DESCRIBING herself as “the matriarch” of Dancing With The Stars (DWTS), Eilish O’Carroll may be the oldest person on the RTÉ competitive dance extravaganza but that doesn’t mean she is slowing down, writes Colette Sheridan.
The 67-year-old actor, best known as the dowdily dressed Winnie McGoogan on the TV comedy series All Round to Mrs Brown’s, says her mind might try to tell her she can’t do certain things “but I never listen to that voice”.
She added: “We’re kind of conditioned to think that when we get to a certain age, we should be slowing down. I’ve never slowed down. I have more energy now than I ever had.”
Last Sunday, it was the turn of the ladies to wow the audience, viewers and judges in the show with their routines.
Eilish and her dance partner, 33-year- old Ryan McShane, performed a take on the tango to the song I Can’t Tell A Waltz From A Tango. The judges scored them 16 points, placing them in third last place. But for Eilish, things can only get better.
It being a live show, the actress felt huge pressure.
“But I also found it exhilarating. I’ve never been so nervous. I was terrified but at the same time, there was a great buzz afterwards, such a high and great relief. It’s like a rollercoaster of emotions. It was fantastic.
“I’m not a dancer. But I managed to do the tango. Now, I would really like to go away and learn how to do it properly.”
When Eilish was growing up in Dublin in the late ’50s and early ’60s, her four older sisters were all into rock ‘n roll.
“So I learned how to jive from them. And my mother was a really keen dancer. Every Sunday, after Mass, she would teach me how to waltz and do the foxtrot. That was my introduction to dancing in a very small house with 12 of us in it.”
Is Eilish competitive?
“I suppose when you come from a large family, you can’t help but be competitive. We were constantly competing for mother’s attention. You had to be creative to get her attention.
“I learned from a young age how to compete. I hope I learned how to lose as well.
“When Brendan (O’Carroll, creator of Mrs Brown’s Boys) came along, I lost my pride of place as the youngest. I was no longer treated like a baby.”
Eilish admits that in the last few weeks, she has been waking up at 4am singing I Can’t Tell A Waltz From A Tango.
“I dance as I go into the bathroom. Then I go downstairs and take a little bit of quiet time, looking at my thinking process. It was creating a huge amount of fear and anxiety. I felt that it was going to sabotage any joy I’d get out of DWTS. I’m in it for the joy and to have fun.”
Eilish had to talk to herself out of her anxiety. And it seems to have worked. She does some relaxing yoga to ground herself.
She was the picture of confidence on the show last Sunday, wearing a striking purple dress, her platinum-coloured hair swept back. It’s a big change from Winnie’s look which consists of dull clothes and rollers in her hair.
“Dancing With The Stars is a lovely opportunity to show that more glamorous side of me,” she says.
Eilish, who has been trying to sell her West Cork home for three years, has now relocated to Dublin. She is in a relationship with Marian O’Sullivan who lives in her native Cork. Marian is stage manager for All Round To Mrs Brown’s.
Rehearsing every day for about four hours, Eilish says some of the other dancers rehearse for six to eight hours a day, which allows them to take a day off in the week.
“I prefer to do it in smaller bites. I remember the moves more if I repeat them the following day. I’m terrified that if I take a break, I’ll forget what to do.
“Physically it’s hard work, and mentally too. The dances themselves are very technical. The technique can be quite daunting, particularly the tango. How you hold yourself is also important.
“I’m lucky in that Ryan is a great teacher. He’s light-hearted, very focused and can be serious. He also has a great sense of humour so we laugh a lot.”
The Young Offenders actress, Demi Isaac Oviawe, was placed last on Sunday. She became very emotional when the judges spoke to her.
“I could have burst into tears when I finished my dance too. But I told myself I couldn’t. Demi took to heart what the judges had to say. I said to her afterwards that this was the first night of the girls dancing. She is young and younger people tend to take things so seriously. ‘You’re not going to die,’ I said to Demi. ‘We’re both at the bottom of the league table. Let’s learn from it and next week, we’ll go out with a different attitude. We’ll be better.’
Spoken like a true pro.
Dancing With The Stars is on RTÉ One on Sunday at 6.30pm