your dancing career began at a very early age. How old were
you when you took your first class, and was Irish dancing
already in the family?
I was 10 years old when I took my first dancing class. Like
every Irish family, it's traditional for somebody in the family
to try dancing or music, and my family is very musical anyway.
My Dad is a tenor, and my sister is singing in a local band,
and they all tried dancing at some stage or other but I'm
the only one that kept it up. My mother used to teach set
many brothers and sisters do you have?
have three brothers and two sisters.
part of Ireland are you from? Is it a dancing area?
I'm from Kilmacthomas, which is a small village outside Waterford.
I went to the Higgins Academy in Waterford, they're a very
good dancing school... I think anywhere in Ireland is somewhat
involved with Irish dancing, especially in the last few years
it has become even stronger in all areas.
How young were you when you began going to feises and competing?
I started going to the feises about 6-8 months after I started
dancing. I picked up the work very quickly, and I went from
my first feis straight into open dancing. I won all my beginners'
[competitions] and from then it started to get tough. I was
against all the people that were in it since they were three
you think that in a way you had an advantage starting a little
No, it would have been harder, because the younger you start
dancing the better... it would be a lot easier for them to
pick up steps, and they'd know the whole routine about going
to feises and whatever. I started at an age where they were
all at a very high standard as it was, so I had a lot of work
to do to catch up on them. But I caught up! - Thank God!
it always to dance, or do you have musical talents also?
To be honest, at the age of ten the last thing I wanted to
do was dancing - I was more into sport, ladies' football,
basketball, running, anything really to do with sport. My
Mum wanted me to do the dancing and play music, but I kept
up the dancing for her and eventually grew to really like
far did you travel then and how often?
suppose the furthest we would have travelled would be to England
for the Great Britains and the British Nationals, and the
majority of the feises were held in Ireland. So it was basically
it was Sundays, that would be in Ireland, and then we'd travel
once or twice a year.
And how often would you travel at home? Would it be every
nearly every weekend. My Mum would bring me to a feis, for
that's a huge commitment from her too?
yes, she was devoted to it too.
think you said she was a dancer herself?
she was; she used to teach set dancing. She had to give all
that up because she was in a very bad car accident, but she
always wanted one of us to do dancing and I was the one I
suppose who kept it up for her.
I think you certainly fulfilled her dreams!
What were some of your highest achievements in competition?
Well, I won the British Nationals, every year I went over
there, the Great Britains, the All-Irelands, my qualifying
rounds - the Munster Championships, and I've been in the top
three in the Worlds three years running. So I suppose I've
achieved almost everything I can achieve in that sense.
you think of returning to competition as some of the show
No I don't think so, not now. A lot of my competition are
all in the shows.
Did you ever imagine then that dancing could take you into
the world of international show business?
Not at all, not until I saw Riverdance onstage, and it was
like a dream... 'I'd love to be in that'... and I never thought
I would be.
you see the original Eurovision Riverdance on the night?
I did, yes. There was actually the All Irelands or something
just before it, and I knew some of the girls. They were using
a particular dancing school in Dublin, the O'Se Dancing School
[for Riverdance], and some of the girls were [competing] against
me and they said to watch the Eurovision because they were
dancing in it, so I stayed up to watch it and I was absolutely
gobsmacked when I saw it!
You are known worldwide, of course, for your roles in
Michael Flatley's Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames. Now
you are the star of the wonderful show Ragus, in Vicar St.
in Dublin, for its summer 2001 engagement. Tell me how you
became involved with this show.
I was contacted by Michael Ryan, who is a dancing teacher,
he's the choreographer of the show, and he asked me would
I be interested in doing Vicar Street. At the time I didn't
know what I wanted because since January officially I had
left Lord of the Dance, and I was kind of 'Will I? Won't I?'
but it was five shows a week, and it suited me because it
was in Dublin and I could go home at the weekends, so I said
I'd do it.
Performing in an intimate theatre setting to a small audience
must be a very different experience after the big touring
shows. How do you like it?
It is different and it isn't different. To me, no matter
if there's two people I'm performing to or 20,000 people,
I'd perform the same way. I go out to make those happy; they
deserve that, they're paying to see me dance and that's what
I do, I go out and do my job. But in a sense it is more homely.
There's so many people in the big arenas, which is an absolutely
unbelievable feeling, but this is more relaxed, and it is
more homely to me - which is perfect for me at the moment,
it's what I want. - At the moment!
you know the other cast members before you began, and have
they had similar adventures with the big shows as you? If
not, how easy is it for you all to relate to one another's
approach to performing?
First off, two of my cousins are with me, Karen Hally and
Deirdre Kiely! And I'm delighted that they're here with me,
part of my family with me so that keeps me going. I knew of
the others because Michael Ryan, their teacher, would have
taught very near me, so I would have known names, you know,
but I wouldn't have known them as friends, I wouldn't have
related to them that way. Donnacha Howard, who's doing the
lead here with us, he's actually in Riverdance, and Karen's
in Riverdance, so they've experienced what it's like to be
in a big show as well, play to a big audience.
features slightly more traditional choreography than you had
become used to. Was it difficult to go back, or were you given
plenty of scope for how you interpret the dances? Is any of
the choreography your own?
No matter what I perform, no matter what it is, I always
put my own style to it. That's just me, I mean it could be
a hand movement, it could be a head movement, but I just have
to keep comfortable with what I'm doing. And I might go out
there one night and I might do something one way, and the
next night it might be the exact same step but I'll do it
in a different way, just whatever way I feel at the time.
Lightshoe dancing particularly, is my own, in this show. I
love choreographing my own.
And there's obviously no problem with you doing that?
no. Obviously there are certain steps that Michael has choreographed
for here, and I will do those, fine, I'll put my own style
to them, and then the rest was left down to me, like my lightshoe
long do you expect to remain with the show? Just for the current
Dublin run or beyond?
I don't know yet. I going to decide when I'm finished here.
I'm going on holidays for two weeks, to Dubai, so I'm going
to go and enjoy that and I'll decide what I'm going to do
when I come back.
step back in time, your big break came of course when you
were among the first group to audition for Michael Flatley's
Lord of the Dance when you were just sixteen. Tell me how
you came to be in that group and what you remember of that
I think... there were so many people there, that to even
get back to the second recall of dancers, I was delighted.
I didn't think I was going to, there were just so many people.
The All Irelands had been on beforehand and I think he'd been
kind of looking out for who he wanted so I think he had an
idea of who he wanted anyway. And then, we were all there
and we had people picking us, and then Michael Flatley came
in and it was like.... well he was my idol, basically, and
to see him walking in... everything just went silent and nobody
was saying anything, and then he just went 'Hey guys!' like
this, and I just couldn't believe it, to listen to him even
talking - and then he drilled us that day.... and I think
it was just the awe of being there, and him being there, to
me, he was just my idol, you know at the time he was just
Michael Flatley the Amazing Dancer! Then I got back
in, they called back sixty, and then the Prince's Trust was
on in London and they picked nine girls and I was one of the
nine they picked for that so.... I think was all done very
fast, I was in it so quickly it was no decision! I had been
offered Riverdance at the same time and I didn't know what
to take, but I think I was there and Michael wanted nine dancers
so quickly that my decision was made. It was like, Now, or
wait and go with Riverdance, so I said 'I'll go with you,
and so on....' - And that's my experience of it.
is well known that the troupe members have a warm and high
regard for Michael Flatley. In the beginning did you feel
intimidated by him or was he instantly easy to work with?
have never had a problem with Michael Flatley. I always seemed
to work very well with him. If he wanted me to do something
in a certain way, I'd do it, or if I ever wanted to do something
in a certain way I'd suggest it to him, you know, we seemed
to work well together. So I never felt intimidated by him,
I think I worked well with him from the start.
he a good teacher, showing the dances? Was it easy to interpret
what he wanted?
yes he had very good ideas, he wanted the best and it came
across. He was very strict but that came across onstage and
look where it got him!
I believe you and Bernadette Flynn were quickly picked out
for the two lead roles. Was that a surprise to you, and how
did you feel at the time?
I couldn't believe it! We were the youngest there, the rest
of them were all older than us. I remember one day being called
in by Michael and Marie and they said that I definitely would
be given understudy - I think I was one of the first girls
called in. Then I didn't hear much about it, and then one
day we were in a room and Michael put on the "Gypsy"
music and he called me out and asked me to do the lead part
in it, to do whatever I felt myself, and whatever came to
me at that time I just did, and that's what I did in the Point.
He obviously liked it, so from there on I got the lead. It
was a big shock, because I was so young I don't think I really
realised it... you know, seeing other people, older than me,
I thought well they're definitely going to be the lead because
they've been in dancing longer than me, they're years older
and more experienced... but obviously he had different opinion
on it. He wanted who he wanted and luckily I was who he wanted.
you prepared for the opening of the show at the Point Theatre
in Dublin in 1996, did you think Lord of the Dance would become
a touring show? When did that idea first occur to you, and
did it excite you or make you nervous?
don't think I even thought of it in that way. It goes back
again to being young and not knowing much about anything.
I came from, being the youngest in my family, being treated
like a baby to living on my own, and then this big show, being
lead in it and ... I just think everything was done so fast
I didn't even think of the fact that I'd be travelling around,
being away from home. But then when it did happen it kind
of hit me then 'Gosh, I'm not at home any more, I'm away!'
And I seemed to fit in, it was fine.
and Bernadette Flynn and all the dancers have become incredibly
glamorous through the years, all beautifully made-up and hair
very exotic. Were you professionally taught at any stage?
Do you do your own make-up on the shows?
My hair is naturally curly, I just wash it and that's it,
a bit of hairspray and it's grand. And the make-up, I think
I just grew to do it my own way and whatever suited me I got
used to doing it. The only time we got our make-up done professionally
was for the videos, myself and Bernadette had to have our
make-up done professionally for that obviously. Every other
night we do it ourselves.
from dance events, had you travelled much before touring with
hadn't really, I was a bit of a home bird and the youngest
at home. Anywhere I went was with my Mum and it was only to
the feises and that was it really. I never thought of touring
before that. It was completely different for me, a new experience.
the touring become tedious or did you always enjoy it? Did
you get homesick?
the first two years it was all new, it was great, but the
more it went on the harder it got. So then I started to become
very homesick. I missed my family loads. Touring was very
tedious but I didn't mind it; you got used to it.
Tell me about some of the most exotic/exciting places
you have been.
I think Australia and South Africa are definitely the two
that stand out. South Africa was just a really good tour,
we had time to enjoy it. The shows were hectic but they were
not as hectic as it would have been in America. There we wouldn't
have had the time to go around and explore the places - we
got to enjoy ourselves, but South Africa, there was something
about it - I think the shows were later or something, but
we managed to get time during the day to do an awful lot.
And I just think everybody liked it. There was the heat and
we were staying in a nice place and it was lovely over there
and I think everyone was in good form, so that stuck out in
my mind, I really enjoyed that tour. And Australia I really
enjoyed because it was my first major place I flew to, you
know, we did Ireland and England and then it was Australia,
and it was... Wow! I'd only been to Ireland and England and
this was Australia that I only dreamed of! And that stood
out in my mind as well, and the people were very friendly
over there, that's what I remember.
did you pass your time in off-duty hours? In places where
you didn't maybe have time to sightsee?
Let me see... well, shopping would be one of my main faults!
I think it is for a lot of the girls in the show, shopping!
A lot of the days we'd spend doing that, or we'd go down to
the swimming pool, if it was fine obviously you'd be sunbathing.
You are tired after the shows during the week so you want
to stay in bed for a while in the morning; I know I used to
love my lie-in, and then I'd get up and get my things ready
for the show and then maybe go for something to eat and go
have a look for the shops, or go see something, or go to the
pool, just generally keep myself occupied.
have seen footage of you putting other troupe members through
exercise routines backstage. Is a fitness routine a major
part of your life, and what kinds of exercise do you like
I'm not one of these fanatics on fitness - luckily I don't
have to worry about having to go and do a lot of exercise
to keep myself fit because I think the dancing alone keeps
me fit enough. When I finished [on the show] I took a long
break and this has been the first production that I've done
since. I was off a good few months and I didn't even pick
up a shoe, and it took me probably two weeks to get back into
it, which is not long after being off for so long. I'd go
to yoga or aerobics if a friend was going but I'm not into
running off to them, I don't feel I need it. If I want to
go to the gym and feel I need it, then I'll go, but I'm more
into relaxing... if I go to a swimming pool I like relaxing
in the jacuzzi, you know!
back now it must seem as if you 'grew up' on the road - how
do you feel about that? Do you feel you missed out on a part
of your youth at home or do you feel that what you had was
special and the best chance in life you could have had? Do
you feel it has made you a stronger and more secure person,
having had that unique experience?
definitely feel it's made me a stronger person. I mean, you
learn so much when you're out in the real world, and I matured
so much within months, I went from being a baby to being an
adult and it has given me a really good experience - and I'd
advise any sixteen/seventeen-year-old, if they get the chance,
go do it. I don't regret doing it at all because I've had
opportunities that no sixteen-year-old would ever have in
their entire lives. There are times when I regret that I have
missed out things with my family, but I'm at home now and
I'm going to make up for that.
the troupe must become close, like a big family almost. Did
you form lifelong friendships?
think when you're on tour you get very close to certain people.
I had two or three different room-mates. Sometimes you can
get very close to people and you can end up getting hurt in
relationships. You can hear things, people might have said
things behind your back, and in that sense, that's not their
fault or it's not your fault because you've been brought up
in different ways... like they might be from a different country
or whatever and you're all put in the one thing together,
and you're forced to get on with people. But when you leave
something you always find out your true friends, and I mightn't
have as many friends now as I had when I was in Lord of the
Dance but at least I know my true friends. I could probably
count them on one hand, but they're the ones that were my
true friends when I was in Lord of the Dance and I'll always
And on the romantic side, is there anyone special in your
life? If so, is he a dancer?
There is, and no, he's not a dancer. I met him when I came
home and I've been with him ever since, and he's just... he's
a gentleman, he just treats me so well. He's a hundred percent
behind whatever I do, and we're very good for each other.
He makes me very happy.
The Hyde Park Feet of Flames was perhaps the climax of
your career with the big shows. Tell me some of your memories
of the build-up to that and the night itself.
The build-up to it I think was more worry than anything,
because we had some new steps in the show and we had new costumes
and new settings, and to get everything right on the night
we didn't have much time to rehearse. We had done the RDS
[in Dublin] and we had I think about ten days off but then
we had about two weeks to rehearse, and I can recall it being
'oh I hope everything goes right' because we were doing two
recordings of the show and we'd only two chances to do everything
right. So we had the dress rehearsal recorded and the night
and that was it, whatever came out was on the video. So I
remember that being a bit stressful, but I remember it also
being very enjoyable and it being the most incredible feeling
in my whole entire life - that audience was just amazing!
It was unbelievable.
were recently in America on a very special non-dancing assignment.
Tell me about that.
I'm with Celtic Talent. It's a modelling agency in Clonmel.
I joined up with them about six, eight months ago. They cover
modelling, and basically any talents, singing, dancing, etc.,
and I went to America, to New York, for two weeks with them.
And it's... the only way I can explain it is they're all agencies
that are scouting for talent, and you perform or model or
whatever. And I did get some very good offers, but I don't
want to rush into anything.
you dance for them?
did, yes. They actually asked, one of the people over there,
from the MTA Awards, knew that I was coming over there, and
I wasn't even meant to be dancing at all, but they requested
that I dance so I had to dance for the banquet and everything!
Only two people performed at the banquet and I was one of
what else were you doing then?
Modelling and singing. Singing is something that I really
want to go into. It's something that since I was a little
girl that I think is really important, to me, and I think
my family really want me to do it. If it came off for me it
would be brilliant but if it didn't it doesn't, and at least
you know, I've tried something and I've been to America and
I've tried, and if I'm not going to go over to America I'll
keep on trying here [in Ireland], I like to start up in Ireland
singing, you know, if you could get someone to back you...
but what are the chances of that?! But I'll plug along and
see what happens. But that's where I really want to go to.
directions do you see your life taking in the future?
At the moment I don't know, there's just so many things that
are popping up... do I want to do this? Do I want to do that?
But there's nothing that I'm 100% about yet and I don't want
to rush into anything because I've spent five years of my
life away from home and I want to enjoy being home at the
moment, and the fact that I'm going out with somebody at home
now and I have to think of that as well, you know, I can't
think of myself all the time. I really do like this guy that
I'm going out with, so hopefully it will last, and I don't
want to ruin that either.
Do you miss the big shows? Would you like to go back to
I do and I don't. I miss being onstage, with the big audience,
and I miss the part that I played in Lord of the Dance more
so than anything because I felt I made that my own. And I
always wonder how is it going? And that's something that will
always be on my mind. But there are sides of it I don't miss,
and I think at the end of the day my decision came to that
and I'm glad with the decision I made.
you continue to dance as long as you can? Would you like to
teach, or have you any dreams of creating a show yourself?
don't know. I think everybody thinks of creating or teaching
or whatever, but that's something that you can't decide now
because I'm in the middle of performing in a show, and I don't
know where my life is going at the moment, and I've thought
of everything, and thought of all these ideas, and maybe I
will put them into practice, maybe I won't!
by Annie of Dublin