May 20, 2011
Journalism student and former Riverdance lead dancer CARLA O’BRIEN describes her joy at dancing for Queen Elizabeth II.
When I first danced these steps in 2001, I never dreamt that I would be dancing them on a Dublin stage 10 years later for Queen Elizabeth II.
It’s 8am and as I leave my sister’s abode in Stepaside, Co Dublin, I know this is no ordinary day and no ordinary gig.
On a crisp sunny morning, the quays are deserted as I enter a ghostly Convention Centre. Gardaí and men in black flank the east entrance. Inside, airport security scanners await and gardaí check my bags. Once they spot the tired treble shoes they quickly finish up.
Riverdance performers assemble and voices rise as a family reunites and old friends have good catch up. We will be in each other’s company for the next 11 hours so we have all day to hear what everyone has been up to.
As we approach the stage for the first time, there is a silent collective agreement that we need to absorb every small detail of this historic event.
Direction from John McColgan starts off the first rehearsal of the day. In his welcome address, he informs the cast that the Queen specifically requested that Riverdance would perform. As if we weren’t feeling special enough already.
Once the unmistakable music begins, autopilot takes over and it just feels like any other rehearsal.
We break for coffee at 11.30am and are not needed again until a dress rehearsal at 2pm. In dressing rooms, some dancers prepare themselves for the show, some are polishing shoes, some are taping worn out shoes together, and lead female dancer Maria Buffini is enhancing her hair piece by sewing some extra strands in especially for this performance for her Majesty.
The dress rehearsal begins. Riverdance are last to perform. We are led to the stage by Westlife’s You Raise Me Up.
After we have danced, John McColgan steps into the shoes of the Queen and marks out a line-up of principal performers that will meet her later.
With an hour to go, nerves are setting in. From sleepless nights with rollers in my hair, to a Riverdance performance for Queen Elizabeth II in the nation’s capital. Who would have imagined that Irish dancing could have brought us here?
It’s 7.40pm, our time has come.
The crowd is on their feet. On the last beat of the music, our eyes are drawn to a pearly white halo in the middle of the auditorium. The fanfare plays as the Queen makes her way to the stage. An overwhelming emotion ensues and unexpected tears are in my eyes. I look around and my fellow cast members are equally moved.
This has been no ordinary day.
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