On Sunday 22 Nov., RAHS sophomores Adeline Bader and Keir Hichens competed in Oireachtas (pronounced ore-ACK-tus), an annual Irish dance competition.
Both Hichens and Bader have been Irish dancers for five years, and are second time competitors at Oireachtas. Bader placed 72nd out of 108 female dancers her age level, and out of 14 boys in his age group, Hichens placed 11th.
“[There were] over 1,000 dancers coming from all over the western region of the USA,” said Bader, “all wanting to qualify for worlds and nationals.”
Competitors that place well at Oireachtas go to Nationals, where they compete with dancers from all around the nation. Those who are successful at Nationals go on to the world competition.
While this competition is stressful and a lot of work, there are many parts of it that Hichens enjoys.
“The best part is getting to know the dancers in your competition, especially for the boys,” said Hichens. “There are only 14 boys in my competition, so I am on a first name basis with all of them.”
Knowing one’s competitors is not uncommon for the older dancers. Many dancers have crossed paths before, and are excited to see each other again. For Hichens, this is just one aspect of what makes the competition a great experience.
“Oireachtas is a very unique experience,” said Hichens. “There are tons of vendors, and literally thousands of dancers, teachers, and families that come from all over the region.”
Oireachtas is an extremely large deal for Irish dancers because it is the only way to get to the worldwide competition. This encourages the dancers to put in a lot of work and time into preparing for the competition.
“I start preparing for Oireachtas starting around early summer,” said Bader, “but I start putting in [more] hours in the beginning of September.”
The build-up to Oireachtas is a long process–Bader and Hichen spend fifteen to twenty-five hours a week practicing before the competition with the help of Kelly Nagan their teacher.
“The dancers have to learn new and more complicated choreography,” said Kelly, “and also commit to increasing their practicing an hour a day.”
As well as the extra practice every day, the dancers attend organized activities with teachers and other dancers.
“I prepare for the Oireachtas by going to classes 3 times a week,” said Hichens, “as well as attending workshops in Portland almost every weekend from 2 months prior to the competition.”
Since Oireachtas can be stressful for her students, Kelly attends classes as well to help them prepare.
“My job there is to make sure I’m available to help the dancers practice if they want to,” said Kelly. “I also try to make sure I see them as much as possible and hopefully get there with enough time to give them some words of encouragement and reminders before they go out on stage.”
Kelly Nagan’s father, Mike Nagan, is treasurer (and former president) of Celtic Arts Northwest, a nonprofit that promotes Celtic tradition.
“It’s a pretty big production,” said Mike, “and for those who have been in Irish dance for a while, it is also an opportunity to see old friends.”
Mike attends the weekly classes to help the dancers get new clothing and shoes that they perform and compete in.
“[The outfits] are loosely based on [what Irish Dancers wore] traditionally,” said Mike. “Today the dresses have become much more elaborate but it is part of the pageantry.”
Dancers dress up for the judged competition because they need to look the part. Preparation can add pressure throughout the process of preparing for the competition.
“The worst part is probably the stress of competing on the big stage in front of five judges and hundreds of people,” said Hichens.
All of the work before Oireachtas is worth it to many dancers, due to their experience and how they feel afterwards.
“My favorite part is when I end a dance,” said Bader, “because I just have this feeling of relief as there is nothing I can do about [the] past and all that matters right now is the future.”