If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Riverdance yourself, you’ve probably at least heard of it—the traditional Irish dance show featuring a blend of Celtic and modern elements. While it may have started as an interval act in the 1990s for a Eurovision contest, it gained so much popularity and enthusiasm that Riverdance quickly grew to feature a staggering cast and large, sold-out shows. Today, Riverdance tours across the world. The performance, equipped with expert, quick-footed dancers and gorgeous set design, is more than just a music and dance exhibition. Those elements, plus the set, all blend together to tell a story of Irish heritage, history, change, loss and love. It evokes a feeling in the audience that is indescribable, a notion that’s different for every viewer.

This year, Riverdance celebrates its 25th anniversary with a tour (currently in the US!). We were lucky enough to speak with the show’s Associate Director, Padraic Moyles. Padraic is the former Lead Dancer and Dance Captain, having joined the show in 1997. Below, he gives us a peek behind the curtain as to what it takes to be in Riverdance and what it means to be a part of something so timeless.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. I read in your biography that you’ve been dancing since a young age.

My family immigrated to the United States in the late 80s. I was around nine years old at the time. Of course, when you move away from home, the most important thing to you becomes your culture. My parents ensured we continued to play our Irish music and Irish dance and Gaelic football, all those things.

I started in show business—theater—when I was around 12. I was cast in a show called Grandchild of Kings, which was about the life of Seàn O’Casey, the Irish playwright, directed by Hal Prince, who is also the director of Phantom of the Opera. Hal gave me a masterclass in acting and directing—I didn’t know at the age of 12 that it would play a role in the rest of my life. Goes to show you the importance of teachers and mentors. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by some of the greats in the world, from Hal Prince to Bill Whelan to Donny Golden.

I went to see Riverdance with Donny Golden in Radio City Music Hall. I remember [the dancers] walking onto the stage, the lights were down, the dry ice was settling and they hadn’t even danced yet. When they all began to turn around, I remember thinking, This is magic. I need to be a part of this. Donny asked me, “Hey bud, will you be up there some day?” and I said, “You’re damn right I will be. Tell me what I need to do to get up there.”

I went and I auditioned. I got in, and I was very lucky to do so. I thought there was a mistake in having me, I had imposter syndrome straight away. I began to understand the importance of passion in performance rather than just dance. I continued to, say, climb the ladder in Riverdance, from being in the troop to being Lead Dancer to Dance Captain.

I met my wife in the show; we’re one of 69 couples to have met in Riverdance and married, we have two of the 120 Riverdance babies. And here I am today involved in Riverdance and [the show] Heartbeat of Home. All of it being what other people may call work, but what I call being lucky and fortunate to be able to do. There’s never a moment in my life that feels like a job.

Now that we’re older and phased out of dancing in the show, I get to stand in the back of theaters around the world and watch people do what I once did, and I know what it means to them—I know it was a goal for a long time, sometimes since they were born.

Has the dance, music or themes of the show changed over the years?

The producers have an incredibly open mindset and allow the dancers to bring their own characters to the stage. They really allow for them to have an opportunity to grow the role. [The producers] almost say, “Show us what this show can be.” They are always trying to bring out the best in each dancer onstage and always thinking what else could  it evolve into.

Bill [Whelan] redid the entire score and brought new nuances to it, really bringing new life to the dancers. All of this was for this 25th anniversary show. We also sat down and reimagined the set, the props, the costumes. And that, in a sense, brings a whole new life to the show. Couple that with all the new artists in there and their new touch and feel, they are making Riverdance what it is today.


Why do you think Riverdance is still around, relevant, adored and recognized across the world?

I think it’s the freshness of the artists and dancers. You know, you can put the best people in the room and it doesn’t mean you’re going to get the best results. There’s just some sort of alchemy that happened with Riverdance that has just been unique and special and very hard to pinpoint what exactly that magic is.

I think the magic of Riverdance is different to everyone who watches. The show is about impacting the people in front of you. Riverdance, without a language barrier, can transcend all cultures and brings an important message to each person who sits in the audience. Whether we’re in Korea or in South America, the reception is always the same: people are on their feet clapping and screaming and cheering at the end. They feel something.

What’s the training like? How do you choose who comes aboard? 

We hold an academy every year in Boston and Dublin. We put people through an understanding of what it means to be in Riverdance. It is relentless, they live with us for seven days. To give you an example, we had 947 auditionees for two spots in the troop. And those 947 were already vetted from a larger pool.

To be honest with you, any one of about 200 could have got in. It’s very hard to choose. I’d say maybe one percent passed the audition, and a lot of it comes down to timing. The career here is so short and often it’s not up to them if they come back for the next tour. While they are dancing with us, we try to set them up for success moving forward. We set up things on the road to help them continue their education, because the career in dancing can be so short. We want to make sure that while they’re here they are set up for success in the future, too. The average time to be on the Riverdance team is about 5 years. For the people that are very, very successful in it, the average is 10-12 years of dancing.


Can you tell me about the 25th anniversary show touring in the US right now? 

The vast majority of those dancing in the show weren’t born when Riverdance started, and I find that fascinating. Some of them are dancing in the show for the very first time, and of course they’re bringing that energy we talked about, that freshness, which is terrific. They are building their leadership and creating a more inclusive environment for those coming in.

We’ve never had such a diverse cast  as we have now. It speaks to the history of Riverdance and shows the amount of doors it has opened to people in different cultures and ethnicities to experience what they call “Riverdancing” and what we have always called “Irish dancing.” I think that is a testament to the brand as well. It has almost revolutionized what was once was considered Irish dancing to making it global in terms to how it’s referred to as Riverdancing. It’s like what Kleenex did to a tissue, or Xerox to a photocopier. It’s a great thing for us and hopefully a sign of what’s to come in the future.


If you’re interested in seeing a Riverdance show while they’re touring in the US, visit www.Riverdance.com. Planning a trip to Ireland? They’ll be in the Gaiety Theatre Dublin from June 15th to September 10th.


Images © Riverdance Media. Jack Hartin © Abhann Productions. Headshot © Padraic Moyles.


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