There was a time when Irish dancing competitions took place outside, all day long. They were casual affairs, and families would spend the day in locations like the Gaelic Park in the Bronx.
At least, this is how Debbie Lynch-Webber remembers it.
“Years ago I enjoyed feiseanna that were held outside,” she told IrishCentral. “When I first danced it was in a field, and incorporated traditional music competitions, and dance.”
Lynch-Webber, head of the Mulvihill-Lynch School of Irish Dance, is the powerhouse of organization behind the Mulvihill-Lynch Feis, which took place this past weekend in Smithtown, Long Island. Her own children are dancers, and participate in the competition too.
Although the Gaelic Park still exists in the Bronx, feiseanna no longer occur there. The Park hasn’t seen a feis since the 80s, Lynch-Webber says.
Feiseanna are growing and getting bigger across the country, she says, and a lot of work has to be done to keep up with these trends.
Behind the Mulvihill-Lynch Feis is a seemingly vast network of committees, run by parents and by teachers, and each with its own head.
“You cannot say it’s a particularly female or male thing,” points out Germaine Lucatuorto, chairperson of the feis, whose two daughters are champion dancers. “The dads are involved too. Every family that’s involved – they all do something.”
There’s a hospitality committee, which arranges the adjudicators’ flights and accommodation, and orders food; another committee orders trophies, another books the venue. A stage crew, composed mostly of Irish dance dads, sorts out the space the night before.
It’s a large-scale operation.
All the money that the feis produces goes back to the dancers, Lynch-Webber emphasizes. Specifically it goes to a non-profit corporation, which helps dancers travel both within the States and overseas, and even provides scholarships to students who are finishing high school.
And just as dancing seals the friendships amongst the girls, so their own frenzied activity creates bonds between the parents. “It becomes part of your life. It’s an extended family,” Lucatuorto says, and Lynch-Webber agrees. “I think it’s because of the family atmosphere. People enjoy spending the day here."
This past Sunday at the feis, families were busy, and some had to rush off to take their kids to soccer practice. Feiseanna have adapted to the needs of a modern world in which both parents and children have busy schedules.
However, the Mulvihill-Lynch Feis is still about the dancing. “Primarily I do it for the traditional aspect that Irish dancing offers,” Lynch-Webber says.
“We don’t do it for the money. We do it for the pure culture.”