Interview: Conor McCarthy – Riverdance Physio
Aisling McVeigh, chats to Conor McCarthy
Like most athletes, professional dancers put their bodies through immense physical training and exercise to continually improve their performance and to be the best that they can be. One of the most common questions asked is, whether we pick-up many injuries and how we maintain our bodies over the course of a long tour, performing 8 shows a week. With Physio Conor McCarthy on standby backstage at all times, the troupe are well looked after.
Moy blogger & troupe dancer, Aisling McVeigh, chats to Conor McCarthy backstage during the show in Wellington, about his role as Physio on the road with Riverdance.
Aisling: Given the physical demands required of a professional dance troupe, you play a very important role within Riverdance. How did you become a Physio, touring with the world famous production?
Conor: I was working at Dr. Noel McCaffrey’s clinic, when a position came up with the Avoca Company. He is Medical Director for the show and recommended me for the role. I joined the show on their European Tour shortly after in August 2005, and have not looked back since.
Aisling: Did you always want to become a Physio?
Conor: I have always had a keen interest in sports of all kind. Growing up, I wanted to be a professional footballer and when I realised, that might not materialise, I knew that I wanted to work in the sports industry regardless. For me, it was always going to be a career in either Sports Journalism or Physiotherapy.
Aisling: What qualifications and training did you have to do to become a Physio?
Conor: Falling slightly short the first time round, I sat the Leaving Cert twice, to get the required points for studying Physiotherapy at University College Dublin. I spent 4 years on campus there, learning from the experts, graduating with an honours Degree.
I am currently half way through a Masters of Manual Therapy in association with The University of Western Australia, Perth.
Aisling: What are the most common injuries you come across in the show?
Conor: The most common injuries I see amongst dancers in the show are;
1. Foot and ankle 2. Calves 3. Hip & groin 4. Lower back 5. Knees
Aisling: What advice would you give to an Irish Dancer to prevent getting injured?
Conor: Firstly, be sure to drink enough water and eat enough food before going to your class, competing or doing a show. Do plenty of strengthening exercises such as calf raises, lunges and squats. It is vital to do a proper warm – up along with stretching before you dance, and just as important to cool down and stretch properly again afterwards. Your body uses a lot of energy when you are dancing so I would advise to refuel soon after also.
Here at Riverdance, we use ice buckets after each show to help prevent injuries. During the show there may be some damage done to muscles, ligaments and tendons. While it might not be enough to cause an injury, the ice can take any possible or potential inflammation down. Icing afterwards also helps to clear away any waste products produced in the muscles during exercise. As important as everything else, people always feel better after icing.
Aisling: How does working with Irish Dancers differ from your work with other athletes?
Conor: Boxers are the athletes I work with most outside of the show, which at the moment mainly involves preparing and training for the 2012 Olympics, to be held in London this summer.
The main differences would be the type of injuries that occur. Boxing concentrates mostly on the upper limb, from hands to the lower back, whereas Irish dancers mainly use the lower half of their bodies, which is where the majorities of their injuries occur
Another difference lies in the preparation processes. Preparation for a boxing tournament is shorter but more intense. Dancing is more like a marathon causing less sudden acute injuries but more wear and tear to the muscles.
Despite the differences there are also many similarities between a professional boxer and dancer. Both are at the top of their sport, committing to countless hours of training and dedication from a very young age to get to the level that they are at today.
I enjoy working with both as it keeps things interesting and my work varied.
Aisling: For those wondering what it must be like backstage at Riverdance, can you describe your working day?
Conor: Normally, I get into work about 2.5 hours before the show to deal with any injuries that need to be dealt with before the cast are called for warm up. I get all the strappings done about 30 minutes prior to each performance.
During the show, I continue to treat any on-going injuries along with anything new that might happen or occur.
After the show when the cast are icing, I make sure no one has picked up any new injuries.
Aisling: Any favourite places you have visited so far while on tour?
There have been so many to date, but I think doing a shark dive in Cape town, while on tour in South Africa last year, has to top my list. Travelling the world is a great perk of this job. We are in New Zealand at the moment, and I’ve planned to go swimming with Dolphins in Kaikoura on our next day off.
Aisling: How do you spend your downtime on tour?
Conor: I always try seeing as much of the cities we are in, as possible. I also try to keep some discipline and do a bit of training while I’m on the road, like running or going to the gym – although it can be a lot harder to do so on tour than at home.
Aisling: Is there any advice you would give to someone who would like to become a Physio, in particular those wanting to work with dancers or a touring production like Riverdance?
Conor: The best advice I can give, would be to work hard in school to get a place on your preferred Physiotherapy course at University/College. Once you’re in, work as hard as you can to get involved with your chosen sport, dance form or discipline. Also, take as many opportunities as you can get along the way, as you never know where or what they might lead you to.