John Lonergan is stepping out for a Riverdance show in his hometown of Cork - Riverdance

John Lonergan is stepping out for a Riverdance show in his hometown of Cork

SOMETIMES when Riverdance performer John Lonergan is walking around his native Cork city he spies a familiar face: one of the former class-mates who bullied and teased him at school because of his passion for Irish dancing. In such instances, he permits himself a wry smile.

“I gave up dancing twice because of bullying,” says the 22-year-old prize-winning traditional dancer. “It got really bad at one point — I was on my way home and stones were thrown at me from across the road… It’s so funny. Now I see the same people on the bus or walking down the street. They put their heads down. They know I’m having the last laugh. I’m travelling the world with Riverdance.”

Raised in Ballyphehane, Lonergan is living his personal dream. A champion Irish dancer since his days attending a Gaelscoil on the south-side of Cork, three years ago he was invited to join Riverdance. For anyone involved in Irish dancing, it is the ultimate honour. “I sent a CV into Riverdance in 2011 and went to Dublin to audition at the Gaiety. We all had to go on stage and dance. Afterwards, you knew literally nothing regarding how you did. It was a case of ‘Either you’ll hear back or you won’t’. I found out I had made the waiting list — and then they asked me to go to Australia. I jumped at the opportunity.”

He sees Irish dancing as tantamount to a professional sport. Enormous mental and physical rigour is required to perform at the top level and you are as likely to pick up an injury as you would playing soccer or rugby. There’s lots of glory and excitement. However, this is not a career for the faint-hearted.

“I’ve pulled my hips during a show. When you come off you have to make sure you are getting massages. It’s one of those things — your body can only take so much.

“There are no real diet restrictions but you know you can’t be ‘doing the dog’, having 17 McDonald’s a week and so forth. You have to take care of yourself — do good warm up stretches, make sure you’re loose and having plenty of sleep. Matinees Saturday and Sunday are toughest. On your day off on Monday you have to sleep in because you are so physically drained. I found those difficult.”

Longergan has been around the world competing in dance events since school. The picture he paints is of a cut-throat circuit where performers are required to dig deep over and over. “It annoys me when people say it’s not a sport. If they could only see behind the scenes: the levels of preparation. It’s up there with anything else in the world. The dancers have to be super fit. A comparison was made between a 100 metre sprinter and a dancer recently — the dancer came out first. Things have even moved on from my day: the kids are doing yoga, pilates… all these added elements.”

Lonergan will be part of Riverdance’s Cork city debut, 20 years after the stage show made its debut in Dublin, following the famous Eurovision interval segment in 1994. It did run at Green Glens in Millstreet in 1996. The show’s producer Moya Doherty says she has long wanted Riverdance to play in Cork city. “But a combination of a very demanding international tour schedule coupled with finding a venue large enough to handle our staging requirements made it difficult to confirm dates,” she says.

For Longergan, performing in his home-town makes for a particularly exciting occasion. “A home-town gig is always special. When we tour the world, a lot of the crew get to perform in the place where they grew up. Because Riverdance is in Dublin every summer, I never thought I would be able to do a gig in Cork. The buzz is very different when you’re at home – all my friends, family and dancing teachers are going to along and afterwards I’ll be able to go back to my own house. It will be amazing.”

Riverdance is at Live at the Marquee June 11–14; and at The Gaiety, Dublin 23–27.

Interview via The Irish Examiner

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