Learn to Riverdance in two weeks? No sweat

Actually, buckets of sweat, blistered feet and countless falls, as soon becomes apparent when our reporter spends a fortnight trying to dance like Michael Flatley

Sorcha Pollak has 2 weeks to transform herself into a Riverdance dancer ...can she do it? Video: Darragh Bambrick / Daniel O'Connor

Fri, Jun 20, 2014, 01:00

Sweating and cursing, I slump to the floor and stare longingly at my handbag, which I know contains a bottle of ice-cold water and a bar of chocolate. The blisters on my feet are aching, but I know I have to dig deep and summon the energy to pick myself up and start again. As I struggle to my feet, Bill Whelan’s familiar music blares through the speakers. I lift my head, stand tall, and for what feels like the 100th time, begin dancing.

When asked if I’d be interested in learning the steps for Riverdance, I agreed without question. I’m not a dancer. As a child I used to traipse to the school hall once a week to learn my h-aon, dó, trís with the rest of my runner-wearing classmates. None of us was destined for dancing fame, but from the enthusiastic girls in the front of the class to the grumpy boys shuffling at the back, we all jumped around and stretched our limbs.

Years of primary-school dancing lessons may not have sent me straight to the stage, but it did instil rhythm. During my teen years I developed these skills by dancing the familiar Ballaí Luimní in school halls in the west, desperate to impress those strapping young Irish College lads.

That I’m not a dancer becomes quite apparent from the moment I meet Pádraic Moyles, associate director and principle dancer of Riverdance and my trainer for this experiment. He is exactly how I imagine a professional dancer to be: he’s fit, lean and moves in a way my body refuses to imitate.

As a small boy, Moyles would watch and take part in the set-dancing sessions his parents held in the family home every Friday. When he was nine his family moved from Dublin to New York, where he began dancing with the teacher Donny Golden.

“I didn’t like dancing at all,” he says. “It was getting in the way of football and basketball and all those American sports that I was starting to get into.”

However, at 17 he skipped school to travel to Boston for an audition with a new Irish dancing show. Within a few months he was finished high school, and in November 1997 he began dancing with Riverdance.

“In one sense it’s an addiction for me now,” he says. “I absolutely love it and there is nothing like feeling the applause and the appreciation of a crowd at the end of the night.”

 

Twenty years later

Riverdance is celebrating its 20th anniversary since it was first performed as the interval act at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. Two decades later the show has been seen by more than 25 million people in 46 countries across the globe.

I have often wondered what dancing in front of an international audience would feel like. As I turn up for my first class, my enthusiasm to learn masks my panic.

I imagine my new teacher is expecting a dancer more like the attractive colleagues who accompany him on stage, dancing the steps with make-up and hair perfectly intact. Sadly that’s not how I look as I grapple with the ridiculously high-speed choreography. Each step is demonstrated with mesmerising speed and dexterity. I, on the other hand, trip and sweat my way through each afternoon.

However, despite the countless falls and inability to pick up seemingly simple steps, I emerge from each rehearsal invigorated. Dancing has the ability to clear your mind of all worries and fears. It requires that you focus 100 per cent on the movement of your body, leaving no time to stress over picking up the shopping or meeting a deadline.

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