October 6, 1999
Interview and photos
by Caroline Oosterveer and Elvira Sprenger
Special thanks to Jean Grootveld-Conlon
Can you tell me your name, age, date of birth, family and a total background?
My name is BreŠndan de GallaŪ. I'm from Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair) in county Donegal in North-West Ireland. I'm 30 years old. My date of birth is the 10th of June 1969. I'm from a family of 7 children between the ages of 18 and 37.
My sisters Sile and SinŤad are primary school teachers. My brother Sean is about to start at Marino to become a teacher. My sister Ursula is finishing at the Royal College for surgeons to become a doctor. She's in her last year. My sister Deirdre lives in Australia and has four children. And my brother Gerry just had a son called Callum and he works with computers in Donegal.
My mother's name is Nellie, my father's name is Gerry. My dad is from Belfast, my mom is from Donegal. My parents met in New York but came back to Belfast in the early 60's. We moved to Donegal when I was 3.
What school did you go to?
I was in school in Falcarragh, a town 10 miles away from Gweedore (Gaoth Dobhair). This was a community school. I was there from 1982 till 1987, then I went to America and joined the Gus Giordanoís dance academy, which is a school of dance with no academic classes also. I studied Ballet, Jazz, Modern and Tap.
In 1988 I returned to Ireland and enrolled in the Dublin City University, in Glasnevin, and studied Applied Physics' for four years. For one year I was a substitute teacher, teaching from primary school to physical education, Gaelic, mathematics and in a girls school (this was an Irish school that teaches everything through the medium of Irish).
Even though I am a certified physicist I ended up as a teacher. I did a qualifier: I did an Irish language exam which is easy for me because I'm a native speaker. I taught there for two years and then Riverdance happened.
I did Riverdance in February in Dublin for 5 weeks and taught at the same time. During my summer holidays I went with Riverdance to London and back to Dublin and back to London. At the end of four months I decided to give up my teaching career and travel on with Riverdance.
It was a hard decision at first but looking back now it was quite an easy one. Well what choice did I have ? As dancing is my biggest passion and I'm glad I did now.
When did you start to dance and why? Are there more of your family dancing?
I didn't want to go. Well, she said, "You should try it once", and I said, "okay I'll try it. And the following week she said, "You should go back," and I said, "No". And she said, "Oh yes you are going back". And now I'm glad she did.
I have two sisters who danced initially. My eldest brother didn't. Sile and Deirdre danced till only about 12 or 13. So myself and Sinead are the most serious.
She is still dancing but she never really got into competition. And then Ursula got quite interested in it but by that time our parents were too tired to drive that distance so she didn't get as much exposure as we did.
She dances with Patrick Lundon in college all the time. And my younger brother Sean...no, he's more into soccer.
At what age dance at your first feis? Did you win?
I think I was about ten. I was dancing at that time with Michael Quigley. He was the teacher in the area at the time. That was a long time ago and it was class feis and it was in a town called Leitir mac an Bhaird in West Donegal.
We were only wearing shorts and t-shirts--not even in costume! And then I started with Mary Soul who was probably the most influential person in my development as a dancer.
I did well, but I didnít win everything.
At what age did you do your first All-Ireland / World Championship? What colours did you wear?
Maybe fourteen or so. You see my parents aren't Irish dancing parents. They are not the way like you know the way you have the Dynasties of Irish Dancing, you know, the O'Se's, the Nolans, the Roddy's.
My parents wouldn't know the difference between a jig and a reel. They just love Irish dancing. They love Irish culture. They really appreciate it. They would just read the Sunday paper when we were on stage.
Until I was around 17 or 18 then I started to do well. Before that I would be 9th when there were only 8 medals to be won. My first medal in the World championships was when I was 19, I became third that year. (But then again I had long hair and a ponytail so maybe that helped).
The first costume I wore was a blue kilt and a navy jacket. The last, when I was in my twenties and much more serious about the competition, was bainnin, a kind of white kilt and a burgandy jacket.
How did you get in Riverdance?
I got a phone call from Belinda Murphy, the dance captain for the Eurovision. I knew her casually. She called the O'Se's, the McCormacs, myself, Derek Conlon, Grainne Feely, can't remember...about ten of us.
They were featuring in Senior competition in the All-Ireland and World championships and they were also living in Dublin. This was an important point because there were only two weeks of rehearsal before the Eurovision. Michael Flatley did some dancing with us, taught us some stuff. We danced and then they said, "You're in," to all of us.
Then they auditioned hundreds of others and out of that came 24. When the rehearsals for the show started in December ( in the meantime we had done the Royal Command Performance), I knew it was taken for granted that you would be in the show, not everybody from the Eurovision was chosen .
What is the best part of being in Riverdance?
It changed over the years. Initially it was the fun. We didn't know that this could be a career. The best part was dancing, getting paid for it and being away with our friends because we all knew each other.
Myself, Joanne, Ronan and Kevin McCormac had our own little dance company called Dualta. We were doing little gigs with Anuna, some corporate gigs and we were experimenting with Irish dancing. It was a lot of fun. Every night when we would go out after the shows, we would dance our hearts out on Irish music in the pubs and go mad.
It was great fun at the time, but very hard to continue, because you have to take care of your body. Because you are a fulltime dancer now, your body gets sore and I'm older now so it's not so easy any more.
The best part now is the traveling, seeing the world. And the audience, like the Ahoy audience, they were so appreciative, you never lose your love for that.
What is the worst part of being in Riverdance?
The downside is I hate hotels. I love to be in an apartment and sometimes that is possible. Then I can cook for myself.
Something else is that I miss my family and friends. I mean my other friends from school or university. We are a big family in Riverdance and we love each other dearly but after six months it is very difficult.
Anyboby who says, "Oh, it's fantastic," is lying.
You know when we get up we have breakfast together, we have rehearsals together, we have lunches together. Then we go and perform together. That at the start is fun but after a while it gets too much, you can't have your own space.
We do have our own hotel room so you can escape and have some privacy. It can be lonely even though you have all these people around. It's very hard to have a relationship. If it is outside the company which I had, it puts a strain on it and inevitably it ends.
And it's also very hard to have a relationship within the company because if it goes wrong you still have to work together. I think it's worth it if you do fall in love in the company, if it does work it could be brilliant.
How long will you continue to do Irish dancing?
I'll dance till I'm fifty or sixty but on a very different level. You could be a professional dancer and dance three times a week, but in Riverdance, and dancing the principal role, it's way more difficult.
I find I am able to do it much better now than I used to because I'm more experienced. Even though I have understudies that are eighteen or nineteen I find that experience is much more important than youth.
Riverdance is hard work and I would love to have a bit more free time to do something different. But now it's not possible. And there are some times when I think, "Oh no, I don't want to do that tonight," but, yeah, I've just got to.
How does it feel to be famous?
My best friend in Belfast said, "You have the best type of fame, you are not like Michael Jackson or Madonna where you can't have a private life, But you have all the good sides of it, like a chauffeur-driven car, a nice hotel and people often recognize you but hardly anybody bothers you".
Yes, it's nice, although it scares me a little when people know too much about me or desire to know far too much. I like to be able to look after myself when I choose to. I want to have the opportunity not to be bothered, like at a restaurant, people often come over and start talking to me and I say, "I'd love to talk to you but I'm in the middle of eating and it's not fair to my company".
These things happen. It's okay to come over and say, "Oh hi, I saw the show tonight and it was great," and then have a quick autograph. That's fine.
It's like with my mother and father in Paris--it's the first time I've seen them in four months; itís understandable that I would like to spent time with them. But you can have what we call in Ireland "cop on" and give people their privacy.
What are your plans for the future?
I have other dreams. I want to continue as principal dancer in Riverdance maybe till I'm thirty-five or so and then maybe, be in a show where I donít have to dance as much as I do as a principal dancer, like the flamenco dancer from Riverdance.
Other things I'd like to do are television, maybe a show with Joanne (a very, very close friend), films. I'd like to live in Ireland but if my work takes me to other places I'll be just as happy.
In Ireland I'd prefer to live in Dublin or Donegal. Donegal when I'm not working and I just want to chill; in Dublin when I'm kind of working or in the middle of a project because I have a lot of friends there. The social life in Dublin is brilliant.
Do you have an idol?
Let me see...okay, one of my idols would be, just because of how interesting he was, Vaslav Nijinski one of the Ballet Ruise. He was before Nurejev. I know it's a different dicipline but to me he's very interesting and crazy as well, just an amazing person.
In Irish dancing my favourite of all is a girl called Grainne Feely. She's not in any show at all, she's just a World champion nine or ten times. To me she's one of the most moving dancers, the most innovative dancer ever. I think it's unfortunate that people don't get to see her.
You have a massage every day. Why?
I have two massages every day. People imagine that massage is a luxury that you are laying there and somebody is helping you to relax or something, but it's NOT a luxury, it's NOT relaxing.
It can be but it's more often painful because if you dance as much as we do, no matter how much you stretch and no matter how much you warm up your muscles are tight and knotted. So I get to my massage therapist and he sets his fingers into the muscles, thumbs, elbows and I'm telling you I'm hitting the roof.
Before each show I have half an hour massage. It's a kind of warming up, a little bit of stretching and a little myofascial release to mobilize the joints a bit more so I can do my cuts and my kicks a bit better.
How do you all travel?
If it's more than four to five hours drive we fly. Otherwise the troupe will use a coach. Myself and Joanne have a choice, normally we have a chauffeur who brings us everywhere, but often Joanne and her boyfriend hire a car and drive themselves. I sometimes like to hire a car as well especially when I have a lot of time off.
What kind of music do you like?
What I listen to the most is Billie Holiday. There are also some Irish artists I enjoy. For instance Niamh Parsons, Anuna.
I also listen a lot to Fiona Apple, a Canadian singer. I also like a lot of classical music. Benjamin Brittan and Stravinski. I have a big collection of CD's from Bjork to classical. I do love all sorts of music.
I also like Secret Garden very much. Initially I found it to be like elevator music, then I listened a bit more and I must say I'm very, very fond of it now.
Can you do disco dancing?
Disco dancing?What do you mean disco dancing? Like in a club?
OF COURSE! I love dancing. I find it hard to do on a day I perform, but when I go out and the music is good. Oh, absolutely.
What is your favourite food and drink?
There are very few things in the food and drink category that I don't like. My favourite drink, when I go out, is Guinness. Even abroad where itís not as good as in Ireland. So if they serve it I drink Guinness. My favourite hot drink is Earl Grey tea. Which I drink a million cups of every day.
My favourite food is wild game. My favourite meat is duck. I also eat a lot of shellfish. Well I love everything. I'm not so fond of German food. There is too much red meat, cream and white bread. It's not a healthy diet. I like Italian, French well everything. And I love a nice champagne.
Have you got any funny stories about Riverdance?
Yes, but I'm not going to tell you.
Note: Meeting up with BreŠndan de GallaŪ is something special. This energetic person gives you the feeling that you can do almost anything. Heís friendly, generous and occasionally even shy. Thank you BreŠndan.
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