Irish Dance
t h e   c o m p e t i t i o n s

Dancing competitions

From 1890 there was a great revival of all things Irish including the language, theatre, sport, music and dance. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) had been formed in 1884 to promote Gaelic games. The Irish cultural renaissance was further boosted by the efforts of the Gaelic League to bring about a renewed interest in traditional music and dancing.

In 1929 the Gaelic League established an enquiry by dancing teachers into the state of Irish dancing. As a result the Constitution of the Commission of Irish Dancing of Easter 1931 was published. The first year of operation for the commission was 1932/33. They organised examinations for the qualification of teachers and established rules regarding judging and organising dancing competitions. The first examination was for a certificate and the more advanced examination awarded a diploma to candidates. Pupils of unregistered teachers were not permitted to enter for competitions organised by the Commission. The Commission also published a quarterly magazine, Céim, which means "step", and covered all aspects of Irish dancing.

Over a period a number of policy differences occurred within the commission resulting in a split in the organisation. The breakaway group of dancing teachers set up their own organisation called Comhdháil na Muinteoirí Rince Gaelacha in 1969. The main competition run by this group was the Father Mathew Feis which was named after the temperance priest, Father Theobald Mathew.

The feis, which combines competitions in dancing, music and singing, has for a long time been an important part of the cultural life of rural communities. Each dancing school holds its own feis and invites other schools in the area to compete. There is an independent adjudicator who awards medals to each group from beginners upwards. At local feis level and the national and world championships, there are separate compe-titions for solo female and male dancers. In group competitions, boys and girls dance in couples.

The major dancing competitions in Ireland are the four provincial competitions of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht, the Dublin Championship and the All-Ireland Championships. The All-Ireland and World Championships are held at various locations around Ireland, with approximately a thousand competitors entering the All-Ireland Championships. Competitors for the World Championships, held for six days at Easter, come from England, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, Ireland. Any dancer may enter the All-Ireland and World Championships, where the standard is extremely high but usually dancing teachers will only enter their best pupils.

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Illustrated by Anne Farrall