Attending Your First Oireachtas

orockwhatWell, aren’t you big stuff? Attending your first Oireachtas is very special indeed. Whether you are attending to watch the solos, teams, traditional set, or some combination thereof, let me be the first to congratulate you. Take a moment and enjoy the accomplishment of being invited to attend your first Oireachtas.

Let me assure you, it is even more important for the dancer you are going to watch.

Oireachtas, in short, is a regional competition. It has been called, by wittier writers than myself, a big ole honkin’ feis. But, I would disagree. At a feis, there are baking, art, music, vocal, dance, and special competitions. The Oireachtas would be better classified as a big ole honkin’ feile. See also What The Feis Dance Terms. At the Oireachtas, there are only dance competitions. The majority of the competitions are solos. This is followed by 4 hand and 8 hand teams, figure choreography, and dance drama. There are also traditional set competitions at some regional Oireachtas.

The packing list, for you, is the same as Attending Your First Feis.

The best way to follow the different competitions is in the book. Each Oireachtas prints a competition book. They are enormous, spiral bound, volumes. You will find them for sale at the entrance of the stages. Bring cash. They are usually between $15 and $20 US. Recalls are typically marked in highlighter or ink pen. Be quiet during those recall announcements. It is usually so quiet in the hall during recalls, that you only hear the pages turning.

First, shop. The night before the first competition day is ideal. The shinys and the prettys go to those who shop first. If you want to buy from the best selection, get to the vendors as soon as you arrive. What the vendors have is what you see. Often, they bring a limited number of items, specially marked for the Oireachtas. When those are gone, they’re gone. Also, if you know your dancer is missing poodle socks, sock glue, hair pins, etc, buy those now. The supply of those is also limited. You, and your dancer, do not want to be without!

Second, find your chairs. Even if your dancer’s competitions does not start until 10am, get in the hall early. If you want a seat, get to the hall early. If someone is not in the chair, it is fair game. No, really. It does not matter if you pile the seat with 2 coats and a pair of shoes, someone will sit on it at the Oireachtas. Pack, and plan, to have someone in your party at the chairs for the entire day. Trust me on this.

Get to the hall early. Get to the hall early. GET TO THE HALL EARLY.

Third, watch closely. No, not the fantastically brilliant solo dresses and stunning smiles. Pay attention to those before they begin dancing.

Watch the feet. Closely.

Or as closely as possible from the seats you secured a couple of hours before the competition began. The real details of the dancing happen below the knees. Which should be tightly crossed at all times during the dance. Unless they are kicking their forehead or managing a cut above their hip. If you do seem them manage extremely high kicks, leaps, jumps, or any other that looks impressive you, let your dancer know. It is especially entertaining, for the dancer, to have you attempt to describe any move you saw, but did not understand. A quiver becomes “that lovely thing you did with your leg, after you jumped 4 feet into the air.” Be attentive, supportive, and complimentary. If you see them get bumped, have a clip fall out of their hair, or have a stumble, don’t mention it. Trust me. They know all about it. If they appear very upset, quiet and supportive is best. They have been working ALL YEAR for what amounts to 5 minutes 30 seconds on a stage. It is also a good time to offer them the chocolate.

The top 50% of each competition will recall. Recalls are a big deal. Some dancers will attend 2 or 3 Oireachtas before they recall as a soloist. Those who are recalled return to the stage for Round 3, the non traditional set dance. This is designed to showcase the dancer’s strengths to their very finest. Another way to tell the skill of the dancer is by their non traditional set introduction music. The longer the music introduction plays before they dance, the more complicated the set. The longer the introduction music, the more beats the dancer will fit into each measure. For example, someone dancing Planxty Hugh O ‘ Donnell at speed 69 is a phenom; a beast; nothing short of amazing.

So, you made it through shopping, have kept your seats, and the dancer you came to watch recalled? Well done, you! It is truly thrills enough to recall at the Oireachtas. Now, time for awards. Whatever time that is listed in the book is going to be WRONG. Add at least 2 hours to that timetable. It will probably go longer. Aren’t you glad you kept those seats? It is no fun to be standing during the awards ceremony. Settle in for a great show.

Clap for everyone onstage.

Yes, your hands will get tired. Clap anyway. You are, very likely, in extremely close quarters. You never know whose family member nearby has a dancer on that stage. Be sure to take plenty of pictures. Irish Dancing and Culture Magazine usually has a booth at each Oireachtas. Be sure to stop by and get a picture taken. If you do not subscribe, be sure to sign up. It is an excellent, encouraging, appropriate magazine for all Irish dancers, their families, and supporters.

Mind your manners. Use an inside voice. Give everyone extra grace. Try to get to bed at a decent hour.

And you should come through just fine.

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