A Gathering Place for Adults Who Love Irish Dance

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A (Mock) Feis to Remember

by Christy Dorrity

This article first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2009 issue of Feis America Magazine.

 My stomach lurched when I saw the judges at tables near signs reading "Stage A" and "Stage B."  I hadn't been this nervous since dancing in high school.  Walking past the vendors at my school’s “mock” feis, I headed backstage.

Dancers of all ages and sizes were adjusting dresses and lacing ghillies.  Looking down at the white shirt and black skirt that marked me as a newbie, I wondered if I should compete.  Who was I kidding?   As a mother of five, I should be running kids to soccer, not prancing around a stage.  Maybe I could sneak out the way I came in.

I turned around and ran into a class mother.  "Here's your number," she said, handing me a paper with the number one on it. I smoothed my shirt, feeling exposed and self-conscious in my bloomers and short skirt.  If only I had lost ten pounds before this event.

Slip jig, single jig, light jig - the names of the dances jumbled together in my head.  Would I remember each dance while the competitor next to me did something completely different, in front of people who were looking for my mistakes, all to music I had never heard before?  I panicked.

Peeking out at the crowd gathering by the stages, I saw my son waving a camera at me.  I felt better having loved ones cheering me on.

Soon, it was time for my first dance – the beginner reel. Standing with my feet crossed, I tried not to lock my knees. Younger girls reeled in front of me.  The floor felt slippery.  A new worry surfaced:  what if I slipped and fell?  Before I could explore that lovely thought, I was counted in.

Remembering to smile, off I went.  My legs took over, recalling what my brain could not. My body did exactly what I had practiced and no more.  I resolved to make it through the dance, crappy technique or not.  After thirty-two bars, I was bowing to the judges.  I had competed in Irish dance for the first time!

Backstage I eagerly pumped my friends for their experiences.  "Did you make it through?” I asked.  “You didn't fall, did you?"  But before I could find out much, it was time to dance again.

Everything ran smoothly until the last eight measures of my single jig, when the music came to a dead stop. "Step step, leap 2, 3..." I counted out the steps in my head and ended with my feet crossed tightly.  To think that I had worried about dancing to new music - I had just danced in silence and still remembered my steps!

 My confidence didn’t last - hard shoe was next and my chest tightened with nerves. I felt like a mule at a horse race. The floor felt more slippery and I prayed that I would stay upright.  Miraculously, the dance went smoothly - until the end.  Down I went, legs in the air.  A collective gasp echoed through the room and I scrambled to my feet.

 I didn’t have time to dwell on my slip-up; I had to line up for the Hornpipe.  It was the least polished of my entries, and I hadn't gotten to practice it.  My insides twisted tighter than a Celtic knot.  While I waited in line, I walked through the dance and successfully recalled all of the steps.  With one deep breath, I headed for the stage.

Pulling determination out of my emergency reserves, I counted myself in.  Believing that I would remember all of the steps, I gained confidence.  I should have kept my thoughts on my feet; one second I was gliding along easily, the next my mind was blank.  I had no idea what came next.  I looked at the girls dancing onstage next to me, but they were doing different dances.  I was lost.

I don’t know what happened next; I assume I repeated the basic steps until my counts were up.  Embarrassed, I bowed and snuck back to the warm-up area.  My friends encouraged me to forget my mistake and keep going. It was good advice, but hard to follow after messing up in front of people who were already judging me for my lack of youth and experience.  Nevertheless, with my hard shoe dances over, I sighed with relief.  After one more dance - a two-hand reel that repeated steps I had competed with earlier – I was done.

"I enjoyed watching you dance out there," said a woman backstage.  "You caught my eye.  Nice job."  I thanked her, surprised at how good a casual compliment could feel.

I had done it.  I, an over-thirty adult, had competed in an Irish dance competition.  Sure, I had forgotten a step here, a dance there.  I had even fallen on my behind.  But I had pushed myself to leap out of my comfort zone and challenge myself.  Confidence kindled in my heart, igniting a desire to practice harder and develop my talent.  I wondered: how would this practice feis compare to a real competition? Give me a few months to practice and I'll find out.

This article first appeared in the Sept/Oct 2009 issue of Feis America Magazine.


  1. I am so proud of you! I felt like I was there while reading this! Did you get video along with the pics? I would love to see it:) You ROCK!

  2. Unfortunately we are not allowed to videotape competitions. You will just have to come see one! :)

  3. I'll always remember the excitement and the nerves when we danced that two-hand and everything else! I'm glad we had that experience though, it sure helped knowing sort of what to expect when we went to the Utah Feis.

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