Meet IDM’s Newest Feature Writer

Do you remember your first Irish Dance class? Would you believe I wasn't even three years old for my first class? My cousin had begun Irish Dancing and

her mum looked after me while my parents worked and so I tagged along to the mesmerising classes. You can imagine how intrigued a toddler would be to witness children leaping around in time to such ear tingling music. Of course, I don't remember but apparently, I was immediately hooked, and I wanted to be able to move as the ‘big girls’ did. Before anyone could stop me, I was trying to learn my 1,2,3’s.

I believe I first fell in love with the music. I adored how it made me feel, I begged my mum to play the reel over and over again. ‘Riverdance’ was available on videotape. I worshipped it and watched it any chance I could! I tried my best to dance along with the extraordinary dancers. My parents tell me that I danced everywhere, to the bathroom, to the bin, to bed, while brushing my teeth, basically any chance I could get.

I don't remember my first feis in great detail, but the story goes like this. Before the feis, I knew all my steps well, both my mum and dad were ecstatic to see me on stage for the first time and they knew I was about to burst with excitement. However, the adrenaline was too much; I didn’t remember any of my steps and I even tried to copy the other girls. But apparently, one thing I did do was dance around the stage with a massive smile as high on my toes as I could get. After that, my mum called them my “ballerina toes” and still always tells me before I perform to “dance on my ballerina's toes”. Even though that day didn’t go to plan my mum tells me she knew there was so much potential in me and my love for it couldn’t have been more obvious!doing good deeds

I began to place well at competitions and my passion began to grow. I practiced very hard! I live in the countryside so there isn’t much around me to do, this meant that I spent all my time dancing. There were no distractions, I had lots of time to dance, my technique was improving quickly, and I was winning. As a 10-year-old I can remember Irish Dancing being on my mind 24/7, it was the first thing I thought off in the morning and it was what kept me awake at night. My heart was completely set on winning the World Championships! I would get up in the morning to practice before school, and I would do Pilates at night after dance class. I had won all majors excluding the All Ireland and World championships, I was putting pressure on myself to win these titles and unfortunately, as many dancers experience, I took a growth spurt.

I was struggling! I couldn’t control my legs, my style as a dancer was completely changing and my flexibility just suddenly disappeared. I decided the only way to get through this was to keep pushing! This is probably one of the proudest moments in my competitive career as it took endless hours of work and extreme patience, but I came out the other side stronger!

I remember getting ready for my first World Championships held in The Waterfront Hall in Belfast. I really committed myself to being ready for the big day and my parents as always done everything they could for me. I pulled it off on the day and shocked everyone when I placed second. The excitement was indescribable, to place second at your first World Championship was a massive deal and it motivated me; I began practicing the next day for the year ahead. 

The following year (2009), I placed second again. I now held two-second places at the World Championships. I had a huge desire I had to WIN and wanted the top spot on the podium and the passion consumed me. I had an unrelenting drive, a tireless work ethic, and hunger so strong that I somehow knew inside of me that I was going to do it the next year! Looking back, I can now say that I had the right ‘mindset’. Everything I did was to benefit my dancing. I practiced this technique that all dancers should try. I called it ‘going to the movies.’ I took myself to a quiet spot, closed my eyes and imagined myself doing my dances to the best of my ability, even better than I could ever possibly do them. If there were dancers in a certain spot on the stage how would I dance around them? If I started on stage left/ right what was my stage plan? When would I take deep breaths? When would I smile? I had it all planned! It paid off! The following year in Glasgow, I became the 2010 World Champion.

It’s hard to believe this extraordinary moment was nine years ago. I felt so grateful for everything everyone had done to get me to that point, my parents, my siblings, my teachers my extended family and friends. This was all their moment just as much as it was mine! I decided to pretend I was still in 2nd place so I would work just as hard for the years to come. I can wholeheartedly say now that although my dream of winning another World Championships never came true, every dance class, every practice by myself I grew more and more and the last time I competed at the Worlds in 2017 I feel that was the best I ever was in competition. I had a total of six 2nd places, two 4th places and one 3rd place staying in the top five for all ten World Championships I competed. I am so grateful for every moment I have experienced in Irish Dance; this beautiful artform has provided me an immeasurable amount of joy.

Recently someone said to me 'you never experienced a setback'. However, they don’t know that at age 16 maintaining my dancing proved difficult. My family was going through life-changing months and dancing was the least important thing at the time. As the eldest in my family I took on some responsibilities and I went to only one class a week. When I couldn't make a class my amazing dance teachers Gerard Carson, Jackie and Anne Kennedy worked out a way to see me. This was a difficult period to keep improving as a dancer and to actually get time to dance. I was also nursing a back injury and studying for important exams. It seemed like everything was against my dancing. However, that year, in particular, has shaped me into the person I am today. It showed me with resilience, focus, time management and self-discipline anything is possible!

Riverdance Summer School 

In more recent years, the Riverdance Summer school ultimately changed my life forever. During my last year of secondary school, I completed my last examinations that would determine my place at University and so I thought the next few years of my life were planned out with lots of studying in pursuit of a higher education. Joining Riverdance was a dream my entire life however I questioned if I was good enough. When I learned of the Riverdance Summer School, I decided to try it out! Within the first day, my determination had increased, and I was going to do whatever it took to get into the show. I decided I might have to re-audition with more experience, but I was going to make sure at the end of that week I left a lasting impression. I was inspired by the sense of team that surrounded everyone involved in Riverdance, they all had this one goal to put the best show possible on each night. I was fortunate to be asked to join the official Riverdance cast after the Summer School experience. The Riverdance Summer School shaped the course of my life for the last two years giving me the most extraordinary opportunities, incredible friends, so much joy and a platform to constantly push and grow myself! How lucky am I to be able to better myself every night? I am a part of a World class team of not only dancers but performers, creatives, management and crew who constantly inspire me! I couldn’t be more thankful.

Perhaps my biggest achievement is becoming a lead dancer of Riverdance. It is an honour to perform an inspiring and influential role. I adore being a part of all aspects of the show, as a troupe dancer first and foremost and the opportunity to perform the lead role. I am only getting started with how much I want to develop, and I am working even harder than I did in competition to make myself the best I can possibly be. One of my favourite moments ever was performing for Pope Francis alongside over 500 fantastic dancers during his visit to Ireland in 2019 in front of 82,000 people and a television audience; a proud and overwhelming moment that I am eternally grateful for.

So, that's a little about my journey through Irish Dancing. However, my journey is not even near finished. I strive to improve as an individual performer and as a team player and leader and I look forward to the challenges ahead. I hope to inspire dancers and help them in any way I can to reach their potential and fulfil their dreams. I understand the hard work, determination and effort needed to achieve goals and I cannot wait to share my personal experiences with readers!  

The Best Gifts of 2019 for Irish Dancers!

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