do it.

We chose to stay at the Hyatt in downtown Rochester which was one of the recommended hotels and a short drive to the feis venue. We got in too late to partake of any of the hotel’s amenities and left too early for breakfast but I did see a buffet being offered but not included “free” of charge. The hotel also had a parking deck and the $4.00 charge was included on the hotel bill providing you brought your ticket in for validation.

We travelled with friends who had to be at the venue earlier than us because PC was dancing youngest to oldest and they wanted to get settled before she danced. I’m glad we got there early because parking is sparse.

The Rochester venue is the Armory, a majestic building built in 1905 and a very cool place to have a feis. However, it’s located on a very busy street and the small parking lot in back was restricted to the Feis volunteers. Fair enough! Parking for the rest of us was located in a lot across the street or in the lot of an abandoned school next to the venue and that lot was small. Since we got there early we were able to park in the school lot and didn’t take long before that lot and the overflow lot in back of the building was full. I noticed several families pulling into the lot and dropping dancers off then having to drive to find another place to park creating a dangerous situation with so many people coming and going and getting around is tight. The school parking lot also does not present a positive experience for those of us new to the feis. The first thing you see when you get out of the car is boarded up windows, overgrown grass and weeds, a chain link fence and faded plastic play equipment which was creepy and prompted my daughter to tell me she was scared.

The venue itself is air-conditioned with ample space for stages, room to move around and vendors however very, very little space to camp on the main floor itself. In fact when checking in we were told that camping was upstairs which is fine because there is arena seating around the perimeter but there’s no elevator – at least I didn’t see one and there didn’t appear to be restrooms upstairs either. So that meant a lot of climbing stairs which doesn’t bother me because I look at it as exercise but for someone with mobility issues it’s a problem. The only solution I can see is to get there very early and grab the few camping spots on the floor if possible. Another issue is that the venue has several stairs to climb to get into the front of the building and only had a one set of doors open making coming and going a little tight. There may have been a more accessible entrance on the side of the building but I did not take the time to look for one. Registrations tables, awards and results were easy to navigate.

The feis itself ran smoothly for the most part although it did start about 20 minutes late by my watch but it’s a rare occasion for me when a feis actually starts on time. This feis had 2 judges per grade stages who alternated judging the competitions and ate lunch at the table so things kept moving. The judges at our stage asked for a 15 minute break in the afternoon but the competitions kept moving after that. My daughter started dancing around 11am and was done by 2:30pm and that’s a quick day for us.

Special dance competitions and treble reels took place at the end of the day and I think that hurt these events as they were not heavily populated – most likely because a lot of dancers were finished and left. Since Rochester doesn’t take a lunch break I’m not sure how this could be done differently unless they ran these comps around noon giving the judges a quick break.

The results were hit and miss. They were coming up quickly at the beginning then came to a dead stop around noon and returned to being posted quickly around two. I’m not sure if there were computer issues, there was a back log of results coming in to be posted or someone took a lunch break but it took an hour for one of my daughter’s results to be posted and of course that was the result we were most interested in.

Although there were two areas for food vendors only one was open creating a bit of line during the peak lunch time but it seemed to move quickly. Food options were plentiful from breakfast through lunch items and some of the breakfast sandwiches were available throughout the day. The vendor also stayed open for the duration of the feis – Cleveland take note.  Pricing was a little iffy however with one sign pricing a bottle of water at $4.00 and another saying it was $2.00. Even the food staff was unsure which was correct as my friend was told $4.00 and the family sitting next to us getting a bottle of water for $2.00. I had water in the car and went out to stuff my oversized purse with several bottles for us. Other prices were inconsistent as well – $3.00 for a slice of pizza then $8.00 for chicken fingers and fries. Burgers ran about $5.00 and coffee was $2.00 a cup but $1.00 for a refill if you brought the cup back. There were signs for beer but it was not being sold because this event involved children. OK I get that but it’s an Irish dance event……

Other points of interest include the dress resale room located on the first floor which is small but worked for the venue. Restrooms are located on either side of the first floor and never seemed to have a line and as a woman that’s always a good thing! They also have very cool wooden doors and look as if they were part of a locker system at one point. The rooms were clean in the early part of the day but by the end of the day paper towels were overflowing in the trash cans. The seats also had a thick layer of dust on the edge which fortunately we noticed before my daughter sat down as her dress has a white skirt. 

Overall this wasn’t a bad feis – it was run well with the exception being the mid day delay in posting results. The negative points  have more to do with the venue  itself which may be out of the feis committee’s control.  I doubt that there’s anything they can do about the condition of the school building and the adjacent parking lot next door. On a personal note I would like to see them place 50% of the dancers because – being our luck – DD missed placing in 3 of her 4 dances by 1 place and it’s always nice to bring home hardware for your efforts but the judges comments actually showed her placements so we are considering a 4th, two 5ths and a 7th plus nice comments a good day.

I’m willing to give this feis another try and will most likely attend the Young School Feis in October which also takes place at the Armory only next time I think I’ll park across the street.

We’re off to Canada on Friday for this weekend’s St. Catharine’s Feis. We’ve never been to a Canadian Feis and have heard nice things about this feis so we’re looking forward to the adventure which I will happily share!

Til next time – Slainte!

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Helping a Dancer Rebuild Confidence

I’m pleased to say I’ve started a new job – one that is working into our schedules much better than the full-time one I just left. Sure it’s a big pay cut but I can now get my daughter to her dance lessons and practice sessions, I’m not bringing “work” home with me and I have more time to get back to writing – which I’ve missed. After all what’s more important – blogging or money? If only I could make money blogging…..but to the point…

We’ve been to several feiseanna this year with mixed results and it’s been a time of soul-searching for my daughter who has had a tough time getting back into the swing of things in her eyes. This is a girl who’s used to coming home with a fist full of medals and when she comes home with 1, or worse yet, none it brings her down. Only now she’s been getting down to the point of talking about quitting competition.

The Cincinnati Feis was a difficult one. DD felt off her game – missed a dance (not her fault – stage assignments were brutal) and after finishing her hornpipe she came back to our camp in tears and on the verge of a temper tantrum which is out of character for her – it’s isn’t for me because I’m a dance mom – but it is for her. She was frustrated with herself, unhappy with her performance and saying she’s lost her mojo and couldn’t compete anymore. I got her calmed down – mostly because I hate public outbursts but more importantly because she needed to catch her breath. Thank goodness one of her dance friends was there to help talk her off the ledge. Her friend told her it wasn’t her day, wasn’t a reflection on her as a dancer and a person, that she was a good dancer and sometimes the judges just don’t like the way you dance. With that DD’s friend took her by the hand and down to look at results – which brought DD a 5th place in her hornpipe – the dance she felt she did terrible in and was consistent with her results in Detroit. DD admitted she had calmed down and felt better but I still felt a trip to Buffalo Wild Wings for a mother/daughter/feis mom/dancer chat was in order – not to mention the feis mom needed a bevie.

How to handle a dancer who’s losing confidence? Do you try to save her or let her step back from feising a little to practice and regain some confidence? Over lunch I asked her a number of questions (that BA in Psych hasn’t gone to waste!) including what she felt was wrong, what she felt was right, what she was enjoying and what she wasn’t. It was also time to ask her about her goals. When DD first caught the feising bug she rattled off a list of goals including getting a solo dress, going to the Oireachtas, getting into Prizewinner and recalling at the Oireachtas. Well guess what – she achieved all of those before she was 10! She never replaced any of those goals with new ones and has, IMHO, been floundering.

I’m a goal orientated person. I need something to work at – even if it’s just getting my to do list accomplished. I can wish about things all I want but if I don’t get a plan of some sort into my head I waste a whole lot of time – I think that’s human nature. During our chat I reminded DD that she’s goal orientated too – she achieves what she sets out to do – like getting straight As, moving up to clarinet 1, getting her solo dress, etc – and maybe it was time to set some new Irish dancing goals before throwing in the towel.

I also felt the need to remind her that life isn’t always easy and you have to work for what you want. You can’t lay on the couch watching TV, texting your friends and take a dance class or two a week, not practice and expect to do well at a feis. It’s like me wanting to lose weight and get back to a size 6 while drinking beer, eating wings and watching work out programs (not doing the exercises) and expect the pounds to fall off – it’s not going to happen. She can dance to compete and/or she can dance for fun but if she wants to win a competition or place she needs to work at it. If she wants to take one or two dance classes a week and only dance for fun that’s fine too. I’m not the dancer – only she can make that decision. We’ll support whatever she decides. It wasn’t lost on me that DD was frustrated with herself – it showed that she cared and maybe didn’t really want to quit feising, she just needed some encouragement.

Since that time I’ve had her pull out all of her medals and ribbons, count them and her father found a way to display them in the studio. To her surprise she has close to 75 medals, ribbons and trophies all achieved in Irish dance before 11 years old. Still want to quit competing? Her answer was no.  It’s now time to take things to the next level.

We’ve also started private lessons with a coach who is helping her sharpen her technique, working her hard and refocusing her goals. This has helped bring the smile back to face and give her a boost she’s needed. She confident going into this week’s Rochester Feis and looking forward to the journey. Yes, it will be great if she places and brings more hardware home but if she can dance with confidence and feel good about what she did then she’s won.

Til Next Time – Slainte!

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