The second of the interviews in our Aspects of Dance feature focuses on group of young men and women who are back on tour around the UK in a show called Essence of Ireland, which fuses together a mixture of traditional and modern songs, a touch of Irish craic and endless energetic dance routines.
The two principal dancers in the show are Ross Logan (RL) and Lianne Stubbs (LS), and I recently had the chance to chat to them about a form of dance with a very individual style and a show with an amazingly good reputation, with audiences continually left enthralled and spellbound by the high energy and outstanding dancing.
Firstly, is Irish dance as difficult as it looks?
(RL) Yes, it is really. It’s difficult to get the right technique and to sustain it but, with all the training that we have to do, we gain strength and that strength makes the technique easier – but yes, it’s pretty tough on the legs.
Can you tell me about a couple of the more difficult moves please?
(LS) I think if you do each move separately then they are easy, it’s when you put them together that it gets hard but there’s one move where one leg crosses in front of the other with your foot going up past the other knee – that’s called the Cut and the one where we go on tip toes and tip left and right on our ankles – that’s the Rock. They are hard, but if you have the right techniques, and if you are warm, you won’t hurt yourself.
How long have you each trained to get where you are now?
(RL) I’ve been dancing for 14 years, I started training when I was 10. That’s quite an early start for a boy.
(LS) I started dancing when I was two, but I only started training in Irish Dance when I was 12 years old and I did just that until I was about 15.
And how long is the “shelf life” for an Irish Dancer?
(LS) That’s a tough one but, if you really look after yourself …
(RL) I mean I know people who are still dancing in their 40s but I wouldn’t think most get past their late 30s on the stage. Of course, after that there is teaching and choreographing, so it’s not all over. So we’ve probably got about another good 10 years of this, but that’s about it.
(LS) …if our legs keep up with us!
Are their specific Irish dancing schools or do you learn it as just another part of dance?
(LS) It’s separate. It’s very different.
(RL) My ballet teacher told me when I was about 17 that if I wanted to continue with it I would have to give up Irish, because the different techniques just don’t mix.
With the Irish dance style, how difficult is it to keep your top half still while your legs are doing so much work?
(LS) Sometimes it’s very hard as you have to keep your arms straight by your sides and your knees as close together as you can keep them but, with this show, we can move our arms and heads a little more.
(RL) We do some traditional numbers, but others are a bit more free and easy.
In Essence of Ireland do you just do Irish dancing then?
(LS) Oh no, we do allsorts. There’s a Salsa section, some Tap, Pop, Jazz and Country too, but a lot of what we do has an Irish twist. It’s quite well rounded for a dancer, especially if you’ve trained in many styles. Everything still has an Irish feel to it, and a lot of that is to do with the music we use, but the dance steps have been made more commercial for different numbers.
How long is the performance?
(RL) The show is about two and a half hours with a 20 minute interval, so it’s quite long for this type of show, but it’s not all dancing. We have singers too, and the band is great and they really love to get involved with the audience.
(LS) The show has a story to it as well, because it follows Sean Dempsey and Coro McGowen who meet in Ireland in the 1940s, but are forced apart when Sean moves to New York to find work. It’s quite moving because they send each other letters while they are apart. There are a lot of scene changes, and we have a costume change for every new number as well, but luckily they are not too quick. I still have enough time to brush my hair between numbers.
Essence of Ireland appears at the Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells on 21 June and at the Congress Theatre, Eastbourne on 26 June with the UK tour resuming in the autumn, following a residency at the Mandela Theatre in South Africa.