What is a Feis?
The Gaelic word "feis" (pronounced fesh) translates in English to "an assembly". Traditionally a feis was a festival involving a culmination of cultural arts. Today at a feis we focus primarily on the dancing, but there are still categories for baking, music, needlepoint, art, Irish language, and song. Dancers from many different schools come together and dance to live music. They receive comments from an adjudicator on how to improve their dancing, and perhaps even win a medal! It's a great way to promote the culture, showcase talent, and reward the children for their hard work.
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I remember gazing out the car window on the lookout for other "feisheads" on the highway as we drove to the feis with my sisters when I was a little girl. Feisheads were quick to spot of course, because the curlers at the time only came in bright neon colors. We would get excited to see the dancers from other schools performing different steps incorporating moves we had never seen before. The feis was our cultural epicenter, it's where we would see old friends and familiar faces. It always felt more like a participatory festival than a competition to me.
My mom was always so proud of us for engaging with the community in a positive way and showcasing our art. She made sure we knew that she was proud of us whether or not we won a medal, because keeping the tradition alive was enough to be proud of. Stepping out onto a stage took courage and my mom's unconditional support gave us the reassurance we needed. After my first feis I remember it feeling easier to raise my hand at school. As I got older and the Irish dance performances and competitions became second nature, my self-confidence was strong and laid a solid foundation for the rest of my life. Even to this day, I still attribute my confidence to Irish dance.
In Irish dancing it is easy to get caught up into your own bubble because the majority of our time is spent at the studio. I love Dunleavy and the people who fill it, but one of the biggest reasons I enjoy attending a feis is because I get to witness and appreciate other schools and the fruits of their labor. It reminds me that Irish dancing is a powerful, flowing river that we have the honor of stepping into. It has been flowing long before we were born, and will continue on long after we are gone. Witnessing the tradition come alive is incredibly moving.