When I first walked through the doors of the Lir the atmosphere was already tingling, and the students hadn’t even arrived yet. It was strange to actually be at the place I’d been thinking about for the past few weeks. For some reason I’d pictured it to be much like the Gaiety, with sumptuous red curtains and carvings in the woodwork. But when I arrived I was greeted by an airy, glass building that was the opposite of my mental picture. I was chuffed at this surprise because it made me realize this was turning out to be an experience unlike anything I’d had before. The instructors were restless, in a sort of nervous, exited way. They had to keep moving. I kept myself busy by blue tacking up posters, straitening and re-straitening them. Then the first students slowly began filtering in for registration. We took turns peeping around the doors to get a glimpse at our Riverdance Summer School students. There was a buzz in the air as everyone sat down in the main halls in their four groups; Shannon, Lee, Liffey and Lagan. The groups got their names because in Riverdance each production company is named after an Irish river (you learn something new every day).
Introductions were made by Padraic Moyles, and everyone officially met the instructors who would be guiding them through their week.
“Is anyone nervous?” he asked, and was met with hands up from students and instructors alike. After some nodding Padraic decided that there was only one way to get rid of the nerves.
“Alright well everyone, you have to shake the hand of everyone in the room. You have one minute… go!”
And just like that there was a complete flurry of activity as all 100+ students tried to live up to the challenge. As the timer came to a close I noticed a funny trend which seems to repeat itself every week, for some reason the dancers form themselves into a big circle. It’s like a handshake conveyor belt! We were then all told how everybody knew each other now, and everyone was a team. The nervous butterflies began to melt away. This was also the moment that we all thought up the hashtag that would be following us all week, #thisishowwedance.
Now this is when the first ‘warm up’ began. I personally think calling it a warm up is a little bit deceptive, because this was a full scale exercise regime. The music was blaring and, after about 30 minutes of nonstop cardio, sweat was being mopped from brows. Never before have I seen people be so grateful for a water break. However, I thought the best part about it all were the massive grins that were slapped on all the students’ faces. I could tell it was going to be a good week. Soon after this the groups began to learn what they had come from all around the world to learn, the iconic Riverdance. I was really impressed with the dancers right off the bat, you don’t really get to see it on stage, everyone in the Riverdance production makes dancing look as easy as breathing, however this stuff is complicated and hard work. There were defiantly some confused faces and stumbling feet at the beginning. But by the end of day one I could already see the progression. I suppose even though I wasn’t teaching the dancing it was just so satisfying to see such talented dancers rise up to the challenge that had been put in front of them. As instructor Stephen Brennan said, ‘Hard work always wins’.
Throughout the week I lingered in doorways with my iPhone, taking pictures of the students dancing. I was alongside the Tyrone Productions camera crew (you may have been cornered by them yourself for an interview!). Tyrone Productions and I aren’t dancers, but I know that even with our untrained eyes we knew we were seeing some incredible dancing. I felt, and still do feel, like I was witnessing the next generation of Irish Dance. The sheer effort being put in amazed the instructors and I. Lunch breaks would come and students would still be switching up between taking a bite of their sandwiches and practicing a move. They became sharper, their toes more pointed, the steps each student took developed to become perfectly in time. I understood more now what Padraic was saying earlier in the week, about everyone being a team. When it comes to Irish dance I noticed you have to be completely aware of the music and others around you. It’s not about standing out by twirling the fastest, or about jumping the highest. To show of the art of Irish Dance you need to work as an in sync team. The students of week one really are a testament to that.
On that last Friday I walked into the office to see all the instructors sat around looking, in a word, exhausted. They all had their feet up on chairs and couldn’t muster the effort to walk to the bin, sparking an interesting paper throwing contest. This was after a fifth day of dancing. And still they were light-heartedly chatting about the success of the week and their eager anticipation for the next day’s showcase. They were looking through photos and talking about how particularly wowed they were – not just by the dancers who had perfected their dances, but also those who had come so far, those who had worked so hard. I had only just walked into the room but I already felt submerged in the atmosphere which was a blend of ‘so tired I can’t move, ouch my muscles’ and ‘what’s next?’. A kind of tired excitement. I was bombarded with a brainstorm of ideas about how to make next week even better, and I knew at that moment that I had another fantastic week to come.