Category : Feising

What I wish I had known when I became an Irish dancing teacher_irish dancing_ready to feis

What I wish I had known when I became an Irish dancing teacher

With 2016 now in motion and dancers around the world getting ready to dive into a new year of dancing, it’s important to take a moment to reflect, acknowledge, and set new goals. It’s also a good time to think about what Irish dancing means in your life. For many teachers, Irish dancing is not just a job or a hobby, it’s an all-consuming passion that has made an impact on their lives in more ways than they could ever have imagined. It’s also a chosen path that comes with a lot of challenges and surprises! When you’re studying for that teachers exam, there is no textbook about dealing with difficult personalities, setting up a parents association, doing hair and makeup, or buying insurance. We asked these teachers to tell us what they wished they had known before becoming an Irish dancing teacher.

The life coach

I wish I had known that because Irish dancing has evolved so much I am not just an Irish dance teacher to those I teach, but also a second mum, psychologist, physio, fitness instructor, nutritionist, make up artist, and hairdresser. Irish dancing has gone to such a level now that it’s not just the Irish dancing you are talking with your dancers about, but the whole package for them as dancers on a broader scale. Teaching the steps is the easy part! – Fiona Moore, ADCRG

I wish I had known that being an Irish Dance teacher had many more responsibilities than just the typical dance teacher definition. Not only do you teach classes full of children you overwhelmingly become responsible for, you also have to be a great business owner, a mental coach inside and outside the studio, a life coach, and a role model! I always knew my teacher worked hard to be so successful, but I didn’t realize how many hats you have to wear when you strive to be a great teacher, and you have to wear them extremely well! If you aren’t prepared for this, and have no experience in these areas, it can be overwhelming no matter how much you enjoy it! – Jessie Baffa, TCRG

I wish I had known just how rewarding this job would be. I never really quite understood the many hats an Irish dancing teacher wears. You are not just a teacher, you are a personal trainer, psychologist, beautician, dietician, friend, advisor, role model. You have such an important role to play in your students’ lives. It is such an honour being an Irish dancing teacher. – Megan Ryan, TCRG

The fitness coach

I never knew that it would give me grey hair so quickly!
In my era of competing there was never any form of fitness programs which dancers have access to today. This is key as Irish dancing has changed so much over the years with so much athleticism now being involved and lots of movements and routines require extremely strong core strength. – Declan McHale, TCRG

The marketing exec

The thing I did not expect as a dance teacher was how much my professional marketing career would hold me in good stead, especially in terms of creating the culture and dynamic that I wish for the school through effective marketing communication. And the sheer amount of time and effort that that takes!!!!  – Betty Sheehan, TCRG

How time consuming running a dance studio is! No one ever tells you about the hours that go into the administrative side of things. Emailing, advertising, entering students into comps, you’re lucky if you find time to choreograph! Heaven forbid trying to have a social life outside of Irish dancing. Irish dancing is my social life! – Megan Ryan, TCRG

The nervous nellie

You always hear from your parents how nervous they are when you walk on stage as a competitor. As a TCRG I wish someone had told me that it’s 10 times worse with each and every dancer that you teach. When they get on stage no matter what competition whether it’s a beginner comp, state, national or World championship, the nerves you feel as a teacher are like nothing I was prepared for! – Liam Ayres, TCRG

That the nerves don’t stop at competitions. I always envied the dancing teachers at competitions, thinking that they could relax being on the other side of things. But that is completely untrue. I find that the nerves are worse, as at the end of the day there is only so much you can do as a teacher. It comes down to how the student performs on the day and it is completely out of your control. – Megan Ryan, TCRG


Image courtesy of MJ Escobar-Collins
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Dance motion photography – nailing that action shot

Snapping a picture of a dancer on stage during a presentation is one thing, but capturing a picture of a dancer in motion is a whole other endeavour. Leaps, kicks, spins – it’s all fast movement, and getting the right angle, the right shutter speed, and the right light, is a study in perfection. In part two of our interview with feis photographer Shannon Cohoon, we’re delving into motion photography.

Note: capturing a picture of a dancer in motion during a feis is against CLRG rules. Please check with your teacher for the rules of your individual organisation. This information is intended as a guide for capturing photos outside of the competition space.

Ready to Feis: If your average parent wants to get a nice action shot at a performance, what are the basics they need to know?

Shannon Cohoon: Taking a fantastic action shot can be extremely difficult and is something I am still working on mastering. It is not easy to have the camera positioned properly, and accidentally cut off the top of the dancer’s head or the front of the foot. When I take action shots, I do not zoom in on the dancers too closely in an attempt to avoid these types of fiascos. Action shots are the perfect example of when it is much better to be further zoomed out and crop the photo closer to the dancer later.

Timing is crucial when taking an action shot. There is nothing worse than taking a photo of a dancer in the air and realizing later that the back leg of the dancer was coming down to land. Knowing the step of the dancer is extremely helpful because you are able to anticipate the ‘big moves,’ like a leap. This allows you to take the photo at the right moment instead of a millisecond too late.

Great action shots are wonderful to have, but are not the easiest to achieve. Although you may want a picture of your dancer executing an extraordinary leap to show to friends and family, sometimes it is better to sit back and enjoy the performance than watch it through your camera while trying to get that perfect shot.

RTF: For action shots, is equipment important?

SC: Equipment makes a huge difference when taking action shots. Even if you have perfect timing and ideal lighting, getting an outstanding action shot is tough. When I take action shots, it is typical that the majority of the dancer is in focus, but his or her feet are blurry. Better equipment can handle the quick movements of Irish dancing, resulting in a much clearer photo.

RTF: Is there a good position or angle for action shots? Do you want to be close up or further away from your subject?

SC: I prefer to be lower than the dancer when taking action shots, such as when the Parade of Champions is performed on an elevated stage. When the dancer does a move where he or she is off the ground, being slightly below the stage creates the illusion of a larger leap or higher jump. Most moves look livelier when picture is taken of the side of the dances as opposed to straight on because you can typically see both the front and back legs of the dancer. The dancing can also look more dynamic when some of the floor is in the photo so you can see how high the dancer has gotten off the ground.

For dancers heading to the CLRG All Irelands (October 24-31 in Killarney), Shannon is booking 15 minute photo shoots outside the venue. If you are interested in a session, email or contact her through her Facebook page.

Do you have any photography questions for Shannon? Leave them in the comments below, or email us and we’ll get them answered! Do you have any good photography tips? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image by: Shannon Cohoon

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How to get a great photograph at a feis - Shannon Cohoon - Ready to Feis - Irish dance dancing

How to take a great photograph at a feis

One of the great joys of Irish dancing is looking back years later and reliving the memories through photos – the friendships, the results, the beautiful costumes. Whether you’re taking pictures to share online with your friends and family, or simply to put the moment in a photo album, taking a good snap helps make the memory that much clearer. That said, in the crush and excitement of results, it can be difficult to capture the moment!

Photographer Shannon Cohoon has captured the images of thousands of dancers over hundreds of feisanna, and she knows what works. Shannon shares her expertise so that you can take the best possible photo at the next feis.

Ready to Feis: For the average dance parent trying to take a photo of their child during a presentation, what can they do to get a great photo?

Shannon Cohoon: I have found that one of the most important things, no matter what type of camera you are using, is to hold the camera still. This can be difficult to do, especially when your friend, son, or daughter is having a personal best day and you are getting emotional. One way to help with the movement of the camera is to hold your elbows against your body in order to stabilize your arms. It is better to keep your camera closer to your body than to hold it over your head.

I would also suggest not zooming in too far. During presentations, especially near ‘landmark’ placements, such as world qualifying, top ten, top three, etc., dancers tend to move quickly. If the camera is zoomed in right on the dancer’s face, when he or she moves it can be difficult to get the dancer back in frame to catch the reaction. I normally stayed zoomed out a little further and crop the photo afterward.

RTF: Do you need fancy equipment to get a nice shot? What about if you only have your phone?

SC: I, personally, think that a nice shot depends on what is in the photo. Sometimes the most memorable photos may not be the clearest, but show the emotion that is being felt in that moment. This can be done on any type of camera, including a camera on a phone. However, if you are looking for a high quality photo, equipment does make a significant difference.

RTF: Lighting is often bad/weird/crazy in feis venues. How do you counter the lighting so the photo isn’t too dark or light?

SC: Lighting is often unpredictable and challenging to manage. A simple fix is to turn on the flash, but depending on your position in the crowd, it may not affect the picture. On the other hand, a flash can add too much lighting and wash out the dancer. This is a situation where it is important to do your homework before the competition. Most digital cameras, if not all, have settings that can help you adjust to the lighting. Messing with the settings can be time consuming if you are experimenting at the competition, which is why it is important to know about the settings prior to the event.

If you have editing software on your computer, even if it is an extremely basic program, you should be able to adjust the brightness after the photo is taken. It is much easier to brighten a photo than to fix a photo that is already extremely bright.

Edit to add: For those of you who have emailed or commented to ask, Shannon uses a Nikon D5100, and for dance photos uses a Nikon 55-200mm lens.

Do you have any photography questions for Shannon? Leave them in the comments below, or email us and we’ll get them answered! Do you have any good photography tips? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Image by: Shannon Cohoon

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moving from grades to championship irish dance ready to feis

Moving from grades to championship

Going from grades to championship is a big deal. Huge, in fact. Whether you have spent two years, four years, or six years learning and growing in grades, getting those final prizewinner firsts to move up to preliminary championship is a turning point in most dancers careers. This is the big leagues! But how does it differ? Quite a lot. The way you feis will totally change.


Christina Dolzall-Ashurst, TCRG at the Ashurst Academy of Irish Dance in Connecticut, points out, “The move from grades to preliminary championships is an exciting one. It also comes with changes in how competitions are run.” Dolzall-Ashurst explains, “In the grade levels, dancers stand in a line and come out to dance with one or two others for two steps, without breaks between sets of dancers. A dancer may perform many light and heavy dances in a feis, all being scored and awarded separately by one adjudicator. The scoring for each round is also more straightforward than in a prelim competition, as only raw points (given on a scale up to 100) are used to determine the result order.”

“In a prelim competition, dancers will complete only one light and one heavy round, with the result being based on a combination of the points awarded for both dances. Dancers will not all be onstage lined up as in the grades, but rather, will walk onstage and perform two or three at a time. Dancers will line up in a specific rotation as specified by a stage manager, and, after walking onstage (with confidence, of course!), will wait for an eight-bar intro, and then complete a full round (2-1/2 or 3 steps, depending on the dance). After completing a round, dancers will bow at the spot where they finish, walk back to their original position, wait for a judge to ring a bell, bow again to the judges and musicians, and walk off to prepare for the next round.”

Judging and Scoring

One of the key differences between grades and championship is the adjudication – you’re dancing for a panel of three instead of one. Dolzall-Ashurst points out, “Instead of one adjudicator per round as in the grades, a three-adjudicator panel will score all dancers in both the light and heavy rounds of a prelim competition. The judges will still use raw points, but in prelim, a dancer will also become accustomed to being awarded Irish points.”

“Each judge gives raw scores for each round, which, as in the grades, are used to place in order the results – by judge – for each dancer. Irish points are then assigned respectively to that results order. For example, after Judge A’s raw scores for both rounds have been totalled and his or her results put in order, that judge’s first place dancer gets 100 points, second place 75 points, third place 65 points, and so on. This process is repeated with Judges B and C. The final result order is then based on the total Irish points a dancer has accumulated from all three adjudicators combined. A perfect score, in which all three adjudicators award the same dancer first place, is 300.”


This is the fun and exciting part! “When it’s time to present results in prelim, dancers will no longer look for their number to be posted on a board,” says Dolzall-Ashurst. “Instead, a more formal awards presentation, with dancers in full costume and shoes, is held. Typically, the top 50 percent of dancers in a prelim competition will receive an award. The numbers of the competitors who have ‘placed’ are read out, and the announcer then calls out the award winners by number, in reverse order (first place being the last announced). The award presentations are a rewarding experience filled with anticipation and excitement!”

Skill Level

Moving from grades to prelim means longer dances, and potentially more challenging material. The reel and treble jig are now three steps, with the slip jig and hornpipe two and a half steps. It’s also a chance to try new tricks, and lift your game. “As dancers move up in level, it’s important that they constantly grow, progress, and not be afraid of a challenge. These qualities will allow a dancer to complete more difficult material and moves.” Dolzall-Ashurst goes on to say, “However, it’s also important to remember that something more simple performed clean and with great technique will typically gain more points than something difficult that is not yet mastered.” Jennifer Dawson, TCRG at the Marie Moore School of Irish Dance in New Jersey, adds, “When you’re moving up to prelim the steps don’t have to get harder, but now they have to be perfect. You have to show the judge that your technique is ready for Open Championships – knees, feet, arms, shoulders, timing, and rhythm. That’s the key difference from grades. A little personality doesn’t hurt either.”

The Set Dance

Dancing in prelim is a chance to learn a set dance, however it isn’t always immediately necessary. “A prelim competition will not include a set dance round. A dancer will perform a light round (reel or slip jig) and a heavy round (jig or hornpipe). However, many prelim dancers learn a set dance for competitions such as the Oireachtas, so they should be on the watch for the occasional feis that includes a separate Preliminary Set Competition.”

Are you a prizewinner dancer ready to move up? Have you recently moved into prelim? Share your experience below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Ed note: updated to reflect Christina’s new school
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Feising, Mental Preparation

Two World Champions, and what a day at worlds is really like

We’re well and truly in Worlds mode right now! With the crew from An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha in Montreal for Oireachtas Rince Na Cruinne, and the An Comhdháil crowd in Killarney for their World Irish Dance Championships, it’s a very busy and important week on the Irish dancing calendar.

While this means the cream of the crop are having their moment on stage after months of hard work and sweat, it also means there are hundreds of others at home dreaming of one day being on that stage (and possibly following the action on the live commentary or Twitter). That stage is a tough place. After all the physical preparation, it can be difficult to fight game day nerves and mentally steel yourself for what happens. Developing a routine, knowing your strengths, and learning how to stay focused will help make your day a whole lot easier.

For Jason Hays, two time World Champion, his competition day starts with bacon. “I like to have bacon in the morning because it has protein for the day, and I normally nibble on that throughout a competition day.” Hays begins his warm up process by running in place then doing basic stretches.

Six time World Champion John Lonergan would get his body pumped with a particular warm up routine. “I would get to the venue maybe an hour before the competition is meant to start. Get my bearings about the place and then start to warm up. For me this would be lightly dancing my dances to get the muscles going, then stretching, and building up to a sweat. One final stretch to make sure everything is loosened out.”

Heading to the stage is when the nerves kick it up a gear, so staying focused is key. “I always do my jumps before I go onstage! I have this routine/ good luck drill where I do some jumps then progressively get higher and higher. It’s always been my way of getting myself ready before I’m onstage”, says Hays. It’s also a day for Hays to be selfish, “I’ll make small chit chat with the other people waiting, but I’m here for myself so I normally run steps through my head and walk my dances side stage to warm up.”

For Lonergan, mental sharpness is key, “To psych myself up I normally just reminded myself of how hard I had worked, and how badly I wanted to be stood on the top of that podium. I’m quite a competitive person so that would always get the adrenaline pumping and would get me pumped up to go on stage and dance my best.” He adds, “Before I danced I always kept to myself and kept my focus and mind determined on the job I had to do – which was go out there and dance the best I could. Once all my rounds were finished, I would then go and chat to anyone who I was friends with, as I’ve done all I could at that stage.”

That time between rounds is where the mental game comes under the most pressure. Lonergan points out, “For boys I think it’s a lot easier as the competitions are smaller. There isn’t as much time to get distracted, so therefore it all happens really quick. For girls I think it’s important to have maybe 10 minutes relaxation time after the first round, then go and stretch a bit to stay warm, and maybe go over the steps of your light round yourself before meeting with your teacher or parent to go over it for the final time before going on stage. I always find dancing your steps for your teacher or parent full out before going side stage helps you get in ‘the zone’ for when you do end up going side stage.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always go to plan on the day. According to Hays, “It’s hard to move past a bad round but usually I focus on what else I can do on my others. What happened has happened and there’s nothing I can do to change that so I focus more on the positives of my next rounds rather than dwell on one round and psych myself out.” Lonergan has a similar mentality. “Normally I would just try and forget [a bad round]. There’s always the next round after that, or your set dance to worry about too, so it’s important to focus into each one as they come. There’s no point in worrying about a set dance before your heavy round. Chances are you won’t perform well and there’s a chance you might not get to do your set. If you focus on each round as it comes, you’ll dance your best, and be within a better chance of getting that recall, or the result you really wanted.”

Have you danced at Worlds? Did you have an experience like these two champions described? What’s your game day routine (and does it include bacon)? Sound off in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook.

Image: Courtesy of Jason Hays

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The essential French you need for the World Irish Dancing Championships

Are you heading to Montreal for the World Irish Dancing Championships? In amongst the packing and the preparation, there may be something you have overlooked. Montreal is one of the largest French-speaking cities in the world, and the official language is French! While many people, particularly in the tourist areas of the city, will be happy to communicate with you in English, it is always handy to have a few common words and phrases under your belt.

Download the list here


Special thanks to Chloé Foglia and Nathalie Lasnier for the translations, and all their wonderful help and advice with this video.

Special thanks also to Kristel Behrend for the header image.

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Feis Checklist

The Ultimate Feis Checklist

There’s nothing quite like the chaos that comes with packing for a feis. Whether it’s a local one day competition, or a huge major that requires a couple of plane rides, it sometimes feels like you need to take everything but the kitchen sink (and sometimes a sink would probably come in handy!). No doubt you’ve gotten to a venue and had that awful moment of ‘oh no, I forgot something!’ where you have to race to a vendor or borrow from a feis friend.

It’s a new year and it’s time for a fresh start. We have created the Ultimate Feis Checklist to make life a little easier the next time you need to hit the road. We have put everything possible on the list – you might not need it all but it doesn’t hurt to think about! Download it, save it, print it out, and next time you have to pack for a feis you can tick things off as you go to make sure you’re prepared!

Click here to download your Ultimate Feis Checklist  Feis Checklist

Is there anything you would add to the list? Do you have any advice for feis packing?

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