Sacramento, California
19 January 2019

In 1957, the North American Feis Commission (NAFC) Championships were conceived as a way – outside of the normal feis circuit – to acknowledge the year’s exceptional dance talent. Over 70 years later, the competition is stronger than ever, recognizing the top dancers across age brackets and offering strong dancers the opportunity to compete together in a unique environment. The selection process for the championships is elite – only Open Championship dancers who have placed first in a NAFC sanctioned feis in the prior year are eligible to compete. Separated into three divisions, Under 13 (Minor), 13 to Under 17 (Junior), and 17 & Over (Senior), only one place is awarded: the Champion, who receives a $1000 scholarship, a crystal vase, and has the honor of being the caretaker of the perpetual belt for the year. The event has become known as the NAFC Belt Championships. Both girls & boys compete together in these multi-age groups and, while there are no second, third… place awards, each participant commemorative patch, a group photo, and the judges’ comments. The top 6 dancers in each age bracket are called to the front of the stage, recognizing their exceptional performance. Looking back through past winners, the NAFC BELT competitions provide a Who’s Who in the North American Irish Dance World. This year’s competition was no exception, drawing talent from across the continent. Some may question why to even compete at an event where they know they have no shot at winning. In the words of one competitor’s mom, “Your dancer is good; the top at all the comps. You come here and see many good dancers, all of whom excel technically. You are watching and then you notice there are the two or three who just fly across the stage, and it’s a new realization of what is achievable.” It is this cut above that singled out this year’s 2019 Belt winners.

Minor belt competitors and judges

Lavin Cassidy’s Ashton Baumann quenched the Minor Belt title with his amazing performance earning an UNANIMOUS victory. Two-time world champion (U12 in 2018 & U11 in 2017) Ashton was most recently featured in the September 2018 issue of IDM. This is an exciting category as many competitors are not yet familiar with these younger dancers, who most often become household celebrities in Irish Dance households in the years to follow.

The Junior Belt Champion could rival the top performers of all time – across the genres – with her amazing stage performance. Maya Coyne, IDM’ August 2018 dancer of the month, never ceases to amaze.

Watching the Senior Belt competition, spectators were on edge as to who would win. It turned out that the judges shared their dilemma, naming not one but two Senior Belt Champions: Orla Mullane Godley, from Mullane Godley Irish Dance Academy in Chicago, and Makenzie Mahler, from Blakey Irish Dance in Calgary, Canada. "This event is always exciting but this year was one of our best competitions, in the 62 years since it started there has only been one tie before in the Senior Belt- in 1991," organizer Pat Watkins confided. So as not to belittle either’s amazing performance, the NAFC Belt Committee generously award each girl the full $1000 scholarship amount.

IDM was delighted and proud that all three older champions have appeared on IDM’s cover over the years, and anticipate seeing much more of Ashton in the future as well. These four dancers are once that you won’t want to miss watching if you will be in Greensboro for the World Championships this April.

It is this cut above that singled out this year’s 2019 Belt winners.

The ceili were the last competitions of the day. Only in its second year, these competitions are slowing gaining popularity. For ceili competitions, these are unique in that the teams can perform their choice of a 4-hand, 6-hand or 8-hand dance. This year’s victors were the Cleary teams, in both the Peter Smith Senior Ceili Competition and Peter Smith Junior Ceili Competition, and the MacConmara 4-Hand in the U13 Minor competition.

Senior Ceili Champions

Are other dancers encouraged to attend the NAFC Championships? Yes! There are many specials available to any open champion dancer. And, for those who have not yet achieved this top echelon, the championships are held each year in conjunction with a different January feis across the country. So, watch for news, sign up for the feis and arrive a day early to experience this amazing talent. This year’s venue was Sacramento, California, allowing out-of-towners the opportunity to add a visit to San Francisco, the California wine country, or Lake Tahoe. We anxiously anticipate hearing about next year’s locale.

In addition to the Belt Championships, the committee also sponsors annual Music competitions, helping to provide scholarship and recognition to those upcoming musicians who help make each feiseanna spectacular.

 

See the February-March 2019 issue of IDM for additional photos from the event. 

 

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Nova Scotia, Canada
3-4 August 2019

In addition to being famous for its high tides, lobster, fish, blueberries, and apples, Nova Scotia, Canada also has a vibrant Irish Dancing community. In August 2019, Nova Scotia schools banded together to host the first ever double feis weekend in the Maritimes! Diaga Irish Dance, Siamsa Rince Gaelach Irish Dance Studio and Tir na nÓg Irish Dance Academy hosted day one, The Fundy Feis. On day two, The Greene School of Irish Dance took over with Feis Nova Scotia. In addition, The Green School organized very important grade exams for dancers seeking to be recognized for proficiency in their dancing level and knowledge.

Championship winners received stained-glass Schooners on day two. The feis weekend drew on the culture and treasures of the Novia Scotia’s area. Participants were immersed in Nova Scotia’s rich Irish music scene, with music provided by local musicians Shannon Quinn, Meaghan MacNeil, and Jeremy Finney. Dancers adored the handcrafted keepsakes for Open Championship awards which were beautiful Nova Scotian Crystal Dory Boats on Day one of the feis and stained-glass Schooners on Day two.

Being a new endeavor, the organizers were excited to embark on a revolutionary experiment. The adjudicators test ran the iFeis digital scoring system on iPads. The test was a huge success and it is likely more feiseanna will be utilizing this tabulation method in the future.

Overall, the back to back feis weekend was a huge success. For those looking for a vibrant feis weekend in 2020, start planning your trip to Canada now 1999.00 per person with 2 people sharing (airfare additional)

 

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