The Feis Food Fight

We’re recovering from the back to back Akron/Cleveland Feis weekend and I was going to try to comment on the Akron Feis since my friend and feis dad What the Feis had his review of Cleveland. However I’m afraid that since our school is the Akron host school and I was a stage monitor I wouldn’t be able to give an unbiased account. The same with the Cleveland Feis which is hosted by our former school and anything I say might seem like sour grapes…..but since I’ve mentioned grapes that does turn my attention to feis food and I think I can offer some fair opinions about that.

First of all I don’t let a little line on a feis syllabus stating no outside food is allowed stop me from packing a cooler. OK I did the first couple of times we feised but after I saw other people bringing food in I figured it was fair game – and less expensive.

Here’s where Akron does it right. Not only do they have a concession stand with reasonably priced food and beverages they also have food trucks out front offering the fair food we all crave. My husband was working the afternoon award table and was teased by parents and dancers bringing armfuls of funnel cakes, tacos in a bag, fries and other greasy goodies to the table only to hand him their dance card and ask for their medals – hopefully he didn’t drool on them too much. Needless to say he was one hungry boy when his shift was done and guess what? There was still food available at 3:30 – which is nice and necessary. Our school had food available for our families as did the feis for its volunteers so I did not get a chance to go to the trucks to price out the fries, etc but I remember them  being reasonable from past years. Feel free to comment if you know differently.

The Cleveland Feis on the other hand is obligated to use the concessions at the Wolestein Center and that makes things more difficult. The first year we attended Cleveland they actually had people going through bags at the entrance looking for contraband food and drinks. They would confiscate the items – including water for the dancer and send you on your way. They haven’t done that since and that was 6 years ago. The concessions historically run out of food items – one year all they had left was nachos by the time we got there – and this year the stand behind our section was closed by 3:00 and the feis was still going strong. The prices are standard arena pricing and the offerings are not only not healthy, they’re but not as yummy as the fair food at Akron. If they are going to offer their standard game day menu at their standard prices they could at least serve beer! Then again it would probably be $8 but by some point in a feis day I’d gladly pay it.  The Cleveland Feis is a long day and the organizers should be able to negotiate with the venue to have a least half of their food stands stay open if for nothing else for beverages for tired dancers and their families.

So we’re off to Detroit in a few days where they sell Harp and Guinness and have reasonably priced food. Not that it’s all about the food but it sure helps!

Til next time – Slainte!


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The Willis Clan

A few months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Brenda Willis, matriarch of The Willis Clan, for Irish Dance Magazine. After speaking with her over the phone and a series of email exchanges I wished had more space to devote to the group made up of a family of very talented musicians and Irish dancers.  This past weekend I had the chance to meet Brenda and hear her family perform live at  the Ohio International & Celtic Festival in Painesville, OH. If I was hooked by their debut CD “Chapter One – Roots” I am a bigger fan after seeing them in person.

The Willis Clan hails from middle Tennessee near Nashville and is no stranger to music. Their Great Grandparents also had a band and according to the The Willis Clan website “Each generation has carried on the music in their own way.” The current generation, who began playing together as small children in 2001,  fuses their Scotch-Irish roots with folk, various dance influences and the Nashville music scene  to offer a fresh take on Irish/Celtic music. Their original music is filled with  danceable music, beautiful vocals and haunting melodies that will leave the listener longing for more.

The band has a stage presence filled with friendly banter and makes an easy connection with the audience who enjoyed the gentle teasing amongst the siblings and stories behind the songs. The hour-long set also highlighted the younger children who danced during several songs and delighted the crowd with a four-hand reel and solo steps on “Blast O’Reels” , the final song of the day. I’m looking forward to seeing the Willis Clan perform again and following what I’m sure will be a long and successful journey through the music world.

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Decisions, Decisions

One of the nice things about being on feis suspension is the ability to explore opportunities and events we would otherwise skip due to attending an Irish dance competition. Over the past several months we have enjoyed going to picnics, birthday parties, festivals and have on occasion run into people from our previous dance schools. For the most part people from our original school have been friendly and warm but there have been some who are less than civil. This was the case last week when I ran into members of both our now former ID schools and I must confess that the behavior of these individuals saddened me – especially when “adults” choose not to acknowledge a 10-year-old child.

I think what some people fail to understand is while this may have been a personal decision on the part of my family to switch Irish dance schools it was more importantly a business decision.  We were not happy with the quality of training and service at our first ID school and the next school we tried was not a good fit for our family so we went to a school that gives the service we are all looking for. Plain and simple. If you are not happy with your dentist, auto mechanic, lawn care provider, cell phone service, etc do you stay with them? No. You take your business to another company who provides the service and quality you want. It’s not personal – it’s business

Several weeks ago I received a message through Facebook from a mom who was upset with me because I didn’t say goodbye to her and other families who “had considered me friend and family for five years”. The fact is I had contacted (and received messages from) several friends when we switched schools which leads me to another point. We left the school – we didn’t move out-of-town and communication goes both ways. Truthfully I had my reasons for not contacting this particular mom. The tone and attitude of her message and subsequent texts only confirmed what I suspected her reaction to our leaving would be.

It’s strange to me that some people have chosen to take our decision as a personal offense and either ignore us or attack me personally. My daughter said we should expect it because Irish dance has essentially become a sport and people are very loyal to their teams. My husband had a different perspective most of which I can’t print here but his basic thought was that adults should behave with more maturity but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. 

I have to remind myself that only a few bad apples ruin the bunch.  Labor Day we went to the Ohio International and Celtic Festival and knew there was a strong possibility of running into people from our original ID school and others we know through Irish dance. Thankfully those we saw were friendly, warm and happy to see us.  The contrast  in this weekend’s events was a good lesson for my daughter with whom I have spoken about the attitudes we might encounter and how she should behave.  I explained she should smile and say hello and if others choose not to respond that is their decision and we did nothing wrong in making ours.  It’s business – not personal. There’s a difference.

Til Next Time – Slainte!

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Confessions From Dance Limbo

This is my first post in a very long time and I confess I needed some time away to collect my thoughts. In fact after receiving a few nastygrams from parents of our original Irish dance school I decided to keep a low profile. That is until I had ice cream with a friend (and fellow ID mom and dancer herself) who convinced me to get back in the blogging saddle. It has been an eventful and interesting few months for me and I now feel I can share this journey.

Let’s refresh shall we?

In December of 2011 we made the decision to change Irish dance schools to a new and exciting Irish dance school that opened in town and started quite a stir.

I resisted a change to this school for several months because I wasn’t sure this was a good fit for my daughter. My husband predicted that if we switched to this school she would be out of Irish dance in four months. Then after the Oireachtas and the poor performance by our teams I knew the time had come to make a change. It also helped that several other families were looking as well and we were all looking to the new school in town for answers. My family visited this school and found it was professional, organized and focused on coaching the dancer.  They were also starting to prepare for the Oireachtas much, much earlier than our current school had and the teachers have outstanding credentials. My husband approved so we decided to make the switch.

For the first two months everything was fine but it soon became apparent that perhaps we had a made a mistake – not in changing schools but in changing to this school. While the discipline and work ethic we were looking for was there the fun aspect was not. It really hit home one night when my daughter broke down in tears while I was playing “Siamsa” – not just tears but uncontrollable sobbing. Our now former ID school uses “Siamsa” as their entrance number for performances (dance-outs, displays, etc) and while my daughter admitted she didn’t miss her teacher – she missed the atmosphere. This new school was too much the opposite extreme for her. For us the costs were rising not only in monetary terms but also in the time and emotional commitments. I was elected to a certain office on the parent association board and I won’t deny I sensed tension from a couple of board members that and their friend did not have that position. I don’t play games very well and I could have resigned this position but if our daughter was truly unhappy what difference would this make? In our minds once we wrote the checks  and made the commitment to the teams there was no backing out. We had another decision to make and that decision was to leave Irish dance all together. It was no longer worth it for any of us. It was exactly four months – just as my husband had foreshadowed.

The week that followed our announcement that we were leaving the school was filled with numerous phone calls and emails from other parents begging us to reconsider our decision. I asked my daughter if she wanted to return and the answer was a emphatic no. We were in dance limbo and looking into options. We considered a “traditional” dance school, which our daughter really enjoyed yet she couldn’t stop Irish dancing around the house. We knew she was still an Irish dancer and we couldn’t throw five years of our lives away. We also knew we couldn’t go back to the original ID school – nor did we want to. Instead we decided to check out a CRN school in the area, which looked like a strong possibility until we realized this would be a big step backwards. Plus I couldn’t stand the thought of feising and not seeing my friends – OK I’m selfish I admit it. Finally another dance parent offered a solution in the form of an Irish dance school that is a 45-minute drive from our house. After speaking with the TCRG/Owner it appeared we’d found our answer and made the commitment with the understanding this would be the last change in ID schools we would make.

The decision has turned out to be the correct one and I regret we did not switch to this school in the first place. We now have the best of what our two former ID schools offered and is the perfect fit for our daughter who is enjoying the school’s atmosphere and being challenged as a dancer. The down side is that she has to sit out another six months from feising which I don’t quite understand because she did not compete for the other school so why impose another six months suspension? If we would have moved out of the area there would be no ban but unfortunately there’s really nothing I can do. If I appeal it may do more harm than good.

Instead of feising we’re enjoying an extended vacation in dance limbo while my daughter serves her almost yearlong sentence for switching schools – twice. However, I’m finding that we need this time to heal and get things sorted out but our daughter is very happy in her new school and for us a happy Irish dancer is what it’s all about!

Until next time – Slainte!

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Confeissions on the Transition Period

It’s been almost one month since we changed dance schools and we’re settling into the new routine nicely. It was weird, for lack of a better term, not going to the Pittsburgh Winter Feis in one way but on the other hand I took my daughter and her friend to the movies instead. I think my daughter is welcoming the break from feising. She told me last week that she was jealous of the kids she would see acting as results runners and once or twice wished she could trade places with them. Being the good mom that I am I quickly turned her name in to do just that for the North Coast Feis taking place in a few weeks. I’m on the committee and since I’m working the feis she might as well have her wish granted right? 

Back to the transition period. It’s definitely a different experience. Our new school’s downtown location is not a bad commute for us – about 25 minutes. I like being downtown and think it will be cool in the summer. We’re already making a list of things to do before class and are looking forward to the adventure of going to the art museum, Rock & Roll of Hall of Fame, taking in an Indians game after class, trying some of the restaurants, etc. My daughter goes to class two nights a week and comes out tired and sweaty. She also comes out of class excited and motivated. In four classes she and her friends have learned five new steps including one they will use at this year’s Oireachtas! Hmmm, preparing for the Oireachtas in January. You can do that? Who knew?

Like everything else there’s a learning curve not only for my daughter but for us too. We have new faces to put names to, different policies to follow and a new schedule to adjust to but in the long run it will be worth it. In fact it’s already starting to pay off for my girl in that some of the “issues” she was having are being corrected. I’ve noticed her posture has improved, her legs are straighter and her attack is sharper. At the last class she came out with a lollipop as a reward for something to do with her kicks. Really? MY daughter being praised for her kicks? That’s new. The previous class she got a high-five for doing something else well. She said all the kids in class get praised for what they did well that day.  There’s something said for positive reinforcement – this coming from a Psych grad. (No, not psycho although I answer to that too.) Yes, the teachers yell at the kids to get their legs up, turn their feet out, etc but not in a bad or demoralizing way.  Her swimming and basketball teams get yelled at by their coaches too that’s part of sports. I don’t have a problem with that as long as it’s done in a constructive manner.

So far so good. Yes, we miss our friends from our former school and feiseanna and I’m not naïve to think there won’t be bad days because that’s life and you have to take those along with the good but we are happy with the change. Speaking of good times we travel to Columbus this weekend to perform at the Blue Jackets hockey game which we’re very excited about as this will be another step in the transition period and also fun. I need to remember to bring my camera.

Til next time – Slainte!

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A Change Might Do You Good

This is a follow-up to my previous blog about my friend (who is actually a feis dad not mom) and his debate over switching dance schools. What I did not mention at that time was that I was going through the same thing myself and had been for some time. The reasons for switching Irish dance schools were numerous – some personal as well as “professional” but we had no real motivation to make a switch. That was until the Oireachtas a few weeks ago. Personally my daughter had a great experience as she recalled in the U9 Girl’s Solo competition. However, she was very disappointed when neither of the teams she participated on recalled. That’s not true – her choreography team did get a medal because there were only five teams competing and all five were recalled by default. However, the girls came in fifth out of five and my daughter just handed the medal to me and walked away. That proved to my husband and me that it was finally time look at other schools as hard as it would be to leave the comfort of our “home” of the last four years. We felt we owed it to our daughter to look into a school that would challenge her, group their classes by feis level and raise the bar for all their dancers. As my husband put it we’ve simply decided to move in a different direction.

Last Thursday night my family visited another Irish dance school in town and the answer became clear immediately – this is where we belong! That fact was solidified by my daughter’s reaction as she ran out of class breathlessly declaring “This is awesome!” It also helped that two of her friends made the switch to this school as well – which was completely unplanned by the families involved but it’s cool that it happened this way. My husband suggested that the three families get together and announce our decision in a televised special and use the proceeds to aid in fundraising but somehow I had the feeling that this approach had been done before – can’t remember when or where but I’m pretty sure it has. So I decided that a brief email to her former TCRG would be appropriate (especially because I was on the board of the parent’s association and needed to resign) and the fastest way to break the news to her. She has surprised but took it well.

I haven’t seen my daughter this excited about dance in over a year. In just two classes she ‘s learned two new Treble Jig and Reel steps, comes out of class tired and sweating and has been practicing at home with a vengeance. There’s no guarantee that by changing to this school that my daughter will become a Championship Irish dancer.  If that happens great but for now  she’s focused on working out some bad habits, learning new steps, making new friends and having fun. We’re also hoping that the new school will have a ceili ready by the next Oireachtas as that’s a part of Irish dance she enjoys but one step at a time. 

We are now on holiday break and classes will resume in January. It will be strange not feising for six months but it will be fun watching her enjoy the new experience! Sheryl Crow sang that a change would do you good and our case it certainly has!

Until next time! Slainte!






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The Can Opener and The Can of Worms

Last night I found myself in a texting session with a friend who’s thinking of moving her daughter to a different school. She was looking for advice and a shoulder and I was happy to give both. The main dilemma is that a new school is opening and her daughter’s friends are wanting to go there and naturally her daughter is wanting to go to. The new school, located in southern Ohio, is cheaper and 5 minutes closer to their family and seems like a better fit. Still, she has some fears about the change. Rightfully so.

Changing schools is always a big step but I’ve observed in the world of Irish dance it is a major undertaking. Paperwork needs to be filed, costumes need to be changed, friendships may be lost and the dancer has to sit out of competition for 6 months. That could be a real momentum breaker for dancers on the move. It could also be very motivating with learning new steps and routines.

But what if the new school doesn’t work out? I’ve been told that unless you move out of the area your old school will most likely not welcome you back. Then what? Stick it out? Find yet another school? Quit Irish dance altogether? Beg for forgiveness from the old school?

My advice to my friend was to weigh the pros and cons of both schools, go to the new school’s open house and ask a lot of questions. How do they organize their classes? How many TCRGs are on staff? Can you dance for sheer enjoyment or is the school strictly focused on competition? I could go on and on. If the school is just starting out the advantage for her daughter would be that she would get a lot of attention because the classes would be small – hopefully.

Friendships are an important factor in any endeavor. It seems even more so in Irish dance because it’s a shared experience. Nobody but the people involved in Irish dance understands what going to a feis or the Oireachtas, bus trips, ceilis, etc. is like and it’s to hard explain. I know we’ve made more friends through Irish dance than any other place since our move to Cleveland so I understand her daughter wanting to stay with her friends. But is that reason enough to make the change? Are there other issues? My friend’s daughter is older and may feel she’s  running out of time to achieve her goals and may be feeling stagnated at her current school.

Ultimately my friend needs to decide what’s best for her daughter and choose wisely. Your current situation is always the known hell and you could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire or, as my friend put it, here is the can opener – there is the can of worms. It could also be the best thing she did for her dancer. Best of luck with the decision wherever you take your dancer’s talents – just please don’t announce it during a prime time special……

Look for another post in a few days about our Mid-America Oireachtas experience. Til then – Slainte!

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