You're an Irish dancer! Yay!
Now that you're part of an Irish dance school, and maybe even competing at feisanna, you've been hearing about the upcoming Oireachtas- the exciting, stressful, wonderful, prestigious, anxiously-awaited Oireachtas!!
It seems a very elite and even sometimes exclusive thing to hear someone say, "I'm competing at the Oireachtas this year". They are automatically preceived as a better breed of dancer- a star within the school. Names such as "Oireachtas Team" when given to the group from an Irish dance school, who are going to the "O" make the elected few look a little brighter and cooler.
Being a part of this group is a fabulous thing that those included dancers have worked hard to be a part of! There is always room for more competitors at this level. If you know your region's requirements as well as what your TCRG has as requirements for his or her students, then you can work towards getting to the Oireachtas too.
What is an Oireachtas (pronounced "oh-rok-tis")!?? Well, if we were in Ireland, we'd be talking about the Irish National Parliament consisting of the president and the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Uhmmmmmm........okay. Not so good for what we need in Irish dance. ;)
So what does the word mean that it can have to do with both Irish dance and Irish government!? Well, it comes from the Irish name of MacOireachtaigh who were believed to have been advisors to the ancient kings. They were a select few and were looked up to and trusted for their good counsel.
Sooo..... still not helping.
But then, I kept looking and found that Oireachtas somehow or another has come to mean a gathering- maybe of the best and the brightest whether in politics or Irish dance, but a gathering all the same.
In Irish dance in North America, every year about this time, there is a great deal of anticipation and excitement as dancers start getting ready for their regional Oireachtas- a regional gathering of top dancers from each school in that region.
In the United States, Mexico, and Canada combined, there are seven regions. Each region has its own Oireachtas. The regions are: Western Canada, Eastern Canada, Western U.S., Southern Region (U.S.and all of Mexico), Mid-Atlantic U.S., Mid-America U.S., and New England U.S. Wow! See? North America is huge!
Click here for a link to a great map that shows you what region you're in.
The requirements vary a little bit as to the regions, so let me tell you the basics first. As far as solo dance competitions go, preliminary and open champions are qualified to compete. That would be my standard reply. Preliminary or open champion dancer?? Well then, you "should" be there.
Some schools make this a little more difficult, wanting only the very best to go by having further stipulations such as competing as if you're a preliminary champion you must place in the top half of your feis solo competitions.
TCRG's (certified Irish dance teachers)have more leeway with U8 and U9 dancers having them go sometimes even if they are a novice or prizewinner dancer for the experience of competing at this level. This, I found was pretty across the board in all seven regions.
However, it seems, from what I've been learning in all my searching and asking, that the Mid-America and Mid-Atlantic regions are the most strict in their requirements for who can compete in solos at Oireachtas. The MidAmerica Region has the rule that U14 and older dancers must place in the top half of their competitions in preliminary champion or be an open champion dancer- this being a possible guideline set forth by a TCRG as a personal or school requirement is a regional requirement in Mid-America. The Mid-Atlantic region will allow you to compete in solos if you've gotten a first in open prizewinner competitions in both a hard shoe and soft shoe dance.
In the other regions, the TCRGs can decide to send any dancer who they feel would benefit from going. Most often this judgment on their part is reserved for a dancer who is not yet a champion dancer, but is a strong prizewinner competitor. I have seen this several times at the Southern Region Oireachtas.
There are plusses and minuses to prizewinners competing at this high level of competition. Yes, they gain experience, and can even, as an underdog, do quite well, but there is also the risk of them feeling overwhelmed and overly upset or stressed when they don't recall. This is something that only the parents and TCRGs can make the best decision about. So long as they go in with a healthy attitude, I think it can be a good thing and a great way to see where that dancers dancing can take them with further practice and competitions.
When all else fails, and you still have questions, ask the director of your or your child's Irish dance school. No matter what level the child is, the TCRG still makes the ultimate decision as to whether or not they should register and compete at your region's Oireachtas.
Good luck to all of the fabulously hard-working Irish dancers who are going to their region's Oireachtas! You should feel proud to be going because in being chosen by your TCRG to compete, it shows that you are enjoying the sport of Irish dance and working to be your very best at it!
Here is a link that has some information on the workings of an Oireachtas:
Dates and places for this year's 2011 North American Oireachtasai`:
Western Canadian Regional Oireachtas ~ Edmonton, Alberta ~ November 4th-6th
Eastern Canadian Regional Oireachtas ~ Ottawa, Ontario ~ November 11th-13th
New England Oireachtas ~ Providence, Rhode Island ~ November 18th-20th
Western U.S. Oireachtas ~ Anaheim, California ~ November 18th-20th
Mid-American Region Oireactas ~ Rosemont, Illinois ~ November 25th-27th
Mid-Atlantic Oireachtas ~ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ~ November 25th-27th
Southern Region Oireachtas ~ Orlando, Florida ~ December 2nd-4th
Have a great Oireachtas!! Enjoy yourself and make sure to stick around for the awards ceremonies to cheer on your Irish dance school and your Irish dancing friends!
A Fabulous video on YouTube from last year's 2010 Mid-Atlantic Oireachtas Parade of Champions