There are 5 levels in Irish dance: beginner, advanced beginner, novice, prizewinner, preliminary championship and open championship. The dancers are grouped by level and their age as of January first.
In beginner, the children dance 2 steps, 2 or 3 dancers at a time. The dancers can compete in 3 dances: reel, slip jig and light jig, all soft shoe dances. They normally wear a black skirt and a white blouse or school dress. For dancers at this level to move up to advanced beginner they must achieve placing first in each of their dances.
In advanced beginner, the competitor can compete up to 5 dances: reel, slip jig, light jig, treble jig, and hornpipe the first 3 dances being soft shoe dances, and the last two being hard shoes. They wear the same outfit as in beginner and dance 2 steps, 2 or 3 competitors at a time. For a competitor to move to novice they must attain a first in each dance.
In novice dancers can dance the same dances as in advanced beginner and compete in the same fashion 2 steps, 2 or three at a time. The dancers at this level are now eligible to wear solo dress which are unique dresses that are one of a kind. To move up to prizewinner dancers must get a first in each of their dances.
In prizewinner competitors dance reel, slip jig, treble jig, hornpipe. They no longer dance light jig. They can continue to wear their solo dresses and dance 2 steps, 2 or 3 at a time. To move up a dancer must win a first place in either of their soft shoe dances AND either of their hard shoe dances.
In preliminary championship, many things change. Dancers now dance 2 dances, a hard shoe and a soft shoe. For soft shoe they either dance reel or slip jig and for a hard shoe they dance treble jig or hornpipe. They dance three steps in reel and treble jig and two and a half steps in slip jig and hornpipe. Dancers can wear solo dresses and dance 2 at a time for the older dancers and 3 at a time for younger dancers. Also at this level the dances are judged overall based on their 2 dances. At this level, there are three judges versus previous levels there is one judge. To move up a dancer must win 3 first places on 3 different occasions.
In open championship, dancers dance the same dances as they did in preliminary champ in the same fashion and then dance a contemporary set alone. They can wear a solo dress and have now achieved the highest level.