What is a Feis and How Does it Work?

So, many people may be confused when I, or another Irish dancer says the term “feis.” So what is a feis, you might ask. You pronounce it like you would mesh. So if it looked the way you say it, it would be Fesh.

Feis is the term we use for an Irish dance competition. By definition a feis is a “traditional Gaelic arts and culture festival.” The plural is Feiseanna. This is definitely what this is. Yes, it’s mostly dancing, but some of these have art, music, and baking competitions as well.

So how does it work? Well, that’s complicated. But I will try my best to explain it to you. This is just how it works in the U.S. and from my experience. Rules can vary depending on region, and dance school.


So let’s start with levels. There are six levels altogether. Each level represents the certain level of difficulty and there are certain criteria you have to meet to move up. There are 4 grades and 2 champ levels.

Grade levels:

  • Beginner 1
  • Beginner 2
  • Novice
  • Open Prizewinner

Champ Levels:

  • Preliminary (prelim) Champ aka PC
  • Open Champ aka OC

Moving Up

Placing out of levels can get a little confusing when explained to people who don’t know Irish dance that well, but it makes sense when you start to get used to it. Here is what I know about moving up levels.

So, from beginner 1 to beginner 2 you can automatically move up the following year, this is with teacher approval, of course. Sometimes a child might need an extra year as a beginner to get used to competing or just dancing in general. That especially applies to the really little ones.

From beginner 2 to novice you must get a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place in each dance to individually move each dance up. However, the competition must have more than 5 people in it to be able to qualify for novice. The 5 rule actually applies to all levels, except beginner 1.

Getting from novice to prizewinner you need a first in each dance to individually move that dance up. You can compete in two grade levels at the same time. So for example I am competing in novice for my reel, but competing in prizewinner for everything else.

Then to place into prelim from prizewinner you need a first in each dance. This is to qualify you to move up to prelim. You cannot compete in a champ level as well as a grade level and you cannot compete in both champ levels. This prob

In order to place from prelim to open champ you need to have 3 overall first places, I believe, all within the same year.

How it Works

As for the competition itself… Well here’s where it can get a little tricky. All competitions have their differences but the way they run is quite similar. I can give you the basic rundown of how a typical competition might be run.

So usually there are anywhere from 4-9 stages. 1-3 of those stages are reserved for champ dancers and the rest are reserved for grade levels. Dancers will dance on the same stage throughout the day as they are grouped by age, well for the most part.

In grade levels, there are 5 dances that most everyone does, 4 if you are in prizewinner. They are Hornpipe, treble jig, reel, slip jig, and light jig. If you are in prizewinner, you most likely not compete in light jig. Of course you don’t have to do all of these dances and there are also extra dances you can sign up for. Everyone lines up on the stage and comes out to dance 2 at a time. Everyone dances to the same music assigned for that dance. This will happen for every dance. Afterwards, results will be posted on a wall. If you placed you will then go to a table and pick up your awards and your scores if the feis provides them.

PC and OC are run a bit differently, but it is the same idea. Competitions are danced in 3 rounds: Soft shoe, hard shoe, and set dance. Dancers will dance Slip jig/treble jig and a set or reel/hornpipe and a set. Dancers still dance 2 at a time, but enter the stage separately instead of all in a line. However set dances are done individually. Scores of all of your rounds will be added up for your final placement. Instead of being posted on a wall PC and OC competitions get ceremonies. They are usually ranked by round first then ranked overall.

I know this point was a bit disjointed. Feises are pretty hard to explain in writing. I hope this gives you a bit of a better understanding of what a feis is.


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