Brady Campbell Handbook
PARENT PRIMER ON IRISH DANCE
Irish step dancing is a niche activity. When Riverdance hit the world stage in 1995, it brought to public attention an aspect of Irish culture that previously had been largely confined to St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, cultural events and dance competitions. Since then, the popularity of Irish dance has skyrocketed. For those who are new to the world of Irish Dance, this brief introduction may help. In Irish dancing, a step is a sequence of foot movements, leg movements and leaps, choreographed to fit a certain musical cadence through 8 bars of music for the “right foot” and is repeated through 8 more bars of music for the “left foot” of the step.
Steps are choreographed for the various Irish music tempos: reel, light jig, slip jig, treble jig and hornpipe. There are many steps of each dance, varying in level of difficulty. Steps are created by the instructors of an Irish dance school, and are unique to that particular school (with the exception of the traditional set dances and the treble reel finishing step).
There are two kinds of dance shoes for Irish step dancing – soft shoes and hard shoes. (Learn more about shoes on this page – Reels, light jigs and slip jigs are performed in soft shoe. Treble jigs and hornpipes are the first hard shoe dances taught, first at traditional (fast) speed and later at a slower speed, which allows for more complicated footwork.
Experienced dancers will also learn treble reels and set dances, both performed in hard shoes.
Dancers at Brady Campbell begin by learning solo dance steps, which are dances that can be performed independently. Figure and Ceili dances are performed in teams comprised of a set number of dancers, and are usually named by the number of dancers in the group (i.e. 4-Hand reel).
An Irish dancer’s basic skills include (but are not limited to):
- Good timing (meaning the dance movements match the rhythm of the music).
- Pointed toes with arched feet.
- Legs crossed (so that it looks like one knee is hiding behind the other) and legs turned out (so that when the legs are crossed, the heels splay out with toes toward the midline).
- Upright upper body carriage with arms straight at the dancer’s sides, chin level, eyes forward, head evenly balanced atop relaxed neck, with shoulders open (down and back).
- Graceful and energetic movement, including high elevation on the toes and snappy legs that kick the dancer’s bum when feet move from behind to in front or vice versa.
- Well-executed jumps that incorporate all of the above principles, and an overall sense of “lift” throughout a dance.
- Confident and pleasant affect. (Dance is a performance art…please SMILE!)
Some Irish dance enthusiasts choose to dance in competition, which can be a great way to stay motivated while striving to master steps. A feis (pronounced FESH) is a sanctioned Irish dance competition offering dance events for multiple skill levels, each further divided by age groups.
Oireachtas (pronounced O-ROCK-TUS) is a regional championship competition, where solo championship events are divided by age group only, and many figure team championship events are also offered. Find additional information about competitions later in this handbook, and much more within the feis info section of the website –
Whether a dancer chooses to compete, perform, or dance recreationally, we’re very glad that you’ve chosen to be a part of Brady Campbell! Welcome to the FUN of Irish dance!
GENERAL OVERVIEW OF LESSON PROGRAM
Most students enter the Brady Campbell Irish Dance School lesson program by enrolling in an entry-level class at the beginning of the school year. Students with previous Irish dance experience may interview for possible transfer into our program.
Class levels are defined by a dancer’s ability to perform the requisite skills appropriate to that level, NOT by a dancer’s number of years of experience. In May of each year, students are given a recommended class placement for the following year. Pat and Rebecca give a lot of thought to these recommendations. Their goal is to place each student in a class that offers sufficient training for a solid foundation in Irish dance.
Students may sometimes be asked to repeat a level in order to better support their dance training. Classes progress at slightly different paces each year, and new steps are added to the lesson program on a regular basis. Therefore, even if a dancer is repeating a level, the material taught in class will not necessarily be the same.
(Note: Conferences with teachers are very difficult to do “on the fly” due to the fact that the Brady Campbell studio space is limited and classes are scheduled back-to-back. To arrange a meeting with an instructor, please either call or email the teacher to establish a convenient day and time.)
For students who compete, class placement is determined by a dancer’s current appropriate competition level. Brady Campbell students may transfer into competition level classes midyear, if deemed appropriate by the teacher.
The pace of each student’s progress through the lessons program varies. Some students advance more quickly than others. Usually this is because of a combination of diligent attendance and attention in class; effective independent practice outside of class; participation in summer camps; and participation in as many as possible of the extra classes provided throughout the year.
Students are welcome to attend “extra classes”. By this we mean if you are a Monday or Saturday student one can attend Wednesday class and vice versa at no extra charge. Please consult with the instructors to see which class time would best fit if you decide to attend an extra class.
Independent practice is recommended for every student who is interested in competing, and is required of all advanced level students.
Private lessons are sometimes recommended for students who need extra work to be able to achieve a certain step or skill, or to break down the critical aspects of certain drills and skills. Priority for private lessons is given to those dancers who practice independently and will therefore be able to maximize the productivity of their private lesson time. Time and studio space are limited; partnering with another dancer for a semi-private lesson is encouraged, when appropriate.
Private lessons are scheduled independently through an instructor. Fees for lessons from Pat & Rebecca are to be discussed with Pat and/or Rebecca before the lesson is scheduled.
Here is the breakdown of the different levels of classes:
- Beginner 1: For students new to Irish dance, or students who are repeating a Beginner class to build a better foundation for their training.
- Beginner 2/Advanced Beginner: Students have participated in at least one year of a Beginner level class, and are working to master the basic technique, rhythm, and timing of Beginner level reels and light jigs.
- Beginner 2/Novice: Students have demonstrated clear understanding and execution of hop-1-2-3’s, 7’s & 3’s, and the basic rhythm & timing of beginner level reels and light jigs. Students will learn reels, light jigs and slip jigs while focusing on the techniques of crossing, turnout, and posture. When the students master two slip jig steps, then they will begin learning basic hard shoe skills and the traditional speed treble jigs and hornpipes.
- Novice/Prizewinner: Competition Class Students have demonstrated clear understanding and execution of skills comparable to Prizewinner Grade competition. Students must demonstrate dedicated interest and energy in class, and be ready to learn and perform advanced level Irish dancing. Students will learn advanced level dances and techniques, such as toe-toes, drums, snaps and tip-downs, to name a few.
- Champ Program: Students in the Champ program are actively competing in Preliminary Champion or Open Champion competitions. Practice outside of class is mandatory, and a high overall fitness level is required of each dancer.
Inclement Weather/Emergencies: If the weather is questionable, please check the school website and check your email. We will follow the public school closings, i.e. Mondays and Tuesdays- if Cleveland public schools are closed on the day you have class, dance will also be cancelled; Wednesdays – if Avon/Avon Lake schools are closed we are also closed.
Absence: If you miss a class, you may attend another class at the same level (or a level below), with advanced permission. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to schedule a make-up class.
Some students enjoy the opportunity to compete, and some students prefer to focus their efforts on other aspects of Irish dance. Choosing to compete is a personal decision; Brady Campbell supports and respects each dancer’s various interests.
All Brady Campbell students who compete are asked to discuss with Pat and Rebecca what their expectations are. They may ask for extra practice time or private lessons. Pat and Rebecca will deal with each student separately.
For Brady Campbell families who are new to Irish dance…. The Irish word ‘feis’ (pronounced “FESH”) means festival, but is more commonly used to describe a sanctioned Irish dance competition. Dancers who compete must be students in good standing of a TCRG (certified instructor). With instructor’s consent, these students are eligible to compete in feiseanna (plural of feis, pronounced “FESH-nah”).
Tips for Competitors
Beginner Grade Dancer has not yet taken a full year of Irish dance lessons, and must move to Advanced Beginner events as of the next feis year (usually begins in January).
Advanced Beginner Grade Dancer does not qualify as a Beginner, or any subsequent levels. A Brady Campbell student is expected to remain in Advanced Beginner category for as long as he/she is eligible unless otherwise told by his/her teacher. An Advanced Beginner who wins 1st, 2nd or 3rd place can advance to the Novice category in that particular dance the next calendar year, yet finally approval to move up will need to be given by Pat or Rebecca.
Novice Grade Dancer has moved beyond the Beginner skills and is ready to perform more difficult steps in competition. For hard shoe dances (treble jig and hornpipe), Novice competitors are offered a choice of music tempo: “slow”, also known as Oireachtas speed, or “fast”, also known as traditional speed. (Beginner and Advanced Beginner hard shoe tempo is always traditional speed.) A Novice who wins a first place will advance to the Prizewinner category in that particular dance and once again, approval need be obtain from Pat and/or Rebecca before you can move up.
Prizewinner Grade Dancer does not qualify as a Beginner, Advanced Beginner or as a Novice. A dancer remains at Prizewinner Grade until qualified for Preliminary Championship according to official NAFC rules and his/her dance teacher’s GRADE LEVEL COMPETITIONS guidelines.
Solo dance competitors in the Grade levels will perform 2 steps of each event entered. Each dance is a separate event:
- reel (soft shoes)
- light jig (soft shoes; this dance is not typically offered above Novice Grade)
- slip jig (soft shoes)
- treble jig (hard shoes)
- hornpipe (hard shoes)
(Note: A hop jig event, also called single jig, may be offered, but the Brady Campbell School does not teach steps for this dance, so Brady Campbell students should never enter those events.)
Some feiseanna offer other special competitions such as treble reel or set dance, however, those events do not count toward competition level progression.
Grade level competitions require one adjudicator per event. Prizes are awarded in proportion to the number of entries and to the degree of proficiency shown.
A competition group must have at least five competitors in order for a dancer’s placement to count toward eligibility for advancement.
In accordance with NAFC rules, this event is open to a competitor who has placed 1st in both a soft shoe and hard shoe competition at the Prizewinner level. A Brady Campbell student is expected to place 1st in EACH Prizewinner dance (Reel, Slip Jig, Treble Jig and Hornpipe) before being eligible for prelim.
Dancer must win two firsts in Preliminary Championship (with five or more competitors) to be eligible to compete in Open Championship.
Open Champion In accordance with NAFC rules, a dancer must compete in Preliminary Championship in order to qualify for Open Championship, and must qualify via the method currently in place (i.e. two 1st place wins).
Open Champions must perform a set dance; if the event requires three rounds then they will also perform either treble jig or hornpipe. Championship competitors will perform a minimum of two rounds of competition: one soft shoe round and one hard shoe round. Instead of the 2 steps performed for each dance at Grade levels, Championship competitors will perform either 3 reel steps or 2.5 slip jig steps for the soft shoe round (boys/men must perform reel for this round); and either 3 treble jig steps or 2.5 hornpipe steps, and/or a set dance for the hard shoe round.
Championship events require at least three adjudicators. Scoring is based on the Irish Point System. Prizes are awarded in proportion to the number of entries and to the degree of proficiency shown.
Competition age groups are determined by the birth year of a dancer, regardless of the month the dancer was born. Irish dance competitions use the calendar year (Jan-Dec), not the school year.
Therefore, the age a dancer was on January 1 of this year is her/his competition age for all of this year.
Judging is somewhat subjective, and competition results will vary. Remember that there are two or three dancers competing onstage simultaneously. Part of a judge’s subjectivity is because he/she must split their attention between all dancers AND try to write comments. Dancers (and their parents!) are advised to keep their competitive drive in check. Please note that ANY derogatory comment about judges or other dancers is embarrassing to the school and completely unacceptable. Participating in Irish dance competitions offers many benefits, and some benefits are more tangible than others. Keep it fun. Even the most skilled dancer is not going to compete well if he or she is not having fun.
Dancers are asked to report all competition results by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. An easy way to do this is simply to forward the emailed results received from a feis. This way Pat can keep track of what each dancer needs to work based on comments and results. Please remember to send results after every feis!
Dancers need to check with Pat and Rebecca before advancing to the next competition level. (Note: If a dancer wins first in a Novice event, be sure to check with Pat and Rebecca right away as dancers are typically permitted to move that dance up to Prizewinner at the next feis.)
Preliminary Champion and Open Champion dancers are asked to report by email which feis they have attended, the age group of the competition, their placement and the number of competitors in the group. Additionally, champ dancers are asked to bring their scores and comments sheets to class to share with Pat and Rebecca.
For information about competition costumes, please refer to Costume and Rules page.
TIPS FOR EFFECTIVE INDEPENDENT PRACTICE
Independent practice is a chance to take what you’ve learned in class, and to figure it out. It feels different to dance on your own than it does in class. This is an opportunity to apply the lessons you’ve learned in class, rather than just following instructions with a group.
Brady Campbell recommends that all dancers, regardless of current level, work to establish effective independent practice habits. For dancers who aim to dance at a championship level, effective independent practice outside of class is mandatory.
As a general rule of thumb, there are four parts to a good independent practice:
1. Warm up and stretch well.
2. Choose a set of skills to focus on for this practice session and DRILL the details by focusing on doing the skills correctly, not by doing unfocused repetitions.
3. Apply the drills to the specific sequences in your steps.
4. Cool down and stretch well.
This basic structure allows for a huge range of options. Keep a personal “Practice Journal” so that you can log your sessions and your progress. Bring your journal to class, and have a page for recording comments that you receive from teachers about skills that need some extra work. These notes will help guide your subsequent independent practices.
A common question about independent practice is “How much?” Quality of practice is as important as quantity of practice. There is certainly not a set formula for quantity, but in general, champion dancers should be practicing a minimum of 1-2 hours per day, 4-5 days per week in order to maintain skills.
Champions working to advance their skills and those training for an upcoming competition will practice more than that independently, in addition to classes or private lessons.
Learning how to have a focused and productive independent practice is an important skill to develop.
Younger dancers may need some guidance from their parents, but should be encouraged to work towards being able to lead their own practices. If more direction is needed, consider scheduling a private lesson to ask your teacher for specific suggestions to apply during independent practices.
Attend as many Extra Classes as possible for feedback on your progress, and consider videotaping your practices to critique yourself and to get feedback from your teachers.
Studio time is available for independent practice – ask how if this is new to you by sending an email to email@example.com.
Small group practice sessions are an opportunity for dancers to encourage each other, to increase stamina by feeding off of each other’s energy, and to share peer feedback.
Make wise decisions regarding the quality and quantity of your dance practices to avoid injuries.
Additionally, complementary activities such as Pilates or yoga are recommended to supplement Irish dance training.
The healthy habit of independent practice is not only a great way to improve your dancing skills, it also develops self-discipline and personal initiative. Continue to nurture your passion, Brady Campbell dancers, and use your time outside of dance class wisely!
A note about music… If you do not yet have appropriate music for your dance practice at home, a good first purchase is “Music for Irish Dancing” by Chris and Michelle McLoughlin, which is available from iTunes. If you are purchasing only certain tunes from that album, new dancers should start with music for the soft shoe dances: Reels, Light Jigs, and Slip Jigs. Dancers practicing in hard shoes will need music for Treble Jigs and Hornpipes. (Note: The first hard shoe steps are traditional speed.)
There are several other very good albums for practice music. If you need suggestions, please ask. Most Irish dance shoe vendors also sell a wide variety of practice CDs. You can also purchase music from Casey’s Irish Imports in Rocky River.
CHAMP PROGRAM / CHAMPIONSHIPS
The move from Prizewinner Grade competitions to Preliminary Championships, and from a N/PW class to a Champ class, is significant. A high overall fitness level is required of each dancer.
Brady Campbell will recommend certain stretching and exercises to dancers to support Irish dance training and to help counteract potential repetitive motion effects. However, every dancer’s body is different. Champion level Irish dancers are top-level athletes, and it is important for each dancer to be aware of her/his own body’s strengths and weaknesses. Consultations with and routine visits to medical professionals are highly recommended.
There are several championship events in which Brady Campbell School dancers participate. The Mid America Region Oireachtas (pronounced “O-ROCK-tus”) is a regional championship.
In the Brady Campbell School, Open Champion and Preliminary Champion dancers are usually eligible to compete in solo championships at Oireachtas, if they participate in the mandatory Oireachtas Summer Camp.
Brady Campbell may also allow Prizewinner Grade dancers who have earned consistent placements (including at least one first place win in each of the dances that will be performed in their age group that year) to compete at the Oireachtas, if teacher discretion determines that the dancer has a high likelihood of obtaining a recall to the final round.
Team entries may include dancers who are not yet competing in solos at championship level, but have demonstrated very good technique, good dynamics with their team, and outstanding work ethic in class and practices. In order for a dancer to be considered for this opportunity, he or she must be willing to dedicate significant time and effort to the team’s objectives.
Whether participating in solo championships, teams, or both, dancers (and their parents) should carefully consider how to balance a commitment to a championship event with all other time commitments, namely academics, other sports or extra-curricular activities. (Additionally, family finances need to be considered, as these events are a significant financial commitment.)
Oireachtas is a qualifying event for other “majors”. Majors are championship events with entry restricted to dancers who have qualified for Open Champion level, and/or who have qualified from a prior championship event. Three common majors in which Brady Campbell dancers participate are the North American Irish Dance Championships (NAIDC, aka “Nationals”), the All Ireland Irish Dance Championships (Oireachtas Rince na Eireann), and the World Irish Dance Championships (Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne).
There are also three NAFC Championships (sponsored by the North American Feis Commission): the Senior Belt (for ages 17 & over), the Junior Trophy (for ages 13-17), and the Minor Trophy (for Under 13).
The date and venue of each of these championships rotate annually and is printed on the syllabus of each NAFC feis. Dancers are eligible to compete in the appropriate age category if they have won 1st place in an Open Championship competition at a sanctioned NAFC feis within one calendar year of the Belt/Trophy Championship.
TYPES OF DANCES:
Reel – a lively dance performed in soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm with an even 1-2-3-4 count; musical cadence is either 4/4 or 2/4 time, tempo is approximately 113 on a metronome
Light Jig – a bouncy dance performed in soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm that can be counted aloud as ONE-2-THREE or 1-2-3-FOUR; musical cadence is 6/8 time, tempo is approximately 113 on a metronome
Slip Jig – a graceful, flowing dance performed in soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm that can be tricky to count until familiar, ONE-2-THREE-4-FIVE-6; musical cadence is 9/8 time, tempo is approximately 113 on a metronome
Treble Jig – an energetic dance performed in hard shoes, characterized by a 1-2-THREE-1-2-THREE rhythm; musical cadence is 6/8 time, tempo is approximately 92 on a metronome for “fast speed” (aka “traditional speed”) dances, and approximately 73 on a metronome for “slow speed” dances
Hornpipe – a catchy, rhythmic dance performed in hard shoes, characterized by a 1-TWO-1-TWO rhythm; musical cadence is either 2/4 or 4/4 time, tempo is approximately 138 on a metronome for “fast speed” (aka “traditional speed”) dances, and approximately 113 on a metronome for “slow speed” dances
Treble Reel – performed in hard shoes, and just as with soft shoes, characterized by a rhythm with an even 1-2-3-4 count, but with seemingly “reely” fast feet!
Set Dance – a dance performed in hard shoes and choreographed for a specific piece of traditional music (either treble jig or hornpipe tempo); a traditional set is a specific dance sequence performed at a specific speed to a specific piece of traditional music; a non-traditional set (also called contemporary set) is original choreography developed by a TCRG and performed at an optional speed to a specific piece of traditional music
Solo Dances (aka solos) – choreography that can be performed individually
Figure Dances/Ceili (aka figures) – choreography that is performed in teams
TERMS FREQUENTLY USED FOR DANCE SKILLS AND TECHNIQUES:
Cross – refers to a dancer’s legs being crossed in such a way that it looks like one knee is hiding behind the other (Note: the term “cross” is almost always used in conjunction with “turnout”)
Turnout – refers to a dancer’s legs being rotated in such a way that, when legs are crossed, heels are pushed out across the midline and toes face toward midline; IMPORTANT: proper turnout comes from the hips, not from the feet – a dancer’s toes and knees should be facing the same direction
Point – a basic Irish dance movement of pointing the foot in front with proper technique (hop on back foot, legs crossed and feet turned out, pointed front foot gently brushes the floor in a staccato movement); “a point” refers to the shape the foot when it shows a proper arch, with heel clearly visible to the inside, top of the foot turned to the outside, toes long and tight
Hop 1-2-3’s – a basic Irish dance movement whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer steps moving forward “right, left, right, hop (on right foot), left, right, left, hop (on left foot), right, left, right” etc…
7’s & 3’s – a series of basic Irish dance moves whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer steps laterally “right, left, right, left…” for seven counts, then “right back-2-3, left back-2-3” and repeats (to the rhythm of the music) through a right foot and left foot section
Switch – a basic Irish dance movement whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer jumps straight up (in place, not traveling) and switches which foot is in front with which foot is in back.
Over – the basic Irish dance movement of leaping from one foot into the air with one leg extended, other leg tucked underneath, then landing on the opposite foot from that which took off; over-the-bridge refers to an overperformed in reel tempo, also sometimes called “over-2-3”
Treble/Rally – the basic Irish dance movement whereby, with legs crossed and feet turned out, a dancer brushes the floor using the tip of their hard shoe outward and then inward in such a way that it makes two distinct sounds; other Irish dance schools may use the terms “treble” or “rally” to refer to the same movement (note that each term is two syllables, representative of the two sounds)
Click – the basic Irish dance movement of one foot passing by the other foot in such a way that the heels of the hard shoes hit each other and make a clicking sound; clicks may also be done in soft shoe, but the heels don’t actually touch
NOTE: There are MANY other Irish dance terms commonly used, but this brief list is intended to give those new to Irish dance a jumpstart. Soon we will be posting a video of the First Steps. This video is intended to supplement or support steps they have already learned in class. As always, if you have any additional questions please ask!
TERMS RELATED TO IRISH DANCE COMPETITIONS:
Feis – (pronounced “FESH”) an Irish word that means festival, but is more commonly used to describe a sanctioned Irish dance competition
Feiseanna – plural of feis, pronounced “FESH-nah”
Oireachtas – (pronounced “O-ROCK-tus”) an Irish word that means gathering, but within the context of Irish dance generally refers to the Regional Championships
Majors – championship events with entry restricted to dancers who have qualified for Open Champion level, and/or who have qualified from a prior championship event
North American Irish Dancing Championships (NAIDC) – one of the majors; sometimes referred to as
“Nationals” or ”North American Nationals” (NANs), which is a conundrum since North America is a continent, not a nation
Brady Campbell School Dress – the official competition costume for dancers representing the Brady Campbell Irish Dance School
Turtleneck Leotard and Trinity Knot Skirt or Jumper – slightly less formal dress than the School Dress, often worn by the Beginner and Advanced Beginner Grade levels of competition; a good option for dancers who are new to competing, or young Advanced Beginners who are growing quickly. Jumpers are in limited supply. The turtleneck and skirt are the preferred beginner costume.
Solo Dress – a unique costume (and quite an expensive one) worn for champion level solo dance competitions; please read the guidelines regarding Brady Campbell dancers and solo dresses on the Costume and Rules page.
Abbreviations used for different Competition Levels
Beg – Beginner Grade competition level
Adv Beg (AB) – Advanced Beginner Grade competition level
AB/N – Advanced Beginner Grade and/or Novice Grade competition level
Nov (N) – Novice Grade competition level
N/PW – Novice Grade and/or Prizewinner Grade competition level
PW – Prizewinner Grade competition level
Prelim – Preliminary Championship competition level
Open – Open Championship competition level
ACRONYMS FOR ORGANIZATIONS AND CERTIFICATIONS:
CLRG – An Coimisiun le Rinci Gaelacha – the Irish Dancing Commission based in Dublin
TMRF – a teaching certificate awarded by CLRG to candidates who have shown a competence in teaching ceili dances as described in Ar Rince Foirne (the official guide to ceili dances)
TCRG – a teaching certificate awarded by CLRG to candidates who have shown a competence in teaching the ceili dances as described in Ar Rince Foirne and have also shown a competence in teaching solo dancers
ADCRG – a certificate awarded by CLRG to candidates who already hold TCRG certification and have shown a competence in adjudicating (judging) at official competitions
IDTANA – Irish Dance Teachers Association of North America
NAFC – North American Feis Commission
CCE – Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (bonus points if you can pronounce it: “KUHL-tus kul-tahri air-in”) –international organization of traditional Irish music enthusiasts; there is a feis in Maryland sponsored by the local branch of CCE (O’Neill Malcolm Branch), typically held the Sunday of Memorial Day, called the Comhaltas Irish Dance Festival (in Irish Gaelic, if a consonant is followed by “h” then that consonant is usually silent; thus the correct pronunciation of “Comhaltas” is “KUHL-tus”)