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What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #1—Strong Steps

Ariel Bennett, ADCRG, is a teacher and judge who has been Irish dancing for 30 years.

When dancers learn new steps, they often want to compete with them right away. New steps are exciting to learn, and they’re usually more difficult than older material. A lot of dancers believe that newer, harder steps will earn more points from the judges.

However, that’s not necessarily true. Steps themselves don’t win medals; the way you dance your steps wins medals. Judges want to see certain things from your steps when you compete:

Screen shot 2013-09-04 at 1.01.16 PM1 – Strong execution

The judges want to see you do your steps correctly all the way through. If you forget your steps, get your feet mixed up, hesitate in the middle, or make an obvious mistake, you will place below dancers who did their steps cleanly. You want to choose steps for competition that you can do correctly under pressure.

2 – Perfect timing

Getting off the music is one of the quickest ways to lose points. If you’re having trouble getting your newer steps on the music right now, choose an older step that you know you can dance on the beat.

3 – Skillful movements

Yes, it’s fun to learn new moves, and it’s important to master difficult techniques. But if your rocks, hop out downs, double back downs, etc look sloppy at the moment, you will lose points on them. For competition, it’s better to do moves that you can perform with style and grace.

4 – Confidence

If you do your steps correctly but look nervous or uncomfortable, you won’t place the way you want to. You need to choose steps for competition that make you feel–and look–fabulous.

Basically, a dancer doing easier steps well will place higher than a dancer doing harder steps poorly. So, when you’re deciding which steps to do for a feis, be honest with yourself and pick your strongest material.

At home, though, you should practice your newer, harder steps and moves until they’re perfect. The videos on Diddlyi in the Goals section under “Work on My Technique” are great resources for helping you improve those tricky new movements.

As soon as your new steps are as good as your old steps, you should compete with them. If two dancers have equally good execution, timing, and confidence, the dancer doing more difficult steps will place higher. So keep practicing every day! Your new steps will be ready to compete with before you know it.

Stay tuned for What Do Irish Dance Judges Look For? #2 from Ariel coming soon!


Photo credit: Barbara Cech

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  1. Hello! I just wanted to say that i just went to my feis and i got 1st place for all four of my dances.I was not really expecting it but i was surprised.My point is that i suppose that i was on time and i smiled because my parents were there.Also i think i did great because i was very nervous but i didnt show it and i was very stiff.I just want to say thanks and bye!!!!! :):):):)

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