How it feels to be a River-dancer

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Gazette reporter Katie Upton goes to Ireland’s capital city Dublin to try a masterclass in Irish dancing with the famous Riverdance cast.

Continuing a lifetime ethos of ‘act now, think later’, I find myself in a dance studio in Dublin surrounded by professional and semi-professional Irish dancers.

Gazette reporter Katie Upton attempts to learn Irish dancing from Riverdance star Emma Warren

Gazette reporter Katie Upton attempts to learn Irish dancing from Riverdance star Emma Warren

With no previous dance experience and two left feet, perhaps I’m not best placed for a masterclass in the art from lead members of Riverdance.

But with a light at the end of the tunnel of seeing the show for real, crushing my self-esteem and losing all dignity seems well worth it.

Before a journalists-only masterclass was an opportunity to watch 100 plucky youngsters learning with some of Riverdance’s top dancers at The Liffey Trust Dance Studios, overlooking the Point Theatre, where Riverdance ran its first show in February 1995.

The young dancers, notably just five boys among them, have faces etched with concentration and determination while their legs are fierce in their steps. But the nature of the dance means that between their tops and bottoms their tender years are betrayed; either the hunched shoulders of self-conscious teens or the fiddling fingers of children playing with loom bands.

My own dance attempt is somewhere between these two - where my bottom half can manage only the simpler steps taught to the youngsters I soon feel the self-conscious slump of the teens on my top half. Of five journalists taking on the masterclass only two of us were new to the dance form - one woman even had actual Irish dancing shoes! - and before now the extent of my dancefloor prowess has been the Macarena.

And so the simplest steps are shown - kick out, kick back, kick up, skip over. This makes seeing professionals performing routines with hundreds of steps per minute even more breath-taking.

We are taught by lead dancer Emma Warren (at just 24 she has already taken on lead parts in two international tours) who is as patient as she is perfect in her steps.

See if you could follow along with: left, right, left, kick - right, left, right, kick - left, right, left, kick - skip, skip, skip. Sounds easy right? But when the music kicks in, the same sound that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, in this instance my stomach somersaults.

I bound through the routine, and looking back I look more like someone in need of the toilet, but in that brief moment I did feel a little bit like a dancer and that’s the joy of Riverdance.

You can also watch video of Katie trying out her Riverdance moves here