SCHENECTADY — From Lauren Smyth’s vantage point, Riverdance has taken the world by storm over the past two decades.
“People don’t ask you if you Irish dance anymore, they ask you if you Riverdance now,” said Smyth, a lead dancer with the show.
“Riverdance,” which has been running since the 1990s, will be at Proctors from Friday to Sunday. The show began as a way to fill space in a Eurovision Song Contest. A producer of the contest came together with a choreographer and composer to come up with “Riverdance,” which has grown from a seven-minute filler performance to an entire show and movie.
For those who haven’t seen “Riverdance,” it features traditional Irish step-dancing, Irish music and tap dancing, among other acts. The show tours in the United States and across Europe from fall into early summer, and dancers run a Riverdance School during the rest of the summer. Within this tour, they’ve performed in over 60 cities in the U.S., and Schenectady is the last stop.
Even in cities that Riverdance visits year after year, the shows still sell out. There’s a reason for the excitement, Smyth said. “Riverdance” is not only a high-energy and entertaining show, it’s a glimpse into Irish dance and culture.
“We’re very proud to represent Ireland as Irish ambassadors all over the world,” Smyth said.
Growing up in Northern Ireland, she started dancing when she was 4 years old. “I come from a very musical family,” Smyth said.
Riverdance first formed when she was 8, and since then it was her dream to be a part of it. She trained for years and was a competitive dancer as well, winning the Northern Ireland Championships nine times and the Ulster Championships five times, before joining Riverdance in 2010. About a year later, she became a lead dancer.
“The process was obviously very intense,” Smyth said. She went to Dublin to train with a previous lead dancer, learning the steps and how to interact more with an audience. As a lead dancer, it’s up to Smyth to create a connection between the crowd and the dancers. To get the part, she worked for about eight hours a day.
“That’s been me ever since,” Smyth said.
While not on tour, Smyth trains for around four hours a day. It can be harder to train while on the road, but the dancers make it happen one way or another.
“We try to switch it up as well, but the show keeps us at a very high fitness level,” Smyth said.
To keep the show fresh, an a cappella song has been added to the repertoire, along with a few other styles of dance.
“There’s something for anyone. There’s not just Irish dancing. You’ve got our American tappers, there are Russian dancers and our band as well,” Smyth said.
For Smyth, Riverdance offered her the chance of a lifetime: to travel the world and dance professionally. It’s an opportunity she’d like to see others have as well. Each summer, she goes back to Ireland to teach the next generation of dancers with the Riverdance School and with a program of her own design.
Whenever she’s working with young dancers, Smyth discusses one of the most important lessons Riverdance has taught her: perseverance.
“I actually applied to Riverdance for the first time when I was 18 and got rejected. Then I joined another show, worked hard there and got a lot of experience. Then I came back to Riverdance and they were obviously very surprised with the improvement. I think, if you want something, you need to put yourself out there and go for it,” Smyth said.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $75-$20
MORE INFO: www.proctors.org
Riverdance by the Numbers
Since Riverdance began performing in Dublin in 1995:
- 11,500 live performances
- 25 million audience members
- 515 venues worldwide, throughout 47 countries and across 6 continents.
- 750,000 miles traveled (or 30 times around the world)
- 2,000 performers from 29 countries
- 22,000 dance shoes worn
- 17,500 costumes worn
- 500,000 gallons of water consumed
- 6 million pounds of dry ice used on stage
- 62 marriages among company members
- 92 Riverdance babies born (with more on the way)
- 34,000 cumulative years of study in step-dancing
- 50,000 rolls of self-grip tape used by company physiotherapists
- 20,500 hours of rehearsals on tour
- 1 million pounds of ice in post-show ice buckets used by dancers for muscle recovery
- 80,000 pounds of chocolate consumed (for energy) by the cast
Fun Fact: Riverdance holds the Guinness World Record for the “Longest Riverdance Line,” which featured 1,693 participants.