Fresh Off The Feis

Fresh Off The Feis

Well, as I mentioned in my last post, this weekend was my first feis (Irish dance competition, pronounced “fesh”, plural is “feiseanna”) in seven years. And to be honest, even that’s a little misleading, as it suggests I was experienced before that — but in fact I only ever did two proper feiseanna, plus a festival and our school’s class feis (a mini competition just between members of the same school).

At a feis in 2011 — my last one, as it turned out.

So, I was anxious. Very anxious. My body definitely picked up on it — there were aches, there were pains, there were stomachaches galore… I began to wonder if I’d made a massive mistake. I mean, I haven’t had a class in two months because of being away at uni, which means I’ve had no feedback. WHY did I decide I wanted to compete again?

A lot of my anxiety wasn’t about dancing. It was about registration when I arrived (would I know where to go? Was there anything I needed to bring that nobody thought to mention to me?). It was about justifying my decision to wear trousers to compete, even though it’s not against the rules. It was about finding people I knew, or at least friendly strangers, so I wasn’t alone.

Some of it went to plan — registration was easy and nobody batted an eyelid at my trousers, or if they did, they didn’t say anything. However, because I’m a total buffoon, I’d managed to leave my shirt on its hanger in my room. Hence a panicky crying phonecall to my parents, asking if they could go home (they were out for a walk) and get it for me — with hardly any time to spare until I was due to compete.

It was… close. And horrifically anxiety-inducing. I ran to the front gate to wait for Dad, paced up and down for a while, then ran back inside to put my shoes on because I was terrified of not being ready when called. With five minutes until my competition was due to start, I didn’t know whether I’d even have a costume.

This story had a happy ending, though: Dad got there in time, and the competitions were running ever so slightly behind, giving me time to catch my breath after running around like a wild animal due to my panic. Crisis averted, just about.

Side stage shenanigans

(Dad then opted to stay and watch, which I hadn’t expected, and I only spotted him right before I went on stage. In some ways it was nerve-wracking to know someone was watching me specifically, but it was also nice to have the support and somebody to look after my bags!)

And once I was dancing… suddenly it was okay. Sure, I was still anxious, but after the first couple of dances went okay, I began to relax. I felt like my first few went well; slip jig didn’t go so great, because I couldn’t really get a sense of the beats of the music, but I’d known all along it would be my weakest so I wasn’t too concerned.

I was only doing one dance in hard shoes as I haven’t learned the hornpipe yet and I found that a weird experience — the floor made the beats SO quiet that I couldn’t tell if I was in time or not, since I usually rely on sound, and since one of my strengths is being loud, it was disconcerting.

The hero of the day!

Anyway, when the results came back I discovered two things: one, I’m not bad at this whole Irish dance malarkey, and two, I’m a fairly good judge of my own performance.

I came second in the Intermediate reel, the first dance we’d done — even despite all the stress! I came first in the Intermediate light jig, which was awesome. I also came first in Primary hop jig, but there were only two of us and it is a lower level of competition. Still, I’m pleased regardless. And I came second in Intermediate heavy jig, which definitely surprised me.

(Quick terminology: grades in my organisation go beginner/novice, primary, intermediate, open/championships. Each dance is graded independently, hence why I still had one in primary although I’d moved up in the others.)

On the podium for the light jig

I didn’t place in slip jig, but since they only announced the top three, I could’ve been fourth for all I know. My dad actually took a video of that one, as he didn’t realise it’s against the rules to film dancers, and having watched it I don’t think it was as bad as I feared. However, the results prove that I was right to think the first three went well, and also right to recognise that the slip jig wasn’t as great.

I’m not the best judge of heavies, though, as I definitely thought the other girl from my school who was competing at the same time as me would do better than I did. But perhaps she was just having a bad day — or I’m being too critical of myself.

Anyway, it was a great way to return to the competitive Irish dance world after so long: I did far better than at either of those two feiseanna in 2010/11, despite my epic anxiety for the last few days, the fact I haven’t been to class in two months, and the difficulty of finding a room to practise in hard shoes at uni.

With (some of) my loot — I actually got FOUR trophies, and they’re enormous!

I’m definitely psyched to do more of these, because I was surprised by how fun it was once the stress dissipated. I got to talk to some new people, and then got to dance in front of an audience and get shiny trophies for it. What’s not to like about that?

(Goals for next time: 1) learn the hornpipe so I can compete in all six and 2) place in slip jig.)

I’m feeling really happy with this. As we were waiting for results I remarked to a friend that I was happy with my light shoe dances because I felt I’d represented myself quite well, and wasn’t as pleased with heavy jig as I felt I did it better while practising. But clearly the latter wasn’t the case — after all, everyone was equally affected by the quiet floor, and maybe being loud isn’t my only strength.

I really needed a win (in the sense of achieving something more than literally coming first) this week. I’ve been having a difficult time lately and feeling very insecure in my own abilities, and the week ahead holds many scary things, including a job interview and a St Patrick’s Day performance with the Irish dance society. But this has proven to me that I can do things that seemed like a ridiculous idea when I first emailed my teacher saying, “Hey, I’d maybe like to do a feis early next year…”

And I’m hoping I can carry some of that confidence with me into the rest of the week. Gotta ride this wave as long as I can, right?

This was just… so much better than I dared hope. My official goal was not to come last in anything, but I didn’t think I’d come first. Sure, they weren’t huge competitions, but the intermediate ones all had at least five people (the official minimum to advance a level if you come first), so it’s a real, legit, actual win. And second place is awesome too, especially as the person who won the heavy jig was someone I’d made friends with during the day and I was really glad she did well.

So finally the knots in my stomach can unclench. Until my job interview on Thursday. But it’s cool! I’ve got this! I’m a competitive Irish dancer, and we know no fear!

Even if we sometimes forget our shirts…

I tried on my dress this morning and discovered I’ve lost enough weight for it to fit again. Might’ve been a better option, since there’d only be one part of the costume to remember…!

8 thoughts on “Fresh Off The Feis

  1. Congratulations! Seems to me like the outfit you competed in looked really elegant, but I know almost nothing about Irish dancing so *shrug* Also, way to try something despite anxiety! Woot, woot, Finn!

    1. Thank you! It’s very unusual for someone read as female to wear trousers to compete, but it’s not unheard of — there was a girl who wore trousers to Worlds last year. Some people don’t realise that it’s actually allowed, which is why they might ask questions, but luckily no one did! Though it’s possible they couldn’t figure out my gender, especially as I entered under the name “Finn”. Which was… kind of the whole point. I haven’t ruled out wearing the dress in future, but at this stage in my life I’m much more comfortable in trousers. Still, the whole thing about being nonbinary is that I don’t have to choose, and knowing the dress fits me again means I’ve got the option if I want it.

  2. Ahhh SO MUCH CONGRATS!! I’m really glad you won and just got to have all those good success and triumph feels at the end. Totally deserved! 🎉🎉 But omg the panicking about the shirt…that’s the thing of nightmares. I’m so glad your dad got there in time but ahhhh. Nothing like a bit of stress to ensure those grey hairs are on the way. 😭

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