"I want to do this SOOOO bad!" Amber McNevin

The call came from Trinity Irish Dance Company, America's premiere Irish dance company, due to appear in Colorado during their Spring 2002 tour. Would two dancers from Heritage Irish Stepdancers of Denver like to appear on stage with Trinity? Ariel Bennett, TCRG, had a hard time deciding which of her many deserving students to give such a wonderful chance to, and finally asked Amber and Kinsey McNevin if they'd like to take the opportunity on. The answer was "of course, yes! Yes!" They waited in terrible suspense until their mother said that they had her permission and danced around in glee.

The two girls excitedly prepared with extra practice. Amber (10) and Kinsey (6) were thrilled and nervous before the appearance of Trinity in Beaver Creek, a beautiful ski resort high in the Rocky Mountains. They agonized over the weather reports. What if it snowed? They worried about what steps to perform. What if they made a mistake in front of the audience—or even worse, the Trinity dancers? They practiced harder.

Before too long, the girls and their mother Wendy McNevin (who teaches and dances with Heritage as well) packed up their school costumes and dancing gear, and trekked up to the mountains surrounding Beaver Creek.

Stopping for a late lunch (or was it an early dinner?) in Silverthorn, the girls were stopped by a nice lady who asked about the curlers in Amber's hair (the famous Blue Medusa!). Were they Irish dancers? She was an Irish dancer too. She was also on her way up to Beaver Creek for the performance, she told them, and was looking forward to seeing them dance.

If anything, this made the girls even more excited and nervous. Someone had recognized them as Irish stepdancers!

"I'm so nervous for them!" Wendy McNevin

Arriving in Beaver Creek, they shivered past the beautiful shops and the lovely ice skating rink to the Vilar Center for the Arts. Arriving, they were escorted down to the dressing rooms and green room.

They were greeted by tall, smiling, red-haired Maureen Shea, one of Trinity's rehearsal directors and a Denver native. They gazed in awe at costumes on racks and crowded makeup mirrors as members of the company began getting ready.

"We're so crowded! I wish we could give you your own space in here instead of having to squish into the corner," lamented Maureen. "Why don't you put your things in this corner, and you can wait in the green room where there's more room? There's things to drink and eat in there if you want something."

The dancers exclaimed over the girls as they walked between the green room, the dressing rooms, and backstage. The girls watched as dancers put on makeup and the black garments worn under most of their costumes.

Maureen found them again. "We're about to rehearse one of our numbers on stage, do you want to come watch?" Both girls nodded, eyes shining.

Darren Smith, principal dancer of the Company, and some of the women were going over the number Leeson Street, dressed in athletic shoes and other street clothes. "This will be only the second time they've done this one," whispered Michael Carr, the incredibly busy and energetic company manager, on his way past. "Street dancers! I need all the Street dancers!" Liz Carroll's fiddle played over the loudspeakers as the musicians (Ned Folkerth, Christopher Layer, and Brendan O'Shea) played along. The dancers went through their steps and stopped, talking over various problems, and then started again.

The girls crouched in the wings, watching and listening.

"It just doesn't sound quite right," they heard the musicians talking to the sound engineer. "Can we do that again and see if we can fix the eq?" The dancers looked out into the house and asked if they should do it again as well. "You don't have to, but we'll do the whole thing for you if you want to," was the reply. The dancers went through it again.

The dancers chatted a bit with the girls in the wings. "This looks great for only the second time you've done this one," commented Wendy McNevin to Maureen Shea.

"I feel a lot better about it now!" smiled Maureen. "The first time you perform a number you're always a little nervous." The dancers looked at the list of the show numbers on the tables set up in the wings, ready for their quick costume change pieces and to hold bottles of water—and the tank of oxygen. Beaver Creek is 8,100 ft. / 2,469 meters above sea level at the base elevation. One of the dangers of going high into the Rocky Mountains suddenly is altitude sickness, with symptoms of oxygen deprivation.

"We've known all day that this is going to be tough because of the altitude!" one of the dancers told them. "Maureen's been telling us how to cope. We've been drinking water all day for two days, and some of us had headaches yesterday, but I think we're ready."

"Ryan Morris will be rehearsing you in just a little bit," Maureen called on her way off stage.

A smiling dancer with chic short hair called back to them over her shoulder. "I'll be back at seven, okay? I'll meet you back here!" and waved as she disappeared into the hallway to the green room. They had half an hour to wait.

As the girls trailed the dancers back to the dressing rooms, they bumped into another tiny dancer in the black, burgandy, and green school uniform of The Reed School of Irish Dance—Megan "Mimi" Nary, from neighboring Breckinridge, had arrived to take part as well. The girls eyed each other, trying to decide whether to be shy or not. Wendy suggested that they show Mimi the backstage area, and they raced off together. After showing Mimi the backstage, they returned to warm up, change their shoes and get into their green, gold, and white costumes.

Soon it was time to rehearse. The dancers were warming up on the dimly-lit stage, stretching out, standing in lunges and going through yoga moves, testing out the stage. Ryan Marie Morris, one of Trinity's dance captains, came and led them onto the stage.

"Okay, you guys, now you're going to do one step. Let's see," said Ryan, measuring the three girls up. "Kinsey and Mimi, you're about the same height, so you'll dance together in the third number, and, Amber, you'll dance in the first one. You're each going to do one step, one right foot and one left foot. Do you know what step you're going to do?" All three girls nodded. As Ryan showed the girls where they'd be standing and when they'd go onstage ("Who's on that side of the stage to help Mimi? Sinead?"), the dancers gathered round to watch.

"They're so cute!" a dancer whispered to the proud moms. Amber practiced her skip threes onto the stage ("Don't start 'til five-two-three!"), did her step as the dancers clapped time and Ryan lilted Rakes of Mallow for her to practice to, and skipped back off. She did it twice and felt confident she was ready. Then the two younger girls practiced in their turn as the dancers once again clapped time. After they were done rehearsing, they watched wide-eyed as the musicians worked with the dancers on some body percussion moves for the Curran Event number.

Back in the dressing rooms again, the three young dancers watched as the dancers finished their transformation from pretty young women you might meet on any street to the polished performers of the Trinity Irish Dance Company.

Michael Carr took care of last minute business, and asked for the three dancers' names and dance schools. Mark Howard, artistic director of the Company, spoke to individual dancers and crew and seemed to be everywhere at once. Crew members wandered purposefully around backstage on mysterious errands.

The dancers found costume pieces, glued their socks up, talked over how they'd cover for the hole left by the sick dancer who was currently lying on the green room sofa with a vaporizer by her head, suffering from severe bronchitis. They retrieved solo dresses from their black lemon-slice bags and set them on the tables backstage, set costume gauntlets, tiaras, and collars, added a little more eye-liner, wrapped black tape around ghillies with poodle-socked toes poking through them.

Out in the hallway getting their shoes on and curlers out, Darren Smith had some kind words to say and took a picture with them. A musician said hello; Michael Carr stopped with some encouraging words.

They were about as ready as they were going to get!

Interview MP3s

Michael Carr, company manager
   (onstage, on why Trinity asks local
   dancers to
dance with the Company)

Ryan Marie Morris, Trinity Dancer
   (backstage talking about being role
    models for young Irish stepdancers)

Amber and Kinsey McNevin before the show

"That was scary!" Amber McNevin

The crew began to fill the stage with fog. The dancers gathered on stage, sweeping the girls up with them. From backstage at the Vilar Center, you can't really hear what's going on out in the audience unless you're out on the stage, but the lady in the box office had told the girls that the show was completely sold out. They even planned to put chairs in the back of the theatre for people, so the nervous girls knew the auditorium was completely full.

A request for a picture of the girls with a couple of the dancers turned into a company photo. Unfortunately, the fog made a picture in the dark backstage almost impossible! No matter—the three additions to the Trinity Company are in the front row in a fog not unlike the ones you'll find on winter evenings in Ireland.

This was the last picture allowed to be taken until after the show, as it's Trinity's policy not to allow photographs during the performance.

The dancers, limbering up and double-checking costumes, began to get a little antsy as the minutes crept by, and show time came and went with the house held. "Can we get this show on the road?" the girls heard a dancer exclaim.

Suddenly, it was time! A voice-over announced the presence of the three local dancers with the company, giving their names and schools. Ryan came and shepherded Amber to her place in the wings, taking Mimi across the stage to wait on the other side of the stage. The lights went down, the curtain silently moved apart, and the lights came up and the music for the opening number, Johnny, swept the dancers out on stage. Wendy McNevin watched tensely from the dark wings, waiting for Amber's turn in the spotlight.

A dancer began counting Amber's first eight, and the dancers out on stage formed a horseshoe around the stage as Amber danced out into place. As she began her step, the company raised their hands over their heads and clapped time for her, calling out encouragement and cheering her on. As she danced back off the stage, and Trinity dancers swept forward for the next section of Johnny, the audience applauded for Amber.

"That was scary!" Amber said breathlessly to her mom backstage. Wendy hugged her and everyone crowded round to tell her how well she'd done.

As the company ran off stage from Johnny and the dancers in the second number went on, it was obvious that the altitude was taking its toll—a dancer motioned frantically to Wendy McNevin, gasping, and it took a moment to realize that she needed help with her solo dress zipper. As Blackthorn ended, some went right for the oxygen, and many grabbed for water bottles.

The third number, the brilliant and flashy Stepabout, was Kinsey and Mimi's time in the spotlight. As applause died for the second number, the music began for the third.

One of the dancers, Katie Wright, went onstage—but in a moment was back, limping badly, face showing obvious pain. She stumbled into the wings, and Michael Carr and other crew members immediately went to her. Out on stage, the number went on, but the crew was backstage busy trying to help Wright. Mark Howard pounded down the corridor within seconds, and went straight to Wright without needing to ask where she was.

"Mommy, did you see?" whispered Kinsey, tugging at Wendy's arm. "She's hurt!"

"Yes, I saw," replied her mother. "We'll just stay out of their way. I'm sure they'll come to get you soon for your turn." Moments later, a dancer came to take Kinsey to her place.

As Kinsey and Mimi danced skip threes out onstage, a soft "awww" rose up from the audience. The two tiny dancers went through their step, and danced off to applause from the audience and a hug from Mom. As the modern dance-influenced Hibernia began, dancers congratulated all three girls for doing so well.

Luckily for the girls, the Vilar Center wings are wide enough that Carr allowed them to remain backstage, to watch the show. "Just stay behind these tables, okay?" asked Carr. "I don't want you to get run over between numbers!" Wendy had to remind the fascinated girls—as the numbers flew by, they would sometimes forget, inching forward to watch the beautiful choreography and the pristine form of the Trinity dancers.

"Look at their feet! Look how high they are up on their toes!" they would whisper.

Mark Howard ran out from the green room to say that Wright would be able to dance hardshoe numbers, but not the softshoe. There were quick consultations on now covering two open spots in the choreographies.

A number later, Howard came backstage again and said that Wright would be out completely. He ran quickly to the other side of the stage to confer with dancers on that side as well. "Oh no, Mommy," whispered Kinsey. "Poor dancer!" agreed Amber. "What a bummer."

In the green room, the dancers commiserated about the effect the altitude was having on their bodies. "I've never danced this badly in my entire life!" groaned one.

"It's the lack of oxygen," agreed Darren Smith. "You sort of hit this wall, and you just don't have anything left in your legs."

Wendy McNevin told them that the show still looked great. Everyone said they were glad.

Katie Wright, one of Trinity's founding members, was receiving sympathy from her chair, a bag of ice on her ankle. "I know what it is, this happened before," she explained. "I just went right over on my ankle. I am so bummed." (A week later, we heard from Michael Carr that she had a broken toe and sprained ankle.) Dancers with a moment came to give sympathy and a little company to the two downed company members.

Kinsey asked her mother to tell Wright that she was sorry Wright was hurt. Wendy encouraged her to tell Wright herself, but she was too shy. Overhearing, Wright smiled and thanked Kinsey for her sympathy anyway.

Michael Carr told a funny story about Mark Howard helping him choose a new face plate for Carr's cell phone ("Madonna! Here's one with Madonna's face on it!"), leaving face plates littered all over the counter and Carr apologizing to the sales staff for the mess. Affectionate laughter peppered the story.

Kinsey and Mimi shared a chair in the wings to watch the rest of the show, the two of them small enough to kneel side by side on the seat. "I have to smile every time I see them like that," a dancer exclaimed.

All too soon, the last number, the Trinity trademark dance Celtic Thunder, arrived. In red and black dresses, the dancers performed the choreography that significantly changed the look and direction of Irish stepdancing in 1988. (The next to last number, The Dawn, won the company the gold medal at World's in 1998.)

Amber, Kinsey and Mimi went out on stage for the last time to take their bows amidst thunderous applause and shouts from the audience and company members. As a loud rock and roll beat danced company members off the stage, Ryan Morris, Patricia Finnegan, and Jennine McConellogue took the hands of the girls and invited them to come sign autographs with them out in the lobby.

Audience members bent to say how much they liked their steps, and the nice lady who had stopped to talk with them in the restaurant in Silverthorn even asked them to sign her Trinity music CD.

Ryan thanked both girls as they headed backstage again, and went to what should have been a well-deserved night's rest—but instead, Trinity was packing up, hitting the road and driving to Boulder (a two hour drive) for their next day of appearances and shows. The next day included a school performance and a master class session for one of Denver's Irish stepdancing schools.

As Mom headed their car back down the mountain, Amber and Kinsey chattered excitedly about their experiences and about Trinity's show... and then abruptly fell asleep.

Past the Publicity

As Amber said in her MP3 clip, the Trinity dancers are some of the best in the world—but their amazing dancing abilities are only the basis of this reputation. Their status as "some of the best in the world" also rests on their poise, their maturity, and their art.

Mark Howard, founder and artistic director of the company, has been lauded repeatedly by dance critics and lovers all over the world for his vision, insight, and love for the pure art of Irish stepdancing. One of the first to actively develop Irish stepdancing as a dance form fully on the world stage along with modern, ballet, tap and other ethnic dance forms, it's long been well known by dance critics all over the world that today's modern Irish shows would not exist as they do today without the groundbreaking work of Trinity Irish Dance Company.

Howard is often faced with interviewers who point out that the dance shows have resembled Trinity numbers in place since the late 80's, and who ask why the non-profit company might not want to cash in on the wave of Irish stepdancing popularity.

Howard, whose dream was of Irish stepdancing taking its place alongside serious dance artforms like ballet and modern, would probably reply that they have done so—by being able to present serious dance shows that push the boundaries of the form to appreciative audiences around the world.

It's also well-known that Howard has always striven to instill a firm sense of respect in his dancers—respect for themselves, for other dancers, and for the danceform—as well as self-confidence and modesty. (Many Irish stepdancing champions are also high achievers in other areas of their lives. Something about the artform instills self-discipline, high standards and motivation in a dancer's life.)

Trinity Academy students are taught that it's the journey that matters more than the trophies or medals. It's quite safe to say that the Trinity Irish Dance Company dancers, whether they came from Trinity Academy or not, have the same sort of ethic. A more gracious, poised, and fully professional company you'll never find, yet the members of the company have an average age of 21, give or take a few months.

Ryan Marie Morris, one of Trinity's dance captains, was asked how it felt to be a role model at such a young age. Her reaction, captured in the MP3, can't reflect the surprised and rather stunned look on her face at the question.

A better group of role models for young dancers like Amber and Kinsey and Mimi, I can't imagine.

Zina Lee     
editor: Louise Owen   

© 2002 Zina Lee