Riverdance Blogger Aisling McVeigh chatted with John Lonergan backstage in Adelaide, Australia about his amazing success and recent achievements.
Aisling : You were crowned World Champion and performed with Riverdance for the very first time, all within one month. This is an amazing achievement John– how does it feel?
John : I honestly can’t believe what I achieved and all within one month. It feels very surreal!! Winning the worlds was one thing, but to be on stage with the world’s biggest Irish dance show three weeks later was another. It all happened so quickly, but it’s the most amazing feeling in the world.
Aisling : What do you find are the main differences between competitive Irish Dancing and being in a show?
John : From the outside looking in, you wouldn’t think that there is much of a difference, but when you first join a show there are quite a few things to learn and adapt to.
Changing style from competition to show dancing didn’t come easy to me at the beginning, but I kept working hard at it knowing that it would all fall into place naturally. Step by step I’m getting there.
Definitely one thing I found hard, as do many other competitive dancers when they first make the transition into a show was, “letting the hands loose”.
Another big difference is facial expression and emotion. When competing, it’s all about your smile, whereas in a show you have to have a facial expression to reflect the emotion of each dance, which can be sometimes hard to master. But as they say “practice makes perfect”.
Aisling : Did you always hope to one day join a show?
John : : Yes I did. Irish dancing became a very big part of my life from an early age. Getting into a show was all I ever wanted. So much so that I recently sacrificed a place in college, hoping that the chance to join a show would come along. There were moments when I doubted my decision, but being patient served me well, when the call from Riverdance finally came. Thankfully the blood, sweat and tears, along with the sacrifices I have made paid off, as I’m now living my dream on tour with Riverdance.
Aisling : What advice would you give to young aspiring dancers starting off their dancing career?
John : My advice to any young dancers starting out would be to put your head down and work hard.
You’ll go through ups and downs throughout your career, but believe me anything is possible with self- determination and hard work. If you had asked me when I was 9 years old if I thought I would ever be lucky enough to win a World, I probably would have laughed and said “I wish”.
ALWAYS listen to your dance teacher as they’re the one with the qualification and know what’s best for you and your dancing. Their guidance combined with your hard work is what will make you the best dancer that you can be.
There will be tough times when you feel like throwing in the towel. Never give up because when you get the result you have hoped for in a competition, you’ll think back and remember that all the blisters, sweat and tears were worth it.
As you get older you will realise that there are many Irish Dancing professions if you decide that you want to make a long-term career out of it. There are shows all over the world, so make the most of your dancing and work hard to achieve your goals in competition. Then, when you feel you are ready to hang up the competitive shoes you can join a show become a Teacher or Adjudicator.
Aisling : There are not many dancers who have achieved 5 world titles. What are the main factors that have led to your success?
John : Without a doubt, the main factors of my success have been my family and teachers. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now or half as successful.
My parents have been amazing and spent hours sitting in the studio watching me practice, giving tips and corrections.
The time my teachers have put in has also been outstanding. Without their guidance I wouldn’t be able to dance, and without my parents’ encouragement and support I wouldn’t be able to compete.
I feel self-determination is also a major factor. I’m a very competitive person so I’m always striving to better myself. I am my own biggest critic, which I think is a good trait to have as you are continuously trying to improve your performance and technique.
Aisling : Do you find there is a lot of pressure when you are the top?
John : For me, after I won my first Worlds, it was amazing at the time but coming back the following year to retain the title was terrifying. The thought of people thinking my performance wasn’t good enough, or my teachers not being happy, scared me to bits. As I got older I learnt how to deal with all this pressure, as it is a lot to take being so young. Confidence is a major factor as well. You could be shaking inside, but you have to give off a confident vibe and look composed on stage.
If you believe in yourself, thinking you’re the best in the competition and that you’re going to show everyone that you are , then people will believe it, as everyone can see on stage who wants it the most, and is eager to be on the top box.
Keeping calm and having a cool head is also important, as is not letting success go to your head. Everyone is the same off stage. Just because receive good results doesn’t mean that you are better than them in any other way outside of competition, and I think it’s important for people to remember that.
Aisling : You’ve just finished your first week on the road with The Moy Company – How’s does it feel to be touring Australia and New Zealand with the world famous phenomenon?
John : Oh My God, what a week it has been. Meeting everyone was such a pleasure. The cast are all so nice and encouraging. Every single person in the whole troupe came up to me before my first show wishing me luck, saying it’ll be great and to enjoy every minute. It meant the world to me. It also really helped settle the pre-show nerves, and made the whole experience of my first “Riverdance” show, unforgettable!! It was a very special moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life.
When I finally got to dance on stage, I had to hold back a big smile because the number I was in, was one where you have to look very proud and serious. The minute I got off stage I was smiling from ear to ear, and was buzzing with joy and excitement.
Our dance captain Niamh O’Connor was so helpful, assuring us everything would be ok and there to answer any questions we had regarding any dance. It’s my second week on tour with the show now, but I still don’t feel like I’m actually in Riverdance. It’s one of those things where I have to keep pinching myself to remind me it’s real and not a dream. I know the people on this tour will be friends for life as everyone is so genuine and down to earth. That makes such a difference, as I wasn’t intimidated by anyone, which made everything so much easier and more relaxing for me.
Aisling : Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?
John : I hope to continue touring with the show and sit the TCRG exams so one day I can open my own school. I would also like to keep competing for as long as I can as I still have a few personal goals I’d like to achieve on the competitive front. Eventually I’d like to become an adjudicator and pursue a long-term career in the Irish Dancing world.
Aisling : We all miss something from home when we are on the road. Is there anything in particular you miss from home?
John : : My friends, family and Barry’s Tea
Aisling : What essentials are in your tour bag?
John : : – Dancing shoes, i-phone, L’Oreal hair gel, black socks and my i-pod