HOW TO BE AN IRISH DANCE CHAMPION
So you want to be a champion? No sweat! Well, that's not true. Practice, practice, practice, and that will lead to a lot of sweating! To get into champions, you need not only the requisite number of wins (your dance teacher will confirm exactly what you need to move from Prizewinner/Open Solos to Preliminary Championship), you need to be prepared to shed blood, sweat and tears! Off-stage, of course. On-stage, you need the "look." Check out our Supplies page to set you up!

On a more serious note, how to become a champion dancer is a favorite topic of Irish dancers. Now mind you, I am not a teacher, just a Stage Mom, but I been involved in ID for 10 years with three schools, and have attended over 125 feiseanna, five Nationals, six Regionals and one Worlds. Also, I have one daughter who was destined for open champions from the beginning (firsts at her first feis) and another daughter who has had to overcome many physical and health issues to keep dancing, so I have seen all kinds of dancers. Therefore, I have a few thoughts on the matter.

Producing champions is a combination of the teacher and dancer. Granted, some teachers will produce more champions in general, but there are some teachers that will make a better dancer out of you! Trust your teacher. Many dancers (and their parents) have the expectation that every feis will yield a first or that every dancer is going to make it into open championship. Unfortunately, the reality is, every dancer has good years and not-so-good years, and while most dancers (especially those who start young enough) can attain preliminary championship level, open champs is much harder. Always focus on the next feis, the next Oireachtas. You can accomplish a lot more in 3 months than in 3 days (about how long before a feis many dancers start to gear up!).

First, be patient and attend a lot of feiseanna. It takes time to win firsts.

Second, teams teams teams! Push for teams! If your school doesn't offer them, you may want to consider another school that does. Excellent team dancing improves overall Irish dancing, builds school spirit and gives the teacher an opportunity to look at all her students at once, not just individuals--this is especially important if you are not one of the "gifted" dancers and fear your teacher doesn't give you enough attention. 

Third, practice your steps and keep in shape. Take good care of your body, for you need it to be a champion! See our Exercise and Techniques pages for details.


Attend lessons at least two times a week. And the lessons should be a couple hours at least to build up your stamina. At lessons, your teacher should be pushing you. While no-one likes to be yelled at, the alternative is a teacher that thinks you're lovely even if you're not standing on your toes or jumping high enough. Generally (I tell my kids) if you're not being yelled at, you're not dancing well enough to warrant the teacher's attention.

Likewise, however, your teacher should be motivating you. This is much harder to do, and some lucky dancers don't even need this, but it should be there. If not (no teacher is perfect), then take it upon yourself! 

  • Practice mentally.
  • Envision yourself winning.
  • Make sure you're the most gracious winner (and loser) there ever was!

Dance steps are important, too. There is great debate over styles of steps and what is better, but for you, what is most important is your execution of them! Even dancers with traditional simpler steps can do well if they are executed perfectly. If you worry that your steps aren't the most spectacular (and believe me, the grass is always greener on the other side when it comes to steps), then focus on technique. Do you cross your feet in front and in back? How flawless are your up-and-outs? How high can you kick your legs? How high can you jump? What is your posture like? At feiseanna, watch other dancers' steps. You will be surprised! It is the dancer that makes the steps look good, for a sloppy dancer can ruin even the nicest choreography.

Set goals for yourself, from big and general ones like "I want to get a recall at the Oireachtas" to specific ones like "I want my new reel to be ready for that feis next month." Then, set out a strategy for achieving the goal. Who gets a recall at the Regionals? Any preliminary dancers? How do you dance compared to them at competitions? How many hours of practice will it take for your new reel to be ready? Twenty? How much time per day does that break down into? See where I'm going here? I'll spell it out if you don't.

Say you have a new hornpipe to learn for a feis in 5 weeks. Start by asking yourself "How much time (in hours) will it take for me to dance the hornpipe the way I want to?" Okay, say it's 15 hours, to pick some random number. Then ask yourself "After the 15 hours, how many times will I need to dance the hornpipe straight through to polish it?" Okay, say it's 20 times.

Now, you have 5 weeks, so plan on practicing the step the first 3 weeks, and polishing it in the last 2. That's 5 hours a week (to use my made-up time) for three weeks of practicing the hornpipe, or, 5 days a week practicing for one hour (over and above dance lessons). Then, the last 2 weeks you need to dance the hornpipe straight through 20 times. That's 2 times 5 days a week, say when you start a practice session and when you end a practice session.

This really breaks down what you need to do and puts it in manageable chunks. So, instead of feeling overwhelmed, you start to realize that you will be able to learn those new steps (and by the time you need to know them!), but that it will just take time.

Build up school spirit! Even without teams, this can be a huge inspiration and motivating factor. Encourage dancers from your school to sit together and cheer each other on at feiseanna. You will dance better if you have more than your parents (who often don't even know your steps!) watching and rooting for you. Get school t-shirts and sweatshirts, and wear them to dance lessons and feiseanna. Have dance-friend sleepovers, parties, exchange gifts at Christmas and birthdays. School spirit cannot be emphasized enough! 

If you are in your teens, become an "older dancer." Get involved with the younger ones at the lower levels. Do you remember how much you looked up to teenagers when you were 7 or 8? Well, it's your turn now! Work with them extra at classes, watch them do their steps and give them pointers. Be sure to seek them out at competitions and be specific (and kind) in critiquing them afterwards. Bring candy at Halloween and small gifts at Christmas. In return, you will be watched by these younger dancers, and, with a constant audience, you will definitely dance better. Also, by watching them and reviewing basics, your own basic skills will improve. It's hard to tell others to cross their feet and then not do it yourself.

Good luck and keep on feisin'!!!

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