Morgan Bullock: ‘I watched Riverdance and never saw somebody who looked like me’

Virginia-born Irish dancer explains how posting TikTok video led to joining hit show

Morgan Bullock: ‘I never used to use the word ‘surreal’, but that’s the only way that I can describe it’

Morgan Bullock: ‘I never used to use the word ‘surreal’, but that’s the only way that I can describe it’

 

Morgan Bullock almost didn’t post the TikTok video that would change her life. “I just didn’t think it was that good,” she says. “I was making it for fun and I sent it to my mum and she was like, ‘You should post it.’” In the video shared in May last year, the Virginia-born Irish dancer performs to the Savage remix by Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé. Choreographing slick tap beats against the viral hip-hop track, it sent the internet into a frenzy. Despite the overwhelmingly positive response she received, the now 22-year-old’s online fame brought comments that as a black Irish dancer, she was guilty of “cultural appropriation”.

In response, Bullock tweeted a rebuttal that brought even more attention to the video – including an invitation to perform with Riverdance in her home state. But at the time she was unaware that her videos would also serve as an audition for her to become an official cast member. One morning before work, she received an email asking if she was interested in joining the 25th-anniversary tour of the show that ended prematurely in 2020 due to Covid. “I was of course like, ‘Yes, is that even a question?’” she laughs, speaking on Zoom during the UK tour. “I had to explain to my boss. I came into work with tears.”

It’s been quite a whirlwind journey, but now it’s culminated with a lifelong dream fulfilled. “Sometimes I’m like, ‘Am I being pranked? Is this real?’” she says. But her new journey with Riverdance is far from a joke. She has paused her master’s degree in elementary education and left her job as a preschool teacher for the opportunity. “I’m performing in the show that really made me fall in love with Irish dancing,” she says. “I never used to use the word ‘surreal’, but that’s the only way that I can describe it.” While Bullock is no stranger to virtual audiences, Riverdance is her first live professional gig. “The first opening night was a crazy feeling,” she says. “I was on the stage crying because it was like, ‘I’m performing in front of a live audience!’”

Her casting also makes her the first black female Irish dancer to tour with Riverdance. “I watched the show so many times as a young dancer and I never saw somebody who looked like me,” she says. “I kind of just had to imagine myself up on the stage.” Ten years since she first saw the show, now she wants to be that person to other young dance hopefuls. “Sometimes I’ll look out in the crowd and I see a little girl who looks like me and it just means so much,” Bullock says. While she admits the jump to a professional tour has been challenging, her videos convinced the Riverdance team that she was destined for the stage. “They saw the potential for me to be a performer even though I’d never performed before,” she says. “There’s obviously the ups and downs of it, but I’m so grateful for the opportunities that have come from TikTok and Instagram.”

Morgan Bullock and the rest of the Riverdance cast. Photograph: Riverdance
Morgan Bullock and the rest of the Riverdance cast. Photograph: Riverdance

Bullock isn’t the only TikTok sensation in the current Riverdance cast. The Gardiner Brothers – world champions Matthew and Michael Gardiner – have an engaged TikTok following of their own, at just over one million. “It’s really cool to see the effect that TikTok had on Irish dancing,” Bullock says. “There are people who got tickets to the show because they saw it on TikTok.” But why exactly has Irish dancing become so popular on the video sharing platform? “The new wave of dancers making videos have made Irish dance cool,” she says. “You could say it’s a similar effect that Riverdance had, modernising it at the time.”

When I see the show at the New Wimbledon theatre, Bullock is positioned at the front in several numbers. She flows with natural grace and elegance in the light shoe dances, contrasted by sharp, fierce intensity across the uniform heavy shoe formations. In the iconic Riverdance number that first sparked the full-length show, Bullock attacks every cut, treble and tip with elated vigour. Her beaming smile can’t be missed – among a cast that has waited 19 months to resume a milestone tour, Bullock performs like someone who has waited their entire life.

After the show, Bullock is the last cast member to leave the stage door – met by fans and young dancers alike asking for pictures and autographs. She has come a long way since she responded to the ignorance that dampened her viral success, now confident in the knowledge that the dancing speaks for itself. “I feel that there’s no better response to that than to be in Riverdance.” – Guardian

Riverdance is on tour until December 14th

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