Darren was kind enough
to share with the Celtic Cafe a glimpse into his life of accomplishments. This
is a young man on the go, and he and the others of the Trinity Irish Dance
Company are flying off on another tour, delighting Irish dance fans starting
this Saturday, February 2nd. See the related links at the bottom for the tour
dates, because you do not want to miss an opportunity to see Trinity.
has also provided some exciting prizes for the winners of a caption contest, including
a pair of tickets to see the show!
you've been dancing for 21 years, since the age of three. Your professional career
started after you won the World Irish Dancing Championships in 1997 with a rare
perfect score from every adjudicator. At what point did you first realize that
your talent might transport you into a career in the performing arts? Did the
Eurovision and the subsequent world interest in Irish dance mark a turning point
in attitudes among Irish dancers who were doing it mainly for competition? What
was the "buzz" like at dance classes after news of Riverdance and its
spectacular success reached you young dancers?
I remember it being
rather surreal actually. It really did take the world by storm. We would go to
a feis every weekend or so, go to the Worlds, the North American Championships,
the Canadian Championships once a year. Suddenly it all changed, and a new avenue
for experience quickly evolved from competing to a professional career. Although
I'm sure most parents who have children involved with the various shows are quite
proud, I bet they wish they were the ones dancing and making money, considering
how much they invested in it over time. I've been dancing for a long time - I
don't think I could pay back my parents half of what they put into it, except
to say "Thank you!"
I was about five minutes away from signing a Riverdance
contract a few years ago and turned it down for various reasons. The pressure
was intense to be involved with something so incredibly world-renowned; however,
I chose a path of artistic vision rather than commercial vision to be a principal
dancer with Trinity. I haven't regretted that decision ever, although the world
of not-for-profit can be frustrating sometimes.
How do dancers join the
Trinity company? What made you decide to go with Trinity and not Riverdance, for
instance? Please explain how Trinity differs from the other Irish dance shows.
I had the pleasure of seeing you folks when you came to my area about three years
ago, and am wondering what the show is like now. I know that Mark Howard believes
in experimentation, and the show leans toward "fusion." What elements
are being experimented with now? What can the fans expect on the coming tour?
needs a minimum of sixteen girls and one boy to do its show. We typically tour
with at least eighteen girls, two guys, three musicians, and three techs, although
the company has a list of approximately 30-35 dancers it can call on at any given
I chose Trinity because it is the only company of its kind: a non-profit
organization with a goal to exist long after the flame has died out for commercial
Irish dance shows, so to speak. Trinity has the honor of being on the same type
of tours as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Pilobolus, Mark Morris Dance
Co., etc. The performing arts world is not the same as the commercial show world.
Our repertoire changes constantly and may be completely different from one night
to the next on tour. With Riverdance for example, the set list never changes.
You do the same thing every night for the better part of a year. In fact, they
strive for exactitude from night to night. With Trinity, you get the chance to
be artistically challenged and involved with choreography. We work with a varying
degree of modern dance choreographers. Actually, we had the honor of recently
working with Sean Curran again who is a former Irish dancer and member of STOMP.
He choreographed a piece for the company (which I'm in) called 'Jump, Jive, and
Jig'. It's a swing/Irish piece. Very fun but very tiring! I thought Irish dancing
was tiring - try mixing some swing in. :-) For the coming big tour in February
2002, there will be some new Irish dance pieces as well. Mark loves to experiment
and be different. He is a creative visionary that loves to break new ground. I
don't think anyone will be disappointed with the coming tour.
that "Curran Event" is still part of the program? I look forward to
seeing the Sean Curran dance company in the spring. What can you tell us about
Sean Curran is one the most pleasant people I have
ever worked with. He is a former member of STOMP - and a former Irish dancer!
He basically melded body percussion and Irish dancing together to make this piece.
Quite often, audiences will mimic what the girls are doing on stage with the clapping.
It shows that Irish dancers can use their arms and hands in amazing ways too!
It's hard to take Irish dancers, most of whom have very little dance training
outside of Irish dance, and get them to do different things properly. This company
is full of willing and talented people who are given the opportunity to expand
their abilities in ways they didn't think possible.
We have a CelticCafeDANCERS
group on Yahoo, and it has grown very large, with many Irish dancers of all ages
and levels of expertise joining us. What kind of advice might you want to offer
them, taking into account the career opportunities that have opened up in recent
years. And do you think it's possible to have TOO many Irish dance shows on the
world stage at one time?
Anything is possible in anything you do. It
sounds cliché but honestly, if you feel like you want to make a career
out of dancing, surround yourself with supportive people and work hard. There
are opportunities out there all over the world. I know people who have started
schools in all sorts of countries you wouldn't expect an Irish dance school to
It is definitely possible to have too many Irish dance shows out there.
It's like having too many reality television shows. There are those that truly
appreciate the art form and have a wish to show the world what a fantastic sight
Irish dancing is. Then there are those that want nothing more than to make a quick
buck. There are so-called Irish shows out there that don't even use Irish dancers
in the chorus - they use tap or jazz dancers, or the most extreme I have heard
is people who aren't dancers at all. I think that's a shame. Imitation is the
best form of flattery though now, isn't it? :-)
mother and grandmother were dancers in County Derry, Northern Ireland. They must
be very proud of you and what you have achieved. What kinds of things have they
taught you, either in terms of dance technique or in attitude about Irish dance?
Who have been the most important "role models" for you, whether it be
in dance or other endeavors?
My mom is extremely proud and has supported
me every step of the way. Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away a few years
back, but I still remember dancing in her living room in Birmingham (where she
lived most recently) - indeed she was proud too. To be truthful, my mom didn't
ever teach me anything about dance technique, but she did turn me into a gracious
loser as well as winner, and fostered a positive attitude towards being successful
at everything I have ever done.
Without a doubt, the most important influence
in my dance career is one of my teachers, Brian Grant. I owe a large part of what
I have achieved to him, as well as Brigid Grant (his mother, and my teacher as
Tell us about your teachers at the Grant School of Irish Dancing
and their role in helping you become the dancer you are.
This goes along
with what I was just saying
to elaborate on it I would say that Brian is
the very essence of a champion and wonderful teacher. Sometimes I thought he was
trying to kill me, he pushed so hard to bring success out of me. But he did it
with grace and - I have come to realize - with true friendship. Brigid (his mother)
has been teaching in the Toronto area for a long time and is extremely well-respected.
She helped turn Brian into a multi-World Champion, and was definitely a part in
making me one as well. I owe a debt of gratitude to both of them forever, as they
taught with complete selflessness to see me do my best and succeed. It's great
to be on top of the World Championship podium - I can't imagine what it's like
to be a teacher watching one of your students up there - yet.
some of the dancers you admire and why - what "styles" of Irish dance
do you gravitate towards? How much do you contribute to the choreography of the
dancing you do with Trinity?
I admire Brian Grant, my teacher, and
Colin Dunne the most as dancers. I've been told too many times to count that I
look like Brian dancing. Not surprising, considering he was my teacher for so
long. Colin is just an incredible dancer - I have always been amazed watching
him. In terms of my style, I would say I gravitate to intricate and interesting
I have a very masculine style
pretty powerful hard shoe dancer
but with good lift off the ground. Great rhythm has always been my strong suit,
Where do you think Irish dance is headed? Undoubtedly you are
aware of the changes in costume, etc., at the competitions these days, compared
to when you were winning all the titles. What do you think of them, and btw, how
did you like dancing in kilts?! ;-)
Irish dancing has certainly turned
into a major industry. The numbers at competitions are huge compared to when I
With regards to costume, to be quite frank, I much prefer
the traditional styles. The girls' embroidered solo dresses are absolutely gorgeous
and a plain "Riverdance" type dress does not really compare at all.
Although I have seen variations on the traditional dress styles that are quite
beautiful, like imaginative materials for the sleeves and linings.
we all know real men wear kilts. :-) To be entirely honest, I was totally
embarrassed by my kilt for much of my competitive career. No friend outside of
Irish dancing knew what a kilt was - it was a skirt, plain and simple. Only my
mom wears skirts. I became much more comfortable with it as I grew older, and
still today, I think a boy in traditional kilt and jacket looks much better than
many of the boys in pants and vest. However, from a technical standpoint, pants
and vest make many boys "appear" better because each costume serves
to hide different things.
So I guess I'm a traditionalist on the competitive
We at the Celtic Cafe were quite
excited about the reports we were getting about Needfire, and had hoped
that it would go on tour. You were principal dancer for both of its two runs in
Toronto. What was that experience like? Do you think that a show focused on Scottish-based
music and dance can achieve the same kind of popularity that the Irish dance shows
have? Why haven't we seen more of them, do you think?
was a show full of breathtaking Canadian Celtic talent. If it had toured, I'm
sure it would have been a hit. Unfortunately (and I am surmising here), when you
put so many well-known performers on one stage along with 40 dancers and a large
band, the show becomes quite an expensive undertaking to tour. I also suspect
that we were competing with the likes of The Lion King and Mamma Mia for production
resources. It wasn't really much of a fight so to speak. Business is business.
However, I can wholeheartedly say that both experiences were a joy and pleasure
to be a part of. Especially in my hometown.
During the explosion of Irish
dance shows, I did notice a few Scottish ones floating around. Not recently though.
I think some producers saw an opportunity to capitalize on the Irish phenomenon
and convert it into a Celtic one. It didn't quite catch, but you can't blame them
for trying. In recent years we've seen Flamenco, swing, and tap-themed shows become
big hits as well. Dance in general is a beautiful thing - the human body is capable
of so much. Will we see something approach the level of what Irish dance did?
Not anytime soon would be my bet.
Some of my favorite Celtic music
comes from the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia. You worked with a lot of exceptionally
talented performers in Needfire. Can you tell us a bit about some of them, like
Mary Jane Lamond and Slainte Mhath?
I can proudly say I've worked with
some of the most talented musicians and singers in Canada, including John McDermott,
The Irish Descendants, Natalie MacMaster, Jesse Cook, The Ennis Sisters, John
Allan Cameron, Sandy McIntyre, and you've already mentioned Mary Jane and the
ever-so talented Slainte Mhath. They're all down to earth, nice, normal people.
Slainte Mhath in particular comprise some of the friendliest people I know. As
far as I know, their careers are blossoming quite nicely, with a just completed
tour of Europe. I speak to Lisa via e-mail every now and then, but I think it's
her turn to write me!! :-)
You appeared with Natalie MacMaster, one of
my all-time favorite performers, at the Juno Awards, Canada's version of the Grammies.
I'd love to see a video clip of that. Will you have it on your website at some
Good question. Now, where did I put that videotape? If I can
find it I will indeed.
You've made quite a few appearances on TV shows
and been in a movie or two. What was that like? Any funny incidents you wouldn't
Regis was supposed to wear a kilt when I danced (in kilt)
on his show. He chickened out! :-)
I did this gag for the Tonight show where
they challenged a guy in the audience as to whether I could break all the bubbles
on a sheet of bubble wrap. In rehearsal, it took about five tries to get it right
because each time I started dancing, I'd tear the bubble wrap to pieces and it'd
fly all over the place. They had to tape it to a piece of cardboard and tape the
cardboard to the stage.
We did this (really bad) movie called Mafia!,
where this very large mob guy kills Michael Flatley (actually Tim O'Hare) and
comes back on stage pretending to be him, to kick the head off his nemesis in
the front row. I don't think the 14 hours of constant dancing would have been
possible if it wasn't so funny. 14 hours for 30 seconds of screen time. Wow. But
these are experiences I will never forget.
Off the Dance Floor
majored in radio and television broadcasting. What made you decide to go into
that, and what are your career aspirations once you think you've had enough fun
dancing around the world?
I have this big aversion to sitting in lecture
halls listening to some old guy talking about things I won't use in the real world.
I'm also a big button-pusher and gadget freak. Television seemed like it had lots
of toys to play with, and I was right. Unfortunately, it's an industry that doesn't
cater well to random schedules. So I'm a sales and purchasing manager for a computer
store in Toronto when I'm not dancing. I have a very supportive and understanding
boss that gives me some time off when I need it. Television would never provide
that. It is an option for in the future. I may decide to explore other avenues
with dancing - get my TCRG and see what happens. I have aspirations of being a
pilot - I may go that route too. I guess I'm not fully decided!
work with computers quite a bit now. Do you spend much time online, and can fans
write to you directly?
Sure they can. They can contact me through my
website: www.darrensmith.com, or my e-mail address there is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I spend quite a bit of time online these days playing with my site, so I'm usually
What do you enjoy doing for fun? What kind of music
do you enjoy listening to? What kinds of books do you enjoy reading? Tell us about
your interest in flying! How much time do you spend on it? What do you like to
do when you are on tour, assuming that you have the time? Do you like trying to
see the sights, take pictures for a photo album, etc.? What do you look forward
to the most?
I've been into computers since childhood and have made
a small second living out of it when I'm not dancing. More appropriately, I'd
call myself a gadget freak. I love the new and nifty in the electronics world.
When I lose something (i.e., my portable MP3 player on the way back from Taiwan),
I consider it an opportunity to buy a better version of it. :-) I'm also into
photography - I own a Nikon SLR camera with two lenses and a regular point-and-shoot
APS camera as well. I took seven rolls of film in Taiwan alone!
listening to a wide variety of music - basically anything except country and hip-hop.
I don't read as much as I used to or want these days. I'm a big science fiction
and fantasy fan when I do get the chance though.
I've wanted to be a pilot
since I was a pretty small kid. I was always fascinated with it. I was planning
to start training for my private pilot's license this autumn, but the Taiwan trip
put the brakes on it. I need to complete a few months of ground school and did
not want to miss so many classes. I've flown a Cessna single-engine plane a few
times, and it has only reinforced my desire to be a pilot in one way or another.
Even if it only becomes a hobby I will be happy.
Since I recently got back
from Taiwan, I can tell you a little bit about my fabulous trip. I saw beautiful
Buddhist temples, gorgeous mountain scenery, a family of five on a scooter, and
my life flash before my eyes in many a taxi. The food was very good and the theatres
we were in are more like giant arts palaces. I must admire the dedication the
people there seem to have towards arts and cultural activities. Each theatre was
built in the middle of a public area where people would practice dancing, T'ai
Chi, singing, or just hang out with family. You don't see that in North America.
people in Taiwan are some of the friendliest and most wonderful people I have
ever met in all of my travels. We always meet great people when we go to great
places. I love being in places for more than a couple of days, which happens so
rarely. We get a chance to explore and meet people. I've been to so many places
and I can hardly remember half of them. Perhaps some places are best left forgotten,
but I do cherish the extended periods we get to spend in the unforgettable ones.
is your philosophy of life?
Believe in yourself. Be kind. Be true to
Interview: Bernadette Price
Web Design: Alexander Servas
Editing: Louise Owen