Susan Ginnety at the Celtic Cafe

Interview with Susan Ginnety

Thanks to Tonton (M.Tofukuji) and Yuji Mori of the Japanese fan site,, the Celtic Cafe is very pleased to present the interview with Susan Ginnety that took place on November 13, 2003 in Tokyo, Japan.

Susan is not only a Principal Dancer, but is also Dance Captain for the Avoca company of Riverdance, which is touring Europe. Click here for the Celtic Cafe's tourdates for this fabulous Irish dance show.

Special thanks go to translator Koh Yoshimura for this English version of the interview which appears at Click here to see the original version in Japanese. The official Riverdance website is at:

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Do you mind telling us your date of birth?

27th of April, 1978, so I'm 25.

First questions are about your early career. When did you start dancing?

I started dancing when I was six. My mother danced and grandmother danced. My mom didn't actually like it, but my grandmother loved it. It was part of my primary school education and then after-school classes; they weren't compulsory.

You have received some prizes from local and nationwide competitions?

Yes, they're called "Feis", that is, Irish dance competitions. I've come first in the Leinster competitions, which is a part of Ireland, and first in the All Ireland's and second in the World Championships.

Why did you join the first 1994 production of the Eurovision interval?

The Eurovision producers wanted to put Irish dance into the Eurovision song contest as the interval act, but didn't want to do it in a traditional style, they wanted to spice it up a little bit, or modernize it, so they came to the top schools in Dublin, and chose certain people from the schools to go for auditions and I auditioned and got a part.

How many dancers performed in the Eurovision piece?

For the Eurovision, I think there were 26.

Out of those dancers, we understand that not many of them joined the first Riverdance Company?

Not all joined from the Eurovision, you see we didn't know it was going to turn into a show, so a lot of people just thought that it was just one piece, one day, and then they couldn't make a long-term commitment to the show because they had other commitments.

Did you have to audition again for the full-length show?

No, when the first company started, we were automatically put into that and then the new dancers would audition.

We assume that was a great challenge, not only for you but maybe for all the dancers to join in such a big company.

Oh, definitely, because it had never been done before and none of us knew what to expect from it, and we were very young at that time as well. I was only sixteen. So it was a big step for me not only going to a large show like that but having to move away from home at such young age as well.

You were a high school student then, did you continue studying at school?

I studied during the show, at night.

Eileen Martin said in an interview that you were worked hard doing drills and rehearsals with Michael Flatley. What was it like?

Well, at the start, yes, because to create the first show, we didn't actually know what was going to work with such a large amount of dancers on stage, so we would go in for rehearsals, very long rehearsals to try and create new dances and if they didn't work they scrapped them and started afresh. So there were an awful lot of rehearsals and very sore feet afterwards, but you got used to it in the end.

Those were memorable days for the dancers, and a quite new kind of experiences.

Oh, definitely. For the Eurovision especially, because we didn't know how the show was going to go down because the audience had never seen it. But when we finished, the audience loved it.

Do you have any interesting episodes from those days?

Well, really it was just long days in the rehearsals. We were actually that tired coming home that when we were walking to our bus stops, we would have to sit on the seats all the way up and take a bit of a breath, and then go home, straight into a hot bath, to bed, and then wake up the next morning, straight in to rehearsals, bath, bed. It took an awful lot of out of us. But it was fun because we got to know everybody and it turned into one big family then, so going on tour wasn't such a shock to us because we had got to know each other so well.

Next year, 2004, is the tenth anniversary of the first production of the Eurovision, so looking back on the decade, I assume there was a great improvement or changes in the Irish dance scene.

Oh, definitely.

What do you think of that?
Well I think it's great because when I was a teenager, it wasn't the cool thing to do Irish dancing.

Was it just a local tradition?

Yes, it was more traditional and not the hip thing to do. I think Riverdance has brought a much better side of it out because it is fun and you get to meet an awful lot of people and it brings great opportunities. It's not only that, Riverdance spawned an awful lot of other shows, which is great because it gives you a career possibility from your hobby. We love what we do. We've loved it since we were six, and we're still dancing now. A lot of people in competitive dance would have maybe danced to age eighteen or nineteen and then that's it. Whereas now, you can do your competition till about that age and then go professional if you choose to do so. So it opened more doors that way.

Now you're dancing as an understudy. When did you get to understudy?

Many years ago, really near the beginning when Jean and Michael were leads, that's when I started practicing understudy.

In Dublin or in London?

There were a lot of rehearsals so I think my first show was in London.

Sometimes you dance lead at a matinee and at night you dance with the troop. There is a huge difference between the two, right?

Yes, there is a huge difference because you can express yourself, your own personality when it's just you on the stage, and that's a great thing. But I still enjoy being in the troupe and being in the line of dancers, it really is just as strong being in the line. You can't do the show without the two principals but you can't do the show without the line up as well!

It is maybe my ninth year doing understudy but it's the audience's first night ever seeing the show, so we have to put on the performance as if it is our first show, and keep the energy going.

You have danced with many male dancers as lead, and there are so many characteristic dancers. How do you adjust your dancing according to your partner?

Well, we have rehearsals together before we dance on stage. I am dancing with Joe Moriarty this time round, and when I was on Broadway I trained Joe to do understudy, so it's perfect because I trained him to dance with me. With the other understudies like Donnacha Howard, we've all danced in the troupe together so we know each other's style of dancing, and then we also rehearse. We work out our different movements but because we've in the troops so long we understand each other's style of dancing.

I think the understudy dancers are heavily influenced by the principals?

Yes, I've danced with Jean, Eileen, and Joanne. Each one of them has a different style, which is good for me because I can take little pieces from them and kind of mould it into my own style. We all have different, completely, different Irish dancing styles, so it's nice to have a little kind of variety.

A fusion of each dancer.

Yes. And I look at Joanne each night and watch how she's using her head or her facial expressions and try to do it myself.

Are the arm movements new to the Irish dancing?

It's very new to the Irish dancing because usually arms are straight down. For example in competition, if you move your arms, you're finished. When we were younger, in order to keep our hands in, our mums used to give us coins to hold, so we wouldn't drop them. But there are a few cheats in Irish dancing costumes now! So we didn't start out knowing how to use our arms in dancing and we had the Russian dancers teach us ballet moves (port de bras) and how to move them properly, this was fantastic because we didn't really know what to do with them.

So you have borrowed and developed your own style in arm movements.

Yes, it's good because to have the Russian dancers watching you each night as well means they can correct you, because they have studied ballet for years, while we wouldn't have. So it's great to have this included in the Riverdance experience.

What is your favourite dance style or what are you proud of?

Personally I like the light dancing, which is the soft shoe, just because you've more freedom in it and you can move more on the stage because the shoes are a lot less slippery. When you are wearing heavy shoes normally it's when the troops are on with you, so you have to stay in a certain spot and go to a certain side. You don't have much freedom there.

Now, what do you think generally on Irish dancing? Which parts are the most important or beautiful for you?

For female, a traditional Irish step for female would be a rock, this shows how flexible your ankles are. Turnout of the feet and legs is very important, if you don't have that, your dancing can look sloppy, so you practice that an awful lot. Especially for the lead role because the skirts are very short and show all the leg movement.

Why and how did you move from the Shannon to the Liffey Company?

Because I was understudy in Broadway and then I was transferred to the Liffey Company to be principal understudy. So if Joanne (principal dancer) was sick or injured or anything like that, I'd go straight on. So it was a promotion for me to come over to the Liffey. And I was happy because I had toured the States for a long, long time and I was on Broadway for a year and half and I hadn't really toured Europe, so it was whole a new experience for me.

For the audience, are there certain styles in each Riverdance Company?

There is not really a difference in style, I guess. Differences relate more to the size of the stage, for example the Broadway stage was a very small stage while the Liffey stage is a very big stage.

It depends on the venue?

Yes, in the Liffey you would play arenas, however in America you would do more small theatres. I wouldn't say the style changes because troupe members can move between companies. The dance captains would have a certain style that dominates so dancers can move from company to company.

Is moving from one company to another hard socially?

Well, socially I was actually quite lucky because there were a lot of people in the Liffey who'd been there from the very beginning, as I had. When the original company split, they went to the Liffey and I went to the Lee and I would always keep in contact with them anyway, so it wasn't too bad. I kind of knew everybody.

This summer, you taught in New York. Was it a workshop?

A dancer and musician from the Lee Company started up a dance camp, and it goes on for four to five weeks, and they have four teachers each week to come and help the kids to learn. Well, they know how to dance, but it's to polish their steps up a little bit... going back to the basics.

Did you enjoy teaching them?

Yes! It was great fun! The kids had so much energy. It was fantastic. The first class was at ten to nine in the morning, and we wouldn't finish till maybe six, and we would be tired, but the kids would keep going till like nine o'clock that night, practicing on what we taught them that day. They ranged from, I think, seven or eight to about sixteen. There is a big range from beginners to higher in the competitions.


Well, not professional, they were young, but yes, they were high level, which was good for us because to see little kiddies trying to do what we do was really good.

Unfortunately, there are few dancers remaining in Riverdance who danced in the first Eurovision. Very few, right?

Yes. I think I might be the last one, actually.

You are still young and have many fans as well, and we hope you'll have a lot more years of dancing. I think next year, you will have a new company after Liffey...

Yes, the Avoca.

Are there any specific plans in the new company?

We're going to have rehearsals for that in January. We have no plans as such...

Do you have any plans after Riverdance?

To sleep! Ha, ha, ha....!

That's very important.

Well, there's still a lot of travelling that I still want to do. I know I've travelled an awful lot but there are a few more places that I'd like to visit. And then, probably go back to college to do something in either physiotherapy or fitness - something around that because in this job you tend to learn an awful lot about how the body works from our physiotherapists and the masseuses and it's so interesting. I would love to learn a little bit more about that.

So, after the rest, are you interested in creating or launching your own company or new production?

Ah... haven't thought about that one yet, but I would love to do some more teaching.

The next question is very big: what does Riverdance mean to you?

Because I've been in it so long, well, I've grown up in Riverdance. So a lot of new people would think, "wow, this is a big change!" while I'm very comfortable in it, because it's my life now, my normal life. When I go home I find a big change. It's kind of opposite to a lot of people coming into the company. But it's been fantastic for me. It opened an awful lot of doors for me and huge opportunities, I've travelled the world, see everywhere I'd like to see, and I've done America, Australia, Mexico, Europe... you wouldn't really get that at 25-years old, seeing so much of the world.

Are there any dancers whom you were inspired or influenced by? Not only Irish, but ballerinas or Russians...

Well I do love ballet. I think it's amazing how they move so gracefully.

Can you name any specific dancers?

Not specifically. I just love the whole of a group, watching a group and how they can move in the same, but they would use the legs differently. When we land we land straight legs, when they land they land bent. It's hard for us to bring that into our style of dancing because they are two different styles. But I'm interested in a lot of different dances, even Spanish dancing, Flamenco. That's really interesting as well.

Which part in the show do you like?

I guess when we dance Riverdance, the actual dance - I think you still get a buzz from that, because of the music starting so slow and then the big finish, and the audiences love that as well, so when you have a good audience, their reaction comes back to you, and you feel an awful lot better.

What kind of music do you like personally?

Well, a kind of mixture. One of my favourites is actually Frank Sinatra. I'm a very big fan of him.

Your hairstyle looks great. Maybe it takes a lot of time to keep that, right?


No? It's natural?

It's natural, yeah. So, that's the thing - it isn't take me long at all - wash, dry etc.

I hear some dancers wear wigs, right?

Well, it's because, when the lights shine, it can shine through their hair, so they would pin their own hair back and put a hair piece on, and it looks a lot thicker on stage, and saves having to put the products on your own hair every night. It is tough, when you have straight hair especially, having to dry it, straighten it, hair spray it, you know, seven days a week - that is not good for your hair.

You are always travelling from a city to another city. How do you keep yourself in good condition?

Me personally, in between dances, when, say, the music is on and the singers are on, I would get on the exercise bike for example, which we have on the warm-up floor, just to keep my legs warm, so that would keep you going.
On your days off, you don't really want to be going to the gym. Especially in China and Japan. I've never been to China and Japan, so I would rather be out sightseeing and doing different bits and pieces.

Thank you very much for sharing your time with us.

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Interview: Tonton (M.Tofukuji) and Yuji Mori
Translation: Koh Yoshimura
Feature: Bernadette Price
Original Web Design: Alexander Servas

Susan Ginnety





Susan at the Great Wall of China
Susan at the Special Olympics



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