Friday, 8 January 2010

Performers face injury, ergonomic challenges in ‘Riverdance’

In a word, the Riverdance Irish Dance Troupe is a powerhouse.

Riverdance - the show that began as an overnight sensation in the mid-90s and blossomed into a lasting theatrical success - has played more than 10,000 performances in 15 years. Resting on the soles of 1,500 Irish dancers, the production has pounded stages across the country and the world.

A booming celebration of Irish dance and music, Riverdance is a beloved show to millions and boasts a sprawling cast of gifted performers. But according to two of the show’s principal dance members, Melissa Convery and Marty Dowds, there is much more to Riverdance than the dance itself.

It takes stamina, tolerance, diligence and often, a great deal of ergonomics to make the production work.

Convery, a veteran dancer who took the lead in Riverdance - On Broadway and has been traveling with the company for 13 years, spoke rapidly, with a heavy accent into the phone as her young son, Rian (with Uilleann piper husband, Declan Masterson), can be heard babbling in the background.

“As a dancer, you really do have to take care of yourself, especially with the show, because the show runs for two hours, fifteen minutes every night,” she said. “We’re doing eight shows a week, so that’s really intensive on the body.”

Before the curtains rise, Convery said, the group warms up with some cardiovascular exercise, Pilates and stretching, followed by a massage.

“We get a pre-show massage, which is great because it helps limber the muscles and warm the muscles up a bit as well,” she said.

In addition to the massage therapist, a physiotherapist - armed with an ultrasound machine and plenty of strapping tape - travels with the company and is on-call 24 hours a day to manage the dancers’ unique physical needs.

When the show is over, the same routine is repeated to help prevent injury.

“After the show, it is important to stretch the muscles again and cool the body down,” Convery said. “Sometimes we’ll do a little bit of cardio just to remove the lactic acid from the legs. We’ll stretch the main muscle groups again.”

Next, she said, it’s time for an ice bath.

“We ice after the show for at least 10 minutes in a bucket of ice up to our knees, just to take the inflammation away from our legs after everything we’ve done during the show,” said Dowds, Riverdance’s lead male performer and co-dance captain of the troupe.

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