The McGrath Feis

On Sunday, I attended my first feis of 2015. I went to the McGrath Feis in Woodbridge, Virginia to begin my set of prep-for-nationals feiseanna. I was lucky to have my parents, boyfriend, and boyfriend's mom in attendance at this feis. This feis featured a 20 and over age group split, which I am so thankful for! I can't tell you how nice it is to not have to dance with people nearly ten years younger than I am.

My goal for the feis was to make it through my hornpipe and reel steps without forgetting how they go. I learned new hornpipe and reel steps in January, and this feis was my first chance to compete with them, They are very stylish steps, and I am working to perfect them and get them in to my body as well as my old set of hornpipe and reel steps.

I did meet my goal and was about to get thorough my first two rounds without forgetting! Of course, there were points in my hornpipe that I knew could be better (especially since my only comment from the feis was "feet too straight"). My reel round went fine, though my ankles felt particularly wibbly-wobbly that day, and all I remember thinking about was "hold it together!" To me, my set round felt the strongest out of all. After competing with this Planxty Drury since 2011, I feel like it's finally gotten really good. My beats are strong and rarely missing throughout. I have the certain extra turnout points flagged (though execution is not up to par still).

Awards for this feis included round awards of chocolate bars for first through fifth place for all three rounds. I placed in each round! Fourth for hornpipe, second for reel, and third for set.

I love chocolate.
I also was super surprised to hear my number called for third place in the overall championship! I was not expecting to place so well doing new steps partially because I know they still have a lot of work to be done on them. This is a tie for my highest open placement (Rhythm of Ireland 2013).

I was very fortunate that I has so many loving family members come to support my dancing on Sunday. I'm glad they got a chance to see my new dancing steps, and to attend a feis where I placed so well!

Up next is the Hurley Feis on May 24th!

Goals: Work on new set, HP stamina
Days till NANs: 71


The 2014 Oireachtas

Round 1 number check
There's not much I have to say about my solo round from the Oireachtas. They most impressive thing was dancing soft shoe with no brace on for the first time since surgery. These unremarkable rounds led to a rather disappointing result that night with my lowest ever placement. I dropped drastically from placing in the upper 20s to the 34th. I suppose one could say that I made outstanding progress just by recalling at a major championship six months post-op, but I was really working toward a triumphant return by finally world qualifying. Not to mention that the southern senior lady group was incredibly tough this year, but that seems like I'm making excuses. The point is I was very disappointed but I'm getting over it and focusing on having fun while dancing.

My only solo awards picture. They focused heavily on the WQs.
By far, one of the most outstanding stories of the day was the switch from solos to teams. I was one of the last few senior lady sets to be danced. Meanwhile, the 15 and over girls eight hand competition started, despite senior ladies not having finished. My team was due to dance somewhere in the middle of rotation, but I couldn't make it. The stage managers let us dance last, fortunately. Unfortunately that still didn't leave me enough time, and I kept the competition waiting as I changed out of solo hair, make up, and costume. All the 15 and over girls four hand competitions were lined up, and I had to dash my way through them to meet my team side stage. I did not stop walking as I took my spot for the walk on, and our team took the stage! Thank God for the years of practice doing St. Patrick's Day. If we needed to review something as a team, we wouldn't have been half as successful while we danced. That team took seventh overall.

I was a member of two four hands as well, a girls and mixed four. The girls four danced decently and took 17th out of sixty teams. My mixed four hand did shockingly well. We didn't get many opportunities to dance together leading up to the Oireachtas, and we danced with the team that took first, so we thought we were done for. Only one one of our team members saw the recall list, and standing side stage at awards, we began to doubt that our number was really on the list. The closer the announcer got to first place, the more worried we became. We ended up taking fifth and getting a chance to be on the podium! It was a fantastic feeling!

Goals: Don't forget new dances on stage at the feis Sunday
Days till NANs:79


Irish Dance How-To: DIY Sugar Scrub

The weather is getting warmer, St. Patricks's month is over, so that means my pre-nationals feis season is gearing up to begin! Last fall, I discovered a great way to make the most of my feis tan, and I thought I'd share some of my tips with you today.

A sugar scrub is a fantastic way to exfoliate and prepare your legs for your pre-feis leg tanning session. Most tanning products do recommend exfoliating to avoid splotchiness. Keep in mind this is something to do the day before the feis, and not the morning of, for time’s sake and your feis day sanity.

You need: 

  • 1 cup sugar (brown or white) 
  • 1/4 cup natural oil (olive, coconut, almond, etc.) 
  • (optional) 5-8 drops essential oil

Step one: Make the scrub. My rule of thumb is three parts sugar to one part oil, then add in any essential oils if you want an extra good smelling scrub. My favorite combination is brown sugar, olive oil, and one teaspoon each of vanilla extract and honey, but you can also use whatever you have on hand in your kitchen. It’s your scrub after all!

Step two: Shave your legs as usual.

Step three: Use your scrub on your freshly shaven legs. Turn on your favorite song, jam out, and scrub each leg gently for half the length of the song. Be gentle so you don’t rub your legs raw! Give yourself a nice calf massage. Rub your tired feet. They have been working hard for you and deserve some TLC. Rinse off the sugar and resist the urge to stroke your legs now. Wait until after the whole process. It’s a secret.

Step four: We’re going to go beyond smooth, so lather up your legs with whatever you use to shave, and shave them again. Rinse your razor often! Instead of hair, this time you are getting rid of dead skin. Gross.

Step five: Use the rest of the sugar scrub on your legs. Jam out to another song. Rinse with plain water. Legs still feeling oily? Wash that weird feeling off with your favorite body wash.

Step six: Feel your smoothy smooth legs. Share how smooth they are with others. Apply tanner if you’re going to a feis, or lotion if you’re doing this to pamper yourself. Resist the urge at the feis to brag about how your legs have released their inner goddess. Try not to start a smooth legs competition (but if you do, know that you will get the sash and crystal, my dear, because you are the smooth legs winner).

P.S. Another important factor in making your tan last or not fade in splotches is to continue to exfoliate (I use a loofah in the shower) and moisturize daily! Your legs are still goddesses after your feis. Treat them as such.

Goals: Don't forget to work on your set!!
Days till NANs: 87


St. Patrick's Month, Part 2

This post is all about a performer's perspective from D.C.'s Shamrockfest, a one day festival full of Bands, DJs, and other Irish entertainment.

This year was Shamrockfest's first year under Red Frog Event management. I know of many attendees who were very unhappy, especially with how food and drinks in the VIP area were handled. I head of poor communication with performing groups leading up to the festival. As it's this company's first year hosting the event, I hope they will improve upon what they learned. All of that aside, I have to say that this year was the best treatment of the Irish dancers that I've ever been a part of.

For starters, we got to park in the performer's parking lot at RFK Stadium. No paying ridiculous amount for parking, and none of that being crushed in the hordes coming and going from the Stadium-Armory Metro station. Upon parking, us performers were given our wristbands to access all the areas we would be needing: backstage, performer's hospitality, and a way in and out of the actual festival, should we wish to participate with the other Shamrockfest revelers.

I chose for the most part to stay in the backstage areas. And really, why wouldn't I? In the performer's hospitality area, we had an entire tent dedicated to food and drinks! Shamrockfest provided me with lunch and dinner that day, as well as access to as much Angry Orchard as I wished. There were chairs we could sit in and visit with dance friends away from the crowds of festival attendees, but still in close enough range to hear the great bands without blowing out eardrums. (Not to mention that we were essentially rubbing elbows with all the band members performing that evening.)

Come time to perform, we were shuttled in a bus from the hospitality area to our stage, where we were told we had eight minutes to perform. This is a drastic difference from previous years. Before, each dancing group had about 20 minutes to do their thing, but this year's festival focus was more on the bands. We danced three numbers nearly back-to-back, only after having to halt set-up progress of the band on after us so we had as much dancing space as possible (which was wide enough, but very, very shallow).

To cap off the night, we danced with a Richmond-based band, Carbon Leaf to one of their most well-known songs, The Boxer.

View from backstage

I did not stay after that final performance to catch Reel Big Fish or the Blues Travelers mainly for crowd avoidance. I still had great fun that day! Here's to a few more festivals to come!

Goals: Stamina
Days till NANs: 92


St. Patrick's Month, Part 1

Weekends in March are famously accounted for as an Irish dancer. We are needed everywhere for every type of Irish celebration you can think of. With green hair to match the spirit of the season, I set out for three weekends of dancing this month with varying degrees of enjoyment.

March 8th held one performance: a parade fundraiser at a nearby pub. I was put in charge of this performance and had to:

  1. Run the practice beforehand (with dancers showing up late)
  2. Choose the dancers for numbers (without knowing everyone's skill levels), and
  3. Choose the numbers and order of performance.
Pair all of that with having no one step up to talk between numbers, which meant that the organizer of the event continually asking if we were done every time there was a pause to change shoes and younger dancers upset for a reason I didn't know, and you get my least favorite performance of the season. I can run the practice and dance, or run the practice and talk, but running the practice, talking, and performing is not a combination that I am capable of.

March 14th included two evening performances across Maryland. The first was at a St. Patrick's Day dinner, and featured an extra dodgy dancing surface. Now, It's pretty well known that as Irish dancers, we're going to be dancing on some not so prime surfaces in March, but this one takes the cake for me. Tile. Large square foot long tiles. Luckily, we were told this beforehand, so we skipped out on most of our hard shoe show numbers, and only used hard shoes for our finale. It was still slippery though. (Side note: how is it that we must dance on bad surfaces a month before worlds?) They did feed us hot dogs after performing, so all was well.

AOH Bowie St. Patrick's Day dinner. Not pictured: dodgy tile surface.
Afterward, the same crew drove on over to a barn hosting a fundraiser and St. Patrick's Day party. We go to dance hard shoe numbers here! I also got to cap of my night with a complimentary glass of wine, so it was a great night.

Champ dancers at a St. Patrick's Day fundraiser, Arnold, MD.
March 15th was parade day! It was a very windy day! You can see just how hard the wind was blowing in the pictures below because the bangs on my pixie cut was going crazy! It was also a little cold, but things certainly warmed up as we danced down Constitution Ave! Even with the wind cutting through my jacket, I was nearly sweating by the time we reached the grandstand. I learned this year (my first ever dance-down-the-parade-route year) that I need to put different shoe laces in my shoe because they came untied not once, but twice, even though I double knotted them before the parade started. Ah, well.

After the parade, a group of older champ dancers headed over to Fado's Irish pub where we danced between a band's sets. Two other dancers and I almost didn't make it, though! The vehicle we were travelling in got a flat tire as we left the parking spot. Luckily, we had some tire changing pros on hand to save the day, and we made it to the pub in time. I finished off the weekend with a large helping of shepherd's pie, Strongbow, and great time with friends.

Coming up next week, part 2: Shamrockfest!

Goals: Drill all hornpipes together
Days till NANs: 100
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