How do you measure success in Irish dancing feiseanna?
Whenever I write my piece on a feis that I had recently attended I always refer back to what I had written about that feis in the previous year, in order to avoid repetition and at the same time to seek inspiration about those important aspects that I might have omitted to mention before.
Last year I began my piece on Finbarr’s feis by referring to the oft quoted maxim that ‘success breeds success’ and on this occasion I make no apology for repeating that the success of this feis continues to grow over the years.
But how is success to be measured?
In my view the principal metric of success must surely be POPULARITY. Dancers thronged to this feis in Luton in very large numbers, from all over the UK and from Ireland.
In over 30 years of attending feiseanna this is the busiest I have ever experienced and even outnumbered the entry of certain national Irish dance events that I have attended.
A significant number of dancers had not pre-registered for Finbarr’s feis but had arrived to enter and pay on the day, in spite of having to pay an extra financial penalty that had only recently been increased by regional rules in order to deter the late entrants and to make timetabling more manageable.
I’m informed that around 120 dancers travelled over from Ireland accompanied by family members. No doubt the proximity of Luton Airport was a facilitating factor with a beneficial financial spin-off to Ryanair and Easyjet. (Thinks…Perhaps Mr O’Leary and Sir Stelios might be persuaded to sponsor some championships.)
No doubt the development of cheap air travel has encouraged the movement of dancers not only between these islands of ours but also around the world, and the carbon footprint of Irish dancers is now such that a Dublin, Belfast, Cork or Shannon trip to Luton has become a mere short hop, skip and jump.
The very large entry which I believe is unprecedented at a local feis, presented a timetabling challenge and called for careful logistics management. Inevitably an overrun on the final day could not be avoided, especially as the large numbers in the novice grades had to be split into A and B cohorts.
This tactic has several pro’s but requires a little more audience and dancer forbearance because of consequent timetabling tensions.
But frequent public address announcements ensured that dancers and audience were kept informed of the timetabling process so that as far as possible downtime was minimised. Good stage management was evident in the dance and presentation halls.
The ubiquitous Finbarr seemed to pop up in each of the three halls with a ‘moving swiftly on’ message for the next age cohort or for the presentation of medals and trophies. But Finbarr would be first to admit that the success of any feis, including his own, is dependent on team effort and cohesion, from the moment that the dance floors are laid on Friday night to their removal at the end of the day on Sunday.
Many famous people from Einstein to Winston Churchill have elaborated on the nature of success, but the quotation I prefer most is from Barbara Bush, the recently deceased former US First Lady who said, ‘Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends, and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way’. Good advice and relevant to all feis organisers but more especially to dancers themselves.