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Leading the dance: 'Growing up competing I learned the drive to keep going'

For Riverdance lead Lauren Smyth, facing down rejection became key to forging the life she had always dreamed of, she explains in the latest instalment of the Activia InSync series

 

When Belfast born Lauren Smyth was just eight years of age she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. While watching the Eurovision Song Contest she was wowed by Riverdance and from then on it was her goal to become a dancer in the show. Now, at the age of 29, she’s seven years in Riverdance and in a leading role for five of them.

I meet her in Dublin just two days before she heads off on a 10-week tour of China. She’s excited to be hitting the road and while we sit and chat her feet are dancing under the table, without her realising. She says she has always been like this and dances at every opportunity. 

“When I was younger and my mother would take me shopping I ended up dancing up the aisles of shops,” she laughs. 

Photograph: Declan Devlin

Smyth started dancing when she was four years of age and took to it immediately. She comes from a family with a strong line of traditional musicians and dancers; her mother a dancer, her grandfather a musician and her aunts singers. She’s the eldest of seven and all bar one are Irish dancers. Her brother Connor has also followed the professional route and is a dancer in Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance.

Lauren competed from a young age and won the Northern Ireland Championships nine times and the Ulster Championships five times. You might think with such credentials she would have had an easy road to Riverdance but her success was marred by a few setbacks. 

Just before she finished school she sent a video to Riverdance in the hope of getting cast. Disappointingly, a rejection letter came saying she wasn’t up to standard.

“At the time I was a bit disheartened. But I just had to stand back and work out what other steps I’d take to get there,” she says.

Photograph: Declan Devlin

She went to study sports science in the University of Ulster but saw it as a filler while she considered her next move. 

After studying for just one year she got a place in a smaller Irish dancing show called Rhythm of the Dance. She toured with them for three years and built her experience and confidence. She admits that she was a bit naive about what was required to be successful in the dancing world, and her time with Rhythm of the Dance proved invaluable in cutting her teeth in the industry.

Behind the Hero shoot

In 2009 she applied again to Riverdance and got no response. But she doggedly kept pushing until eventually she was invited for an audition. It went well and she got to join the show straight away. After two years dancing in the back line she got promoted to a lead dancer; her childhood ambition fulfilled.

Smyth isn’t sure where she gets her strong sense of determination. “It’s just one of those things that are inside of me. Growing up competing I learned to have the drive to keep going until I achieved what I wanted,” she says.

The life of an Irish dancer is very different to what it was 20 years ago, and dancers are now required to have a very high level of fitness. Lauren chats wishfully about the old days when she just had to “turn up and dance” and there was “less background stuff”. Her training regime includes CrossFit and weight training and she says this has really helped her dancing. 

Lauren Smyth and Deirdre Mullins. Photograph: Declan Devlin

While she loves her job, life in Riverdance is not without its challenges. In 2016 she spent ten months of the year on tour in Europe, America and China. Last Christmas was her fifth one spent in China. At times she gets lonely and misses home.

“When I’m on a long five or six-month tour it can be hard to stay in a good mental place,” she says. “I can get tired but I just have to pick myself up and remind myself why I’m here.”

There are about 30 dancers in the troupe, with three male and three female leads on a rotation.  Each week Smyth does two or three shows as a lead and the rest in the back line. The troop is like her second family and she says that they keep her grounded and happy while touring. But it’s the buzz of performing in a show that she loves so dearly that keeps her there year after year.

It’s when Smyth is on stage dancing that she feels most ‘InSync’ with herself, she says.

“There are moments when the music is playing and I know I’m performing really well. It feels like time stops and I look out into the audience and I realise where I am,” she says.

This year she will celebrate her 30th birthday and her 10th year of touring. She’s one of the oldest in the troupe but there is no sign of her slowing down.  

Yes, it can be tough on the road. But everything is about timing and at the moment I just want to make the most of my dancing,” she says.

Smyth looks back at those rejection letters with gratitude and sees them as great learning experiences.

“Thankfully it’s the difficult times in life when you grow the most and come out stronger at the end,” she says.

When things aren’t going the way you want them to she advises us to take a step back and analyse what makes us happy and do more of that.

“I’m a big believer in the law of attraction. When you are doing something you love and you are positive about it, that energy can only come back to you,” she laughs before adding “it just might take a while.”


LIVE INSYNC: A MESSAGE THAT'S CIRCLING THE GLOBE

The Live InSync project is an international media campaign launched by Danone Activia and running in many countries around the world. Danone Activia believes that when women feel truly “InSync” they can be at their best, unlocking their full potential. Being “InSync” is the moment when you are in the zone and free of distractions. It is the moment when women feel a sense of harmony, order, and control, they say.

Deirdre MullinsUsing the life experience of real women, the series is attempting to capture the essence of what it means to reach equilibrium in your life, one that defines personal success for you. It’s not about material success but rather the sense of achievement and balance that comes from living life to the full – but on your own terms.

In Ireland, writer and presenter Deirdre Mullins is on a journey around the country meeting inspirational women from all walks of life who somehow embody a sense of what it means to Live InSync. Many of these may confess to not knowing the answer themselves but have been selected for the inspiration they offer to other women. We will follow Deirdre’s journey over the next five months.

More stories at www.activia.com