I HAVE TO ADMIT to feeling more than a little anxious, or perhaps better to describe the feeling as one of nauseousness (does that word even exist!!) as I post my first ever blog.
In a year that has seen so many changes to life as we know it I have been trying to develop my business with ‘the new world’ in mind. Back in March things fell off a cliff almost overnight and spending the next four months in a degree of lockdown meant I had plenty of time to reflect on what control I needed to have within my business and where I wanted it to go.
So here I am now having launched Emerald Dance Photography only a matter of weeks ago. In a short space of time I have met some of the most amazing dancers, some who have danced for years and some just starting out on their dancing career. The brief journey to date has been eye-opening, almost jaw-dropping, when I hear the stories of the dancers I have met – whether they are 5 years of age, or twenty-five, they have a story to tell.
So today I start off my blogging journey with Rioghnach Brogan, an amazing Irish dancer from Omagh who has overcome not one, not two, but three career threatening injuries to keep her dreams of dancing at the highest level alive.
Last week Rioghnach and her mum Frances met me at Seaforde Tropical Gardens, an enchanting location for a photoshoot if ever there was one. Owned by the Forde family for close on 400 years you get a sense that you are stepping back in time as soon as you enter the gardens where tropical plants and trees abound and colourful peacocks walk right up to you, and, in Rioghnach’s case, try and steal a bit of the limelight!!
First glimpse of Rioghnach and you see a confident smile as she steps from the car with mum in tow. There’s a few bags and a suitcase too so that means a few changes of costume. I’ve taught myself to read the signs over the past few months and extra bags usually mean more clothes when it comes to dancers. They carry a lot of gear, even for a small photoshoot!! For myself, for those who are interested, extra luggage usually means food. I am trying to fit water, yoghurt and fruit in my bags where once they contained crips, chocolate and Coke!!
We also had the pleasure of meeting Lady Anthea Forde who happened to to be entertaining family members as they enjoyed a walk through the tropical gardens. She didn’t know it at the time, but I managed to capture her and a friend in one of Rioghnach’s images!!
Lady Anthea took a keen interest in Rioghnach and her dancing. I could tell she wanted to talk for longer, but her guests needed entertaining and she bade us a friendly farewell!!
With her mum Frances being a former champion dancer herself, the chances that her kids would follow in her footsteps were pretty good, and so it has proved. Rioghnach began dancing at three years of age, and in the intervening years has won championships up and down the country and further afield as she developed a love for dancing. Her brother Caolan is also flying the flag for the family as a champion dancer.
To break the ice we started a casual session with Rioghnach in her Nike training gear. Then time to change into her stunning dress where we hit a bit of a problem and the possibility that we might not be able to shoot action shots. Quick as a flash Rioghnach grabbed a pair of scissors and proceeded to gut the legs off her leggings. Panic over, we’re good to go!
We then started a 15-minute session at an arboretum which was one of the many great locations. Then into a pathway where overgrown shrubs and trees cut out the sunlight. A few more pics and then I felt a burning sensation on my shoulder. I haven’t been stung since my childhood days and had forgotten how it felt to have a wasp pit me as it’s next target. I can be a bit of a drama queen at home but out on location I am made of sterner stuff!!!
Six years ago Rioghnach moved to Commission with dreams of winning a medal at the world championships. Three months later, the dream moved a little closer as she qualified for the world championships in London. However, just three weeks before the world championships were to take place she was involved in a serious car accident on the way home from a Feis held in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal.
The accident left Rioghnach with a broken back and there were fears she may not walk again never mind got back on stage. Rehab was intense and there were days that she felt the struggle would not be a successful one. Step by step and day by day she made progress. Once she was able to walk she convinced herself she could dance again. She prayed a lot too!!
“I have always had huge dreams and ambitions for my dancing as it’s the one thing I love most in the world. These dreams helped give me an end goal to get back on stage,” said Rioghnach.
Her disciplined lifestyle has focussed on getting her career back on track. She’s been successful in dance championships up and down the country including second in Ulster, third in the Irish nationals, fourth in the American nationals, top 10 in Great Britain, top 20 in All-Ireland and All-Scotland and 27th in the world. She’s broken her foot twice and come back to dance again successfully. “When you’ve been told at one time that your dancing career may be finished, recovering from a broken foot is just bit of a hiccup,” says Rioghnach.
One thing I have noticed is the fitness levels of the dancers I have photographed to date. Most days while setting up my camera equipment the dancers usually strike up conversation and Rioghnach was no different. Turning round I could see her stretching and making shapes an Olympic dancer would struggle to hold. These days dancers work hard developing stamina and core strength and time in the gym is important. “It’s a way of life,” says Rioghnach.
At present Rioghnach dances with Social Rince Mona Ní Rodaigh in Dundalk, a school of world class dancers supported by some of the best Irish dance teachers in the world. In recent times she has toured professionally in China and continues to dance at various locations as part of the IEG team putting on shows of Irish dancing excellence which are proving very popular.
Her dedication has helped her conquer adversity on more than one occasion to date in her career and as I glanced towards her mum a few times during our photoshoot I could sense the immense pride she had for her daughter. Frances, who tutors dancers in her own school, Scoil Rince Ni Bhrogain, has been through it all before and knows only too well how far her daughter has come in search of her dreams.
“Words can’t describe how thankful I am to my mum for everything she has done for me. She was a champion Irish dancer in her youth and I hope to carry on and make the most of her legacy. She has helped develop the skills I need to dance and I owe her everything,” said Rioghnach.
With her dancing dream still very much alive – I have no doubt Rioghnach has more than a few chapters left to fulfil in her dancing career and wish her all the very best on her journey.
Thanks also for an amazing shoot experience.
Training gear – Nike.
Dancing costume by Eire Designs by Gavin Doherty.
Pomps – Hullachan Pro’s by Ciara Maguire of Feis Mania.
Dancing shoes – Fay’s Ultralights by Ciara Maguire of Feis Mania.