Dance and Identity

In conversation with Riverdance lead, Bobby Hodges

Dance has been part of how I have identified with myself since I was little, it being one of my favourite ways to describe myself throughout school and beyond. Abandoning ballet at the ripe age of six, I didn’t see Irish dancing becoming part of my life until I was persuaded to join an after school club with a friend. Far from the days of Irish school children being dragged into jigs and reels as part of PE, I found myself falling in love with this high energy art form on the other side of the world in Singapore, dancing with kids from all over and learning to proudly present this part of Irish culture to our school. This is part of what makes Riverdance, the biggest and best known showcase of Irish dance, such a well loved show – it has reached all corners of the world over the last 25 years touring.

I was recently lucky enough to speak with one of Riverdance’s lead dancers, Bobby Hodges. A man with a wealth of Irish dance experience throughout his whole life, Bobby is a performer who reiterates the impact dance has had on his identity.

Starting at the age of 6 in his hometown of Bristol, Bobby joined a community of Irish dancers along with his brother after he was first enraptured by Riverdance’s Eurovision debut. Like so many others over the last 25 years, he was inspired and in awe of the intense and flawless choreography, the burst of energy on stage that this wonderful dance form brings. And now, years later, he is happy to have become one of the senior members of the company.

Bobby tells me that he was lucky to find a community of dancers at such a young age, and that this became a driving force in pursuing dance. All of his friends were dancers and he followed the amateur competitive scene into adulthood. Never having began with any intention of touring, Bobby was invited to join Riverdance as a principal dancer in 2014. To go from watching and admiring a show for years to actually becoming part of it in such a big way is something many people only dream of.

Bobby speaks about the importance of inspiring the next generation of dancers, noting how he used to view the original cast of the show as “rockstars”. This perfectly illustrates the beautifully cyclical nature of performance. Watching and admiring shows such as this one brings so much to audiences of aspiring performers, and seeing firsthand how the spectator can become the star is amazing.

While everyone felt the harsh impact the multiple lockdowns have had on our lives in the past eighteen months, there is no denying the degree to which the performing arts were affected. Ground to such an abrupt halt for audiences and performers alike, the many months with no signs of reopening took a huge toll on the spirits of those in the industry. Bobby recalls how he did not dance for around seven months when all tours and rehearsals were postponed, and how it felt like a part of his identity had been taken from him. With the cast of Riverdance being multinational, this meant that people who were used to spending weeks in each other’s company were suddenly separated all around the world, missing the passion that arises from bringing so many people together through dance. A fellow dancer described it as though part of her had been “locked away in a box”.

On the more positive side, this long time away has brought a newfound appreciation to the return of the show. Already having toured for six weeks with the delayed Riverdance 25th Anniversary show, Bobby relates the electric atmosphere in the audience. He remarks how emotional the first day back at rehearsals was and how special it is to be touring again with such amazing reception in each city. What he finds so special about the show is that instead of kids joining Irish dance as a way for their parents to preserve their heritage, it has encouraged a new wave of Irish dancers who can carve out a career thanks to the cultural appreciation the show has created.

His parting words are to persevere with your passions, never knowing where they could lead you. Sticking with something you truly enjoy and are interested in could lead to your most unrealistic dreams, and Bobby’s passion for dance comes through immensely in the way he speaks about his intertwined career and identity.

Speaking to Bobby has reinforced in me the importance I find in enjoying doing something that sparks so much pride, and I wish to keep it a part of me for as long as I can.

The Riverdance 25th Anniversary show will be at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Oct 5 & 6, with tickets available on the ATG website.

Image via Creative Commons

By Sorel Read

Theatre Editor