Irish Dance Competitions

Irish dancing has grown tremendously since the days of Riverdance. In the past, very few people knew about the tradition. The Irish dancing shows catapulted Irish dancing onto international stages and made it more well known to the general public. Irish dancing is a competitive sport and if your dancer is interested, he/she can choose to compete. There are competitions nearly every weekend in North America and several “Major” competitions are held each year such as the Regional and North American Championships, which are qualifiers for the World Championships held each Spring. This page will help newer Irish dancers understand what a Feis (pronounced FESH) is, how to know when you are ready to register for a feis and what preparations are needed for competition.

Please do note that competing is not mandatory at the Culkin School. It is an individual choice. Competing can be fun but that will certainly depend on the dancer’s personality.

WHAT IS A FEIS (pronounced fesh)?

Simply put, a feis is an Irish dance competition. Dancers are judged on their timing to the music,  foot placement, control of their carriage (arms/upper body), lift, and execution of specific movements. Dancers move up levels as they compete with the ultimate goal of becoming an Open Championship dancer, the highest level an Irish dancer can achieve.

Most feiseanna (plural of feis) are hosted by Irish dance schools or organizations and are held all over the country in hotels, high schools, convention centers and other large event venues.


Dancers must have mastered their 2nd & 3rd steps in the reel before they are ready to compete. Beginner dancers may be ready for competitions in May or June. If you are unsure of whether your dancer is ready or not, just ask your instructor. We suggest visiting a local feis before registering for one. Competitions can be described as “organized chaos” and can be overwhelming. Visiting a feis before participating in one can really help the overwhelming feeling of being a competitor for the first time. Also, your dancer will let you know right away if this is something they are interested in pursuing. If they aren’t interested, that’s ok.


The North American Feis Commission (NAFC) regulates Irish dancing competitions in North America. There is an active list of all registered feiseanna in North America for the given year. Each feis is required to provide basic registration information, a syllabus of competitions, a list of adjudicators and  musicians, registration prices, and feis venue information. Many will also provide local hotel information. If you are interested in checking out the list  just click here!


YES!!  Feis Culkin is held the same weekend as the CCE Feis; in 2020 it was cancelled due to COVID.


It is important to know that registration for competitions will open approximately three months prior to the feis date. This date varies a lot by feis.  It is important to visit the feis website often to see when registration will open. Competitions in the DC area fill up quickly and most have to cap their enrollment. It is important to register for a feis as soon as possible.

Once you’ve determined if competition works for you, you’ll go to the NAFC website (click here for NAFC website) and locate the feis you’d like to join. The NAFC website will re-direct you to a feis website and/or a on-line registration company. If the NAFC takes you to the feis website, that website will have a link to the on-line registration company. The first step is to set up an account. The site will walk you through the process and once you’ve set up an account, all you have to do is click on the feis you’d like and start choosing your dancer’s competition(s). If you need help with choosing dances, just contact your instructor and they’ll help guide you. From the on-line registration site, you can check out the syllabus for prices, guidelines and registration information. Most organizations work with on-line registration companies such as QuickFeis,,, or (Just  click on any of these on-line registration companies to link directly to their websites). Many parents suggest going into each of the registration sites to set up your account at the same time. They also suggest using the same sign-in and passwords for all of them.


The North American Feis Commission sets the standards and rules for all Feiseanna in North America. Their definition of a True Beginner Dancer is a dancer who has taken Irish dance instruction for less than one year. So, if this is the case, you should register your dancer as a ‘Beginner’. However, if your dancer has danced for over one year—even if it is their first feis, they should be registered as an Advanced Beginner. This may seem unfair; however, consider how far your dancer has come in one year! Beginners really have only been taking classes for a few months.


The Culkin School has a Beginner costume for boys and girls. Girls will be asked to wear a black jumper with a white embroidered claddagh on the front, a white collared shirt, black capezio transition tights and hair up in a “scrunchie” bun. Boys wear black pants and a black button down, long sleeve dress shirt and a white tie.

Once in the Novice level, we ask girls to purchase the school costume, headband, bow and the Double Lucy Bun, and the same black capezio transition tights mentioned above. Boys will have to purchase a Culkin vest and a white tie.

We have dedicated an entire page to costuming information. Just click here for all of the details!


Other than attending weekly classes, practicing at home is essential to preparing for a competition. Dancers should be familiar with their steps and be able to dance them on their own. If your dancer would like some extra instruction during the week, there are championship dancers and instructors who are eligible to give private lessons. This may be a good idea for your dancer a few days prior to the feis. If you’re interested, just ask your instructor for a list of contact names and email addresses. Often in the summer months, the school will offer some “Feis Prep” classes for dancers attending a local competition. Just keep your eyes open for emails with details about our Feis Prep sessions.


All competitions are determined by age group and of course level. A Beginner dancer will only dance with other beginners. The age groups are based on year of birth—but for the most part the age groups are as follows: Under 5, Under 7, Under 9, Under 11, Under 13, Under 15, & 15 and over. These basic age groups can vary a little bit from feis to feis-but not much. Each region has their age groupings but are close to what is mentioned here.

There will be dancers from different schools participating. Feis Culkin has dancers from Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina and Virginia registering. Every school has their own choreography, so it is important that  dancers are aware of this. At class, everyone is dancing similar steps, however at a feis, dancers are paired with dancers from other schools, dancing different steps. Instructors do take time to explain this in the classroom when they are practicing for a feis.

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