‘When I arrived I didn't have any English and kept asking myself what am I doing here?’
New to the Parish: Christian Dirocie arrived from the Dominican Republic in 2014
Christian Emmanuel Dirocie: “I didn’t get the ‘in’ jokes with my friends; that made me learn English quicker.” Photograph: Cathy Coughlan/Human Collective
When Christian Emmanuel Dirocie was 15 years old his baby sister suffered a heart attack. A few months later his one-year-old sibling, his mother and his Irish stepfather left their home in the Dominican Republic and travelled to Dublin so that baby Madel could receive the hospital care she needed. The trip was supposed to be temporary so Dirocie and his two brothers stayed behind in the city of Santo Domingo.
“I didn’t really understand what was going on at the time and I became scared when she was rushed to hospital,” recalls Dirocie. “She needed a special machine that would do the work of the heart during surgery. My mum’s husband was Irish so it made sense to travel to Ireland.
“We knew Mum was going for a good reason and I have an older brother so we were in good hands. It felt fine in the beginning but after while I missed them.”
Shortly after his mother left for Europe, Dirocie discovered a new passion for break dancing. Each day on his way to basketball practice he would pass a group of teenagers who danced to hip-hop music in the park across the road from his house. He began trying to recreate their moves and eventually his older brother asked the dancers if they would teach Dirocie.
“I’d never ‘danced’ before but it’s Latin America so we all know how to dance. That group showed me the foundations and from there I started dancing. I also got my little brother into dancing and we went to a few competitions.”
“At the beginning it was just about how cool it was. That image you see in the movies of dancing with your crew, that’s all real. But then you discover your body can do all these crazy things that you didn’t even know about and it becomes about the feeling.
“Now it’s evolved even more. It’s not even about the moves anymore, just about the feeling. When you’re learning you’re worried about actually dancing. But dancing should come naturally, you don’t need to worry. That movement is inside you, it was really interesting discovering that.”
Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Dirocie’s mother and her Irish partner had decided to stay in Ireland after baby Madel recovered from her surgery. In April 2014, Dirocie and his two brothers left the Dominican Republic and flew to Ireland where they moved into the family home in Waterford.
“I didn’t really have a choice, we had to come. I was excited to see something different but at the same time I didn’t want to leave my life behind. The first thing was my mum wanted my sister to be with her brothers and the second reason was we would have a better future learning English here and get some sort of qualification in college.”
His stepfather had already begun researching break dancing groups – or B Boys as Dirocie describes them – before the boys arrived in Ireland. “Hip hop is worldwide so it doesn’t really matter where you are, you’re gonna find dancers and they’ll find you.” Dirocie found these dancers at a local dance school and they, in turn, introduced him to the hip hop scene in Dublin where he met street dancers from around the world.
Dirocie spent more than a year studying at Tramore Further Education and Training Centre while travelling to and from Dublin for dance events. The young dancer did not speak a word of English on arrival but was determined to learn the language as quickly as possible.
“English is very confusing because one word can mean so many things,” says Dirocie who now speaks the language with complete ease. “It was hard to learn the differences between each word, it was a challenge. I didn’t get the ‘in’ jokes with my friends; that made me learn English quicker.”
Eager to pursue his dancing and take part in more events, Dirocie found a job in retail in Dublin and moved into an apartment in Cabra.
Dirocie is now part of a dance company called Human Collective which will be performing at this year’s Dublin Fringe Festival. After more than four years in the country, he feels settled in Ireland but still misses family and friends from home in the Dominican Republic.
“When I went back last year I realised that the friends I have there are real friends. Some people are with you because they think they’re gonna get something from you but back there I have that realness. And then there’s my granny. We weren’t very close when I lived there but I would see her a lot. Now that I’m here you never know what’s going to happen so I like visiting her.”
Dirocie’s sister has made a strong recovery and lives with her parents in Waterford. “After the surgery she started moving a lot more and properly looking around. She still cannot fully talk but she walks and she runs. She does all the things she wouldn’t have been able to do.”
Dirocie still lives in Dublin and works in Footlocker to pay the bills. However, every minute of his spare time is spent dancing with his co-members of Human Collective who also happen to be his housemates.
“I suppose I’d describe myself as an artist. I like the opportunities that dancing brings and the dance scene here is getting bigger and bigger with more people getting involved. Every show brings a bigger challenge. The Fringe is our biggest platform to date and a lot of work has gone into it.
“At the beginning when I arrived I didn’t know any English and I kept asking myself what am I doing here? But I was never going to go back and quit, I wanted to give it a go and see where life takes me. It’s been more than four years here now, I’m still here and things are looking brighter and brighter.”