Irish dance competition returns to Sidney

Around 200 registered for the Salish Sea Feis at the Mary Winspear Centre.

A group of Irish dancers strike a pose. Sidney welcomes the return of competitive Irish dancing this month.

From its first year in 2002 at the Mary Winspear Centre and one of the first ever events there, the Irish dance competition is back come the end of this month, bringing over 200 registered dancers plus their families representing over 12 schools from all over the Pacific Northwest.

“It was the biggest event in Sidney next to (The Sparkles Parade),” said Salish Sea Feis Chair, Mairead O’Brien.

In 2008 O’Brien, who ran an Irish dancing school on the Island for 20 years, merged the operation with another woman, Terri Heckmann who ran O’Connor School, to form the O’Connor-O’Brien School of Irish Dance. They are now hosting the Salish Sea Feis (formerly known as the Victoria Feis, which was held in Sidney from 2002 to 2008).

The school, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015, has locations in Victoria, Duncan, Nanaimo, North Vancouver and Ladner. They have more than 100 dancers.

The Irish Dancing competition, which ran for ten years, saw over 700 dancers come out over its two day duration, and O’Brien said with the competition being an overnight stay, many of the businesses and hotels in Sidney became involved too. She said as many as 2,000 people came into Sidney for the events, bringing in business.

O’Brien said the reason it ended in 2008 was  because people were moving onto different things.

“We had done 10 of them and I think it was just a good time to stop,” said O’Brien.

A mother of three young children at the time, she said it took a lot out of her and those parents involved to run it.

Previous competitions were held in May. This year it’s a one-day competition on Saturday, Jan. 30, beginning at 8:30 a.m. When asked why O’Brien decided to bring it back this January, she said it’s because she felt kids travel off the Island all the time for competitions — a large expense for the parents.

“And when they travel they don’t get to bring the people that they want to have watch them. There’s no extended family, there’s no friends, so this time … they have the support of their families and their friends and everybody in the community and that’s what I wanted …”

In preparation for the upcoming performance, O’Brien has spoken with a few of the local businesses in Sidney, including the Travel Lodge, who will be the host hotel as in previous years. A few fast food restaurants, the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, the SBIA and many more have come on as event sponsors.

“We’ve got some support happening in the city.”

The event is open to the public with no charge for entry. Photography is not permitted. The Feis begins at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 30 with an opening prayer by members of the Coast Salish First Nation community. The event is expected to wrap up by around 4 p.m.