Scots star is true queen of the dance
Interview by Ann Fotheringham, www.eveningtimes.co.uk
Ringlets flying, feet whirling and smile beaming, she learned the steps at a local dance school, picking up awards aplenty.
She would dream of the day she would perform in Riverdance for real.
“It was the ultimate – everyone who was doing Irish dancing wanted to be in Riverdance,” she recalls.
“I saw it on TV – the first time anyone outside of Ireland really saw it, I guess, during the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. And I thought – I want to do that.”
Alana is now the longest-serving female lead on the show which – since that debut as the Eurovision interval act almost 20 years ago – has been seen live by more than 22 million people in around 350 venues throughout the world.
She is the only Scot to have danced the lead.
“It feels weird to think I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and I’m Scottish,” she smiles. “But I still love it.”
Growing up in Motherwell with her mum and dad, Wilma and Patrick, and older brother Brian, Alana left school to work in an insurance company.
“I liked my job, but all the time I was there I was desperate to join Riverdance,” she explains. “When I did get called to audition in Dublin, I was on holiday in New York and I was so upset at the thought I might miss it that I asked them if I could do the try-out in Broadway.
“There was a company performing the show there, so it made sense. They agreed, and it was the most nerve-wracking thing I had ever done.”
Back in Scotland, Alana was at work when she got a phonecall to say she had passed the audition and had a place in the Broadway company.
“I was stunned,” she recalls, with a smile. “I handed in my notice on the spot.”
Living in New York was a culture shock, she explains.
“I was 20, hadn’t really travelled anywhere and suddenly I was out there, far from home and family,” Alana explains. “But what an experience – it was like a dream come true. I started as a troupe dancer, and never really considered being asked to be lead. There were so many other girls ahead of me.”
After nine months on Broadway, Alana joined touring show, travelling to places as far-flung as Japan, Germany and China, where she got the chance to dance on the Great Wall.
“I’m lucky to have had such great experiences and I’ve made lots of good friends all over the world,” she says.
But in 2009, the tragic death of a friend almost made Alana give up and come home.
Her friend Eithne Walls was one of 216 people who died when an Air France plane travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, crashed into the sea.
“Eithne and I had worked together on Riverdance, and she had left the show to become a doctor,” explains Alana. “She was in Rio to celebrate qualifying. It was a really tough time and it made me think about what was important.”
Alana is back home in Motherwell after a summer season at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin and she is concentrating on her ‘other’ job – designing and making Irish dance costumes.
“I used to do it for myself, and I found I really loved it,” she smiles. “Now I have a number of customers, from local dance schools to orders coming in from America and Australia.
“I miss it when I’m on tour actually – it’s quite a specific art, designing outfits for Irish dancers and it helps if you understand dance.”
Alana has no plans to retire from dancing just yet, however.
“I have never lost my enthusiasm for Riverdance,” she smiles.
“It’s hard work – you have to look after yourself to avoid injury. But there is a buzz about the show and that feeling of connecting with the audience when you are all up on stage, and the music starts – it’s amazing.
“When I think back to when I was in Mrs Taylor’s Irish dance school, doing our Riverdance tribute shows…”
She laughs: “Sometimes I still can’t quite believe I’m here, travelling the world, doing it for real.”