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Learning Resources

The following information helps provide a general overview of Irish dance. You can also download an Irish Dance Overview packet containing most of the information below.

About Irish Dance

Sport. Art. Tradition.

Irish dance refers to a group of traditional dance forms that originate in Ireland, encompassing dancing both solo and in groups, and dancing for social, competitive, and performance purposes.


Irish dancing 'technique' refers to how Irish dancers move, with a focus on technical elements: timing, rhythm, lift, volume, crossing, turn out, toes, extension, posture, and stage presence.


The core of Irish Dance contains both soft shoe dances (the reel, the light-jig, and the slip-jig) as well as hard shoe dances which are percussive (the hornpipe, the treble-jig, and the traditional set dances).


Irish dance is both a competitive and non-competitive sport

Compete & Perform

Feis and other opportunities to dance

Dance Competitions

There are many competitions all around the world, including Ireland. The World Irish Dance Championships (known as Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne in Irish) is an annual Irish step dancing competition. Often simply called The Worlds, this competition is highly regarded as the premier event for step dancers, and only the very best dancers in each category qualify to compete.

Feis & Feisanna

Feis, pronounced "fesh". Plural is feisanna, pronounced "fesh-an-na". A Feis is a chance for a dancer to compete against other dancers in their age group and level. It builds their confidence, gives them a chance to showcase what they have learned and is a lot of fun.

There are six competitor levels:

  • Beginner

  • Advanced Beginner

  • Novice

  • Prizewinner

  • Preliminary

  • Champion

Dancers are judged on a variety of different elements including:

  • Technique (including foot placement and turn out)

  • Style Rhythm Grace Choreography Shoes sounds (when wearing hard shoes)

  • Carriage (posture)

Hester Academy Performance

Hester Academy of Irish Dance does not require dancers to compete. Outside of competition there are other opportunities for a student to dance publicly, many of which fall on and around St. Patrick's Day. This includes parades and dance demonstrations at various venues (restaurants, nursing homes, etc.). 

About FeisWeb

Official Irish dance competitions

There are local Feisanna throughout the USA and globally. Additionally, most Irish dance schools sponsor a Feis. Hester Academy hosts Hester Feis annually. There are many Feisanna to choose from.


To look up Feisanna and register, you will use FeisWeb. FeisWeb provides a list of upcoming Feis that and when the registration/entry is due (there is always a cut off date). To register a dancer for a Feis, you will first sign up for a Feisweb account and add your dancer(s). You can then select any Feis and register for your dancer to compete in the appropriate dance(s) and level. There are typically registration fees. As the Feis approaches, you will print your dancer’s number card for competition off of Feisweb.


In addition to FeisWeb, Love 2 Feis lists all North American Feisanna for the year.B

Irish Dance Levels

From Beginner to Champion


A dancer is in their first year of competing who has not taken Irish Dancing lessons from a registered teacher prior to September 1st of the previous year Dancer must move into Advanced Beginner the following year.

Advanced Beginner

A dancer is in their second year of competing If a dancer wins a 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in each dance they will advance to the Novice category in that particular dance the next year


A dancer who has previously won a 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in Advanced Beginner A novice who wins a 1st place will advance to the Prizewinner category in that particular dance


A dancer who has previously won a 1st in Novice in a particular dance A dancer must place 1st in one light shoe dance; Reel or Slip jig (girls only) one hard shoe dance; Treble Jig or Hornpipe and consistently place 1st, 2nd or 3rd in other dances in Prizewinner to qualify for Preliminary Championship The Prize Winner level can also be referred to as “Open Grade”


Preliminary Champion (Preliminary)

A dancer advances to Preliminary Championship after he/she has won 1st place in both a prizewinner light and hard shoe competition, and consistently placed 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in all other dances Preliminary dancers who win 3 first places in a calendar year, must move to Open Championship the following calendar year When a third 1st place win is achieved over several calendar years, the dancer must move to Open Championship the following weekend


Open Champion (Champion)

A dancer moves to Open Championship after winning three 1st places in Preliminary Championship This is the highest level in competitive Irish dancing


Soft shoes and hard shoes

Irish Dance traditionally encompasses two shoe styles: soft shoe and hard shoe (also called light shoe and heavy shoe). Each style is complementary, yet unique.


At Hester Academy, students start off learning soft shoe style dances. As a student progresses in their dancing and begins to learn their hard shoe dances, they advance to hard shoes. Earning hard shoes is often very exciting for dancers.


Hester Academy does not endorse any specific brand of shoe, but you can search used inventory at the studio, order soft and hard shoes from or other similar websites, and/or make purchases from vendors at competitions.

Solo Dresses & Vests

No two solo dresses or vests are the same

Similar to hard shoes, solo dresses for girls and vests for boys are earned once a dancer reaches a certain level. Solo dresses are works of art. They are beautiful and expensive. Dressmakers painstakingly make each dress by hand and no two dresses are the same. Many parents opt for second-hand solo dresses until their dancer is done growing.


As a rule, solo dresses are only for those dancers who are Novice level and up.


The search for a solo dress is exciting but if you are considering buying a solo dress, please review the information regarding Dresses & Vests under Studio Information and Guidelines.

Dress & Hair

Outfit/hair requirements for feis and performances

For feis and performances, dancers have different dress and hair requirements at each level:

  • Beginner and Advanced Beginner:

    • Girls - Black costume (black bodysuit, black skirt, purple sash) and dance socks. Hair should be either a bun wig with front bump or straight hair with front bump.

    • Boys - Black dress pants, suspenders, black top, purple tie, and black knee-high socks. Hair should be presentable.

  • Novice and up:

    • Girls - Properly fitting solo dress if owned. If you do not have a solo dress, black costume and dance socks. Hair should be in either bun wig with front bump, full wig if approved, or straight hair with front bump.

    • Boys - Vest if you have one or purple tie, black dress pants, black top, and black knee-high socks. Hair should be presentable.

Please note:

  • As a rule, black tights are required for dancers 14+.

  • As a rule, no makeup is permitted for dancers under the age of 10.

  • As a rule, solo dresses are only for those dancers who are Novice level and up.

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