- Photos from the Hartford Feis 2009: Click here
Liz Saunders and Mary Lynch, chairwoman and secretary of the Hartford Feis in Conneticut, are anxious weather-watchers. Last week’s weather was patchy, and the forecast for next week shows thundershowers and rain later.
Luckily during the Hartford Feis this past Sunday, it was a beauty, warm and bright.
Hartford Feis is an outdoor competition, a type of feis that’s becoming increasingly rare in the U.S. It has its home in a field belonging to the Irish American Home Society in Glastonbury, CT.
The Feis program says “Sunday June 7, 2009 (rain or shine),” and the organizers like to say that if they are ever really worried about the weather, no one would ever dance – but still, they’d prefer sun.
In the past, most feiseanna took place outside, but this type of event is becoming less and less common. “When I started dancing there weren’t so many feises and they were mostly outdoors,” says Liz, a friendly woman with reddish, shoulder-length hair.
But people like being out in the sun. “I’ve had a lot of questions on the phone, asking, ‘Is this an outdoors feis?’” Mary adds. “I think it’s an attraction.”
Outdoor feiseanna have a different atmosphere to indoor ones, Liz explains, because people are more relaxed; indoor feiseanna can be more rigid. The outdoor feiseanna have disappeared in part because competitions are growing quickly and it’s hard to find a field big enough to hold them.
The dancers’ costumes are more costly these days too, ranging from $500 to $2,000, so parents are understandably hesitant about exposing them to the elements.
For all these reasons, the outdoor feis is a “dying breed,” says another Hartford local, Sheila Dupuis.
People certainly seem chilled out at Hartford. Families and friends pitch tents and there’s plenty of space for vendors’ stalls, and for younger kids to run around.
Wendall Turpin has a daughter who’s competing at the feis, and he’s comfortably ensconced in a shady tent with his family in a corner of the field. “I like outdoor feises. I can finally sit down and relax outside. It’s less crowded,” he says.
Other feis dads help him set up the tent, he says, and it’s a social event.
On the other hand, the warmth of the day can make it tough for dancers, whose sequinned dresses have long sleeves and are buttoned up to the neck.
“It’s a little hot,” smiles 16-year-old Tara Lenehan, a dancer at the Spirited Soles Dance School. “And there are bugs.”
At outdoor feiseanna, organizers need to put extra care into preparing, so that floors are not slippery with heat and won’t get wet if it rains.
Tim Moriarty is the president of the Irish-American Society in the area. A carpenter by trade, he plays a big part in setting up the feis’s outdoor floors and electric systems.
“It’s got to be as close to perfect as possible so it’s fair for the dancers,” he says, adding, “The best thing is seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. That’s what it’s all about.”