MY JOURNEY with Emerald Dance Photography has been an eye-opening trip over the past four months or so. After deciding I wanted to change direction and use my portrait photography skills in a different manner I put a post out on social media looking for some dancers to help me put a portfolio together.
One of the first to get in touch was Donna McLaughlin from Downpatrick who mentioned that her daughter Farah would love a photo-shoot. Having kicked a ball many moons ago with Farah’s grand-father Sean in the days when all pastimes were of the outdoor variety, I didn’t think I could refuse the opportunity to photograph Farah. Besides that, Sean is, or I should say was, a fair bit heavier than me and it would be in my best interests to accept the offer! Sean lost over 11-stone last year, yes that’s right, 11-stone, and I’m not as scared of him now as I used to be! Anyway, Farah made the cut, and I am so glad she did!!
With the date agreed we arranged to meet at a nearby beach location for the shoot. Tyrella is a popular spot for beach-walkers, dog-walkers and anyone looking a bit of fresh air on two feet but had been eerily quiet during lockdown, with gates chained closed, mobile cameras placed at the entrance by the police and notices warning people that there was to be no walking among the dunes. I reckoned it would be a great location for a photo-shoot, and so it proved.
As luck would have it lockdown restrictions were relaxed a few days before we met up for our first shoot. Farah arrived in her Social Rince an Chroí dancing gear with her mum and aunt Nuala, a big supporter of her dancing. As I looked at her stepping from the car I was already thinking of what images we could get for my first ever socially distanced pandemic photo-shoot. All equipment had been sanitised and though I felt a little nervous, I was hoping no-one would notice.
As the shoot progressed we knew we had caught a few nice poses. Most of the images taken on the day were set-ups as Farah had been suffering from a niggling hamstring injury which had restricted her training and prevented her from going full tilt into action poses. Towards the end of the shoot her mum mentioned that she could try a few jumps just to see if she felt ok. So we picked a spot, set up the off-camera flash unit and then started the countdowns. “Three, two, one, jump,” repeated a few times. Hamstring injury or not Farah was eager to get as high into the air as possible, so high in fact that she jumped out of the shot on a couple of occasions!!
With news that her new dress by Gavin Doherty of Eire Designs would be ready any day soon, we wrapped up the shoot and arranged to do the same again in a couple of weeks.
Second time around was the ‘Reveal The Dress’ shoot, something completely new to me!! I’d been at the Millbrook Lodge Hotel in Ballynahinch a few weeks prior and had noticed how magnificent the gardens at the hotel were looking. The hotel were very kind and offered us the use of their garden for the second shoot (thanks a lot guys).
As luck would have it on the day of the shoot the weather was a ‘screecher’ with the hotel buzzing and a large crowd enjoying the hotel’s Eat Out to Help Out meal offers. It didn’t surprise me to see so many enjoying the surroundings of the Millbrook – the hotel has been extensively renovated inside and out in recent times and has grown in popularity too with guests coming from near and far to sample the hospitality for which they are renowned.
Farah looked amazing in her new dress as she stepped out from the car. My first thoughts were in relation to how much these dresses cost; this one certainly looked the part and probably cost a tidy sum. Buying football boots for my two sons over the years wasn’t that bad after all!!
The garden offered us a host of locations and we quickly got down to work. I had cleaned all the equipment I was going to be using and once again we were conscious of the need to keep our distance from each other. Donna did a quick check of all of Farah’s poses and once we were happy I pressed the shutter. Having been fairly new to photo-shoots I was impressed at how Farah listened to instructions – she’ll definitely be on my list to shoot again down the line.
The lack of competitive dancing during Covid-19 restrictions meant more time to practice for Farah and last week she kicked off (no pun intended!!) her return to competitive dancing in Dungannon when earning a spot on the podium in third place against a very competitive field.
Farah dreams of qualifying for the ‘worlds’ and practises every day. When not with her coaches Chris, BrÍd and Bridget she’s in her home studio putting in the hard graft. She’s been dancing since 6 years of age after seeing Irish dancers during the St. Patrick’s Day parade in her home town of Downpatrick which left a lasting impression. Now every day is dance-day for Farah! Eventually when she stops dancing she hopes to pursue a career as a dance tutor – she’s 12 but knows exactly where she’s going!
She loves the passion her dance tutors have for their students as they coach them to reach their full potential. Training five nights a week at anything is a big commitment but Farah is undaunted. “It’s what I have dreamed of doing and it makes me so happy,” she says.
“My coaches are amazing and the support they give to their dancers is incredible. They love every single dancer in the school and we all love them too. It’s tough, but we train hard, laugh during the good times and have a wee cry when things don’t go so well. No matter what, they are with us all the way,” says Farah.
With a great coaching team, a supportive mum, and a dad who doesn’t realise how much a dancing dress costs it’s fair to say Farah is a lucky, lucky girl!! With a bit more luck to add to her dedication I’m fairly confident she can realise her dreams to make it big in the world of Irish dancing in the years ahead. Best of luck Farah!!
Wig by Paula’s Wigs and Bling (Glasgow).
Dress: Eire Designs by Gavin Doherty (Belfast).
Pumps and Heavy Shoes by Feisfayre (Belfast).
Photography: Emerald Dance Photography (Raphael Mason).
Locations: Gardens at Millbrook Lodge Hotel, Ballynahinch and Tyrella Beach (Co. Down).