The late afternoon sun cast an ever-deepening shadow across the gymnasium floor below as the din of the Feis gradually subsided for the solitary figure lumbering up the bleacher steps. Abandoned by her daughter hours before, she was weighed down like a pack mule by all the standard trappings of a Feis: dress bag on her shoulder, shoe and wig bag clutched in her left hand, and the tell-tale bags of exhaustion under her eyes.
Her right hand grasped a scrap of paper of some significance, her eyes affixed on it struggling to discern some sacred meaning from the cryptic words and numbers written thereon.
The familiar voice startled her momentarily but she quickly recovered with a smile for an old friend, “Hey Fiona!”
“What sort of hieroglyphics are we trying to translate here?”
“Huh, oh these? They’re Bridget’s marks.”
“Great! How’d she do?”
With a visibly frustrated sigh she responded, “I don’t know! The judges didn’t write anything on her stickies!”
“Oh that’s a shame then, and Bridget dancing so well,” Fiona consoled.
“It is at that, Fiona,” she mused, adding, “You know everything, just how do you score with the judges?”
“Are you talking in the biblical sense?” quipped Fiona.
“No, you know what I mean,” she added chuckling, “But I must say that Beaton fella is rather fetching. In truth now, why don’t the judges write more than they do on our stickies?”
“Some try,” Fiona reflected.
Fiona was regarded by the other Feis moms as “The Source”. She seemed to have a deeper understanding of the mysteries and wonders of the Feis that most could only accept on faith. Other moms listened in quiet awe when she dispensed the wisdom of “The Rince Code”, as she called it.
“You need to look at the ‘forty-second drill’ from the adjudicator’s perspective.”
“The forty-second drill?
Forty Seconds. That’s about how long a Beginner Reel lasts,” Fiona continued almost hypnotically, “Seconds 1-10, there are three competitors on the stage finishing their dance and, as the adjudicator, you tally their points and try to scribble a quick comment for each while making sure to take one last glance to verify their competitor numbers. Meanwhile, you are in ‘dancer acquisition mode’ trying to figure out which of the new dancers is which on the score sheet (one is wearing a non-glare name tag despite the new rule; you make a mental note to talk to the stage manager). Was that a ‘3’ or a ‘5’? Needless to say this is a distracting time and you’re hoping one of the dancers will do something that will separate herself from the others, even if it’s just smiling. You try to appear attentive.”
“Seconds 10-35, the previous dancers have cleared the stage and you try to focus on the next three dancers, two of which appear to be dancing identical choreography because they’re from the same school and constantly glancing at each other’s feet. And, My God, will that one girl stop looking at the ceiling; I’m down here for crying out loud! You relax a bit and take a sip of coffee which has gone cold,” Fiona noticeably grimaced, “You continue to watch the dancers, ‘Solid presentation from dancer 114,’ you think to yourself, dancer 612 is a little off on timing in the second step.’ Dancer 841 (or was that 341) needs to improve her turn out and look down from the overhead lights occasionally. Don’t any dancers smile? There are still 15 more dancers in the group so you give dancer 114 a score of 84, 612 an 81, and dancer 841 a score of 78. You’ll be sorting out placements later, and you put a couple of plus or minus signs down next to each dancer which only you can translate.”
Marcie is mesmerized as Fiona continued with her litany.
Seconds 35-40, and whoosh! Time flies and the next three dancers are already pointing their toes and 114 (they are no longer faces, but numbers now) just danced past her finish step despite the musician’s obvious cue. A quick minus sign and you’ll try to remember to adjust the score in a bit, now which of the two new dancers is which?”
“All of this in forty seconds. With twelve dancers in a set, you go through this same routine four times in a period of just under three minutes. The average adult can only write 25-30 words a minute when fully concentrating on the paper in front of them. A lot less when having to glance up and down to check competitor numbers. And remember, you are watching the same dance over and over and over and over!”
“Nobody knows the treble they’ve seen!” Marcie concluded.
“Given all this, it’s rather amazing that there are only two documented cases of adjudicators standing up, screaming incoherently and poking their eyes out with their pencils!” Fiona concluded her tale with an obviously relished crescendo.
“That would explain the adjudicator with the seeing-eye dog at the last Feis then!” Marcie squealed.
“Indeed it does child, and there you have it.”
“Thanks Fiona! But I have one last question.”
“What’s that Marcie?”
“Bridget’s teacher said she needs better ‘stage presents’, do you know what kind of presents adjudicators like?”
“We’ll think of something before next Feis.”