My day out with Riverdance team

On a visit to Dublin, Catherine Wylie discovers why group dance can be a cathartic release, no matter what age or fitness level you might be.
My day out with Riverdance team

Catherine Wylie with dancers at the Riverdance Summer School in Dublin.

NOBODY needs to be told a little dancing is good for the soul — but did you know there’s actually science to back it up?

In recent years, several studies have found that getting footloose can help boost your mood, soothe away stress, and help tackle mental health issues.

Take the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for instance. Researchers from the centre analysed 50,000 people and found that those who regularly dance, or take part in other creative pursuits like painting or playing a musical instrument, were less likely to be depressed than those that didn’t.

The health benefits of group dance are something I’m exploring as I visit the Riverdance summer school in Dublin, where hopefuls from places as far flung as Mexico, Russia and Abu Dhabi are learning the lightning-quick routines from the current cast.

Watching the Irish dancers side-by-side in a perfect line, their feet battering the floor in unison, their legs thrown high — it’s easy to see the appeal of joining a troupe. Dancing together is invigorating, and the energy and passion emanating from them is as infectious as it is unstoppable.

With determination and intensity etched on their faces, these young dancers are living out a shared dream — to become stars of Riverdance, 25 years after it became a phenomenon. But blistered feet aside, I’m finding that learning to dance along with the Riverdance cast has its physical benefits too.

Dancers at the Riverdance Summer School in Dublin. Picture: Riverdance/PA
Dancers at the Riverdance Summer School in Dublin. Picture: Riverdance/PA

All that aerobic training helps shed weight, increase flexibility and ward off cardiovascular disease — by the end of the work-out, I’m covered in sweat but feel invigorated.

I was a Riverdance child, copying the moves with my hand on my hip, rummaging in the wardrobe for makeshift costumes and with hopes of one day being in the show.

That ambition has yet to be realised, and at the grand age of 31, I suspect it shall remain that way, but dancing along with the cast reminds me of the great pleasure dance brought me.

Since 2015, hopefuls have joined the summer school, and on my visit I was transported back in time as I skipped through a few steps and observed the stars of the future.

Principal dancer Chloey Turner, 32, from Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, England, is an instructor at the summer school and also a fitness trainer.

For her, making friends and being part of one big family is one of the reasons she believes group dance is so important: “The social aspect of it, you’re having fun while you’re doing it.

“I think with anything in life, if you’re not having fun when you’re doing it, it’s unlikely you’re going to show up to keep doing it.”

If you’re struggling to find a specific exercise you actually enjoy, she is all for finding a local dance group — it could be the answer you’ve been looking for.

“If you find a group class where everyone’s enthusiastic and you can have a bit of craic while you’re doing it, it will keep you more consistent and disciplined,” she says.

“I don’t think a lot of people like training on their own. Just book a class, find something that you like.

Catherine Wylie with Riverdance instructor and cast member Ellen Bonner. 
Catherine Wylie with Riverdance instructor and cast member Ellen Bonner. 

“Plus it doesn’t even have to be [in a] gym. Get outside. I like to do a lot of my training outside. Being out in nature, for me, helps.”

A few hours later, I sit back and watch the professionals perform as they prepare for a show in Killarney next month.

It’s clear to see the joy the dancers feel doing what they love. So, while my Riverdance dreams may be out of reach, it doesn’t mean I can’t still experience that rush of adrenaline that comes with doing what I love — with people who feel the same way — even if that’s just breaking into a jig or a reel at home.

The Riverdance 25th anniversary tour is running at The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and there are also performances in Killarney from September 18-22. A UK tour begins in Bournemouth on March 10, 2020 and goes on to visit towns and cities including Manchester, Sheffield, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Bristol, Cardiff and London. Visit riverdance.com

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