Ready to Move Down in the World

My last few dance classes have been great. I can feel myself getting better and it’s a wonderful feeling. While there’s still room for improvement (especially in hard shoe), I’m happy with the progress I’m making and I’m looking forward to drilling some of my weak areas between now and the start of our summer session. The last couple classes I’ve been getting praise from the teacher and even used as an example of how to perform some moves and an example of continued improvement. And last night was a major step: permission to move down in the world!

By move down, of course, I mean dropping down! I got the affirmative to go ahead and drop down for the feis this September and to start taking a new class. Dropping down is the Irish dance term (at least in CLRG circles) for moving out of the Adult category of competitions into the &over age categories. But what does this mean?

Adult &Over
Must be over 18 and out of regular competitions for at least 5 years. An Adult Beginner cannot have taken Irish dance lessons before they turned 18. No restrictions on current age, time in competition, or age of first lessons.
Only one age level, named “Adult”. Competitions are split level by age, with &Over being the highest age category. Typically between 13&Over and 15&Over in grades, and 17&Over to 21&Over in championships.
Only Beginner, Novice, and Prizewinner levels (“grades”). No championships. All levels are included: Beginner 1, Beginner 2, Novice, Prizewinner, Preliminary Champion, and Open Champion. Grades and Championships are run quite differently.
Can dance either traditional or slow hard shoe speeds starting in Novice. Can dance either traditional or slow hard shoe speeds starting in Novice.
Although there are exceptions, generally competitors are friendly and not cut throat. Higher standard of dancing at each level and generally quite competitive.
Women are required to wear black tights…I guess to cover old lady legs? Girls/women may compete in either black tights or poodle socks.
May wear solo costumes according to school policy. May wear solo costumes according to school policy.
Depending on the feis, there may be no Adult trophy specials or there may be several, including specials that are “champion-style”, which mimic Championship competitions. One or two trophy specials per feis for both grades and championships. Grade specials are almost never “champion-style”.
Numbers vary wildly. Some feiseanna may have 7 to 10 competitors per competition, others may only have 1 competitor. Beginner 1 and 2 &Over competition numbers are usually small and may not reach the required 5. There are rarely less than 5 competitors in Novice and Prizewinner. Many times ages are combined to produce the required 5, so there is a much larger change of having enough people.
A competitor in the Adult category typically takes special Adult classes at their school. These may move at a slower pace in both activity and learning steps, involve additional instruction such as ceili dancing instead of only solo dancing, and are usually filled with like-aged friends who can relate to problems and situations unique to adults. Some schools may include simpler steps in their adult classes, and there is usually more room for socializing and less expectations on stamina, high lifts, and butt kicks. Classes are divided by level and older folks will be lumped in with younger kids, particularly at Novice and Prizewinner levels where the next oldest person may only be 10 or 12 years old. These classes are stricter on performing at high levels of stamina, getting all your kicks up high, and limiting socialization during class. Some schools, like mine, are very accepting and the kids don’t mind your presence at all, but in other schools they may take a while to warm up to you.
Limited participation in Major competitions. Typically this involves a traditional set competition and/or Adult ceili. There are no Adult competitions at the World Championships. No limit on competing at Majors. Solo, ceili, and/or traditional set competitions exist for all age levels with participation either earned by teacher permission or placings at qualifying events, depending on the Major.

These are just a few points of comparison based on my personal experience. If any adult dancers are reading this who are considering starting competitions or dropping down, here are a few of my thoughts on the decision.

  1. You should definitely try out at least one competition. Not everyone enjoys competing, and that’s totally fine! But I absolutely love it and would hate for anyone to miss out on it because they are nervous or think there is no place in feiseanna for adults. If you’d like to try it, go for it! You can always start at the Adult level and drop down when ready, even if it’s only after 1 feis as an Adult.
  2. If you are attending a school that is not supportive of your goals as an adult dancer, be those to dance just for exercise, perform, compete, or work your way into Champion levels, consider transferring. While CLRG is still rather discriminatory towards adults, many schools are very adult friendly and depending on where you are located you may be able to find a school more in line with your personal goals. You should have the opportunity to dance in performances, wear a blingy solo dress, compete in feiseanna or at Majors, wear a wig, show off your old lady legs in socks, or just get a good workout a couple times a week if you want!
  3. I never Irish danced until age 28. I found starting off in Adult classes and Adult competitions was a good way to learn the dances, figure out my abilities, and get started in competing in a lower stress environment. Once I knew I wanted to perform at the highest level I could possibly achieve and not be confined by the Adult competition limits, I decided to drop down with teacher permission. Some adults stay in Adult competitions for their entire dancing careers, and there’s no shame in that!
  4. If you’re considering whether to start off in the regular age grades or Adults, or if you’re thinking about dropping down, make sure you talk to your TC. Requirements vary between schools. You may have to achieve certain placements and levels in Adult competitions first, and/or you may need to switch out of your Adult class and dance with the kiddos, which means leaving behind your friends not only during competitions but also not seeing them regularly at the school.
  5. The main driving forces behind my decision to drop down were:
    1. The opportunity to work my way into Champion levels and attend Majors
    2. The wildly varying number of Adult competitors from year to year, between different levels, and at different feiseanna, while in &Overs there will rarely be heartburn while waiting for the numbers to reach 5

Overall, dropping down is a huge decision and one not to take lightly, as reverting back to Adult competition means taking a 5 year break from competing. However, I’m really excited about this opportunity and am really looking forward to the feis in September, even if it’s pretty nerve wracking!

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