Last weekend introduced a new style of feis to the New England and Eastern Canadian regions – the Bracken School “Blackout Feis”. When I first heard about this concept, my (admittedly old-school) reaction was that this is great! This is finally a way for dancers and parents to enjoy a feis for what it should be about – simply the dancing. But with everything else that goes into feising these days, is a blackout feis that simple anymore?
What is a blackout feis, you ask? Let’s get into it…
A “blackout feis” is one where the aim is to focus only on the dancing, with no bling on dresses, headbands, shoes, or anything. All dancers are to wear black leotards, skirts, and tights (for girls), or black pants and shirts (for boys). In short: there is nothing flashy to set you apart from the other dancers other than your exceptional dance ability! At a time when it sometimes feels as though dancers will go to any length to catch the judge’s attention, this seems like a more “pure” or traditional way to have a dance competition.
As a dancer, I’ve had experience dancing in both a solo dress, and the “black on black” outfit (our performing troupe wears something very similar to these feis guidelines). And there is certainly much less stress involved in wearing the simpler outfit. Though they are definitely lighter than traditional solo dresses, modern solo dresses are still quite a bit heavier than the leotards – and much more restrictive! Being able to pack a small and more comfortable outfit for a feis would definitely be much less stressful for both dancers and their parents.
But that said, feising is often not that simple anymore.
When I would compete, the whole morning process of putting my wig and makeup on, and getting all “dolled up”, was part of stepping into character psychologically, and how I really got into the right competitive mindset. So much goes into preparing to be on stage at every competition level, and knowing that you don’t have anything to visually distinguish you from your competitors may end up having a negative effect on dancers’ confidence. Because, as much as we’d like to think it shouldn’t make a difference, having a new dress that you feel amazing in, will help you stand up straighter and dance with a little more ‘pep in your step’.
Even more than that, with how evolved competitive dancing has become (so much bling! Tape of all colours!), it is harder than it seems to revert your dancing gear to fit the blackout guidelines. Once you’ve acquired the right bodysuit and skirt, you then have to deal with white laces being changed out of softshoes, and buckles being taken off of hardshoes. All easy enough to do, but any shoes with built in white tops also have to be fully covered in black tape. All of a sudden this simple feis is taking just as much time to prepare for as a regular feis!
It can be argued though, that if you’re going to prepare for a full feis day, there isn’t much difference between putting on a solo dress and white tape, and putting on a bodysuit and black tape. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the white laces and tape and over-blinged accessories, but that’s a conversation for another day. There is one other aspect to this blackout feis style that you possibly haven’t even thought of.
As a judge, you have a very small window of time to notice each dancer and their steps – on the grades level stage, two reel steps is only a matter of seconds before the next dancer starts! This means that in order to remember each dancer, you often have to rely on notes about dress colours or other distinguishing factors. When all of the dancers are wearing black and the only difference is height, dance style, or hair colour, that makes the job of judging even more difficult! That’s not to say that the results are inaccurate or incorrect – our judges are very experienced, and well trained in what they do (and not something I envy!). But with the best of intentions to give each dancer their due comments and placements, judging a row of visually similar dancers would take a challenging job and make it even harder.
Overall, the idea of a blackout feis is something fun, and turns a ‘typical’ feis experience on its head a little. I am admittedly old-school in my dancing ideas sometimes; I often wish that we weren’t in a place where the shortest skirt, the whitest tape and the most blinged out name brand dress makes a difference in who wins. So I really enjoy this style of feis in theory. However, whether we like it or not, competitive Irish dancing has evolved so far from a traditional feis experience that it is a challenge to go back to it.
Maybe the Blackout Feis is a refreshing experience that we all need to try more often, and remind ourselves that it’s still about the dancing, and less about the flashy dresses. But there are so many things that go along with the modern feis experience (sports psychology, confidence, and stage presence) that maybe a little bling is not so bad after all?
What are your thoughts about this type of feis? Let me know in the comments below!
~the Happy Dancer