Do you have any early memories of being interested in the arts?
We were very lucky growing up in Armagh. My mum and dad would take us to any cultural events which were on at that time, around the late 70’s early 80’s, so we would go to traditional music, theatre or dance events.
Local events were visits to the Parochial Hall or when I was a teenager, to the Leisure Centre to watch Contemporary Dance performances. The Leisure Centre Sports Hall would be a venue companies like Diversions (now known as National Dance Company Wales) would bring performances to. We would see Scottish Dance Theatre or Dundee Rep as it was known then up in Belfast and we would go and see dance events which were programmed during the Belfast Festival at Queens.
It does seem like Armagh has a real sense of connection to the arts?
Yes, we were very lucky. There were a few key people who brought arts events to Armagh. Paul McAvinchey, a teacher, was one of the people who would organise to bring work to Armagh which included dance performances.
What attracted you to Dance?
It was just the thing which caught my imagination. I had been to ballet classes as a young child, but seeing and experiencing contemporary dance and asking myself, “what was this way of moving?”, “what is this new language of movement and expression and could I be part of it?” I felt it was made for me more so than classical dance.
Did you get any support once you decided dance was the field you wanted to be part of?
There was a programme called Ulster Youth Dance when I was a teenager and it was similar to Ulster Youth Drama. This initiative was run in 10 different towns around Northern Ireland in the late 80’s. I would go to the weekly classes and be part of Ulster Youth Dance projects as well.
We might be part of an intensive two week programme working with a choreographer and at the end of that time there would be a performance. Being part of that project made me realise that this was what I wanted to do.
Do those opportunities to learn Dance still exist?
That particular programme, the Ulster Youth Dance project, disappeared. At some point maybe after 6 or 7 years the funding stopped.
What I can say is that there were a number of us who were participants as teenagers in that programme and we all went off to study dance and in various ways we have all gone on to have careers in dance as performers or producers such as Dylan Quinn, Jennifer Rooney, Anne Gilpin, Carina McGrail and Nick Bryson to name a few.
Those kinds of initiatives might not happen now, so most of the access now is through private dance schools, teaching various forms of dance.
Did you go on to study dance?
I did but I went on to study dance a bit later. At the time when I wanted to go and study dance in London, my Library Board wouldn’t fund me to go and it wasn’t possible for me, at the age of 18, to fund my own place, especially in London. At the time I really thought I had missed my opportunity.
I did do classes in the Crescent with Sandy Cuthbert. She was been a professional dancer and had relocated to Belfast and I kept up my dance activities when I went to QUB. After my degree I worked in arts admin and then when I was 27 I went to complete an MA in Contemporary Dance.
See more of the work produced by Maiden Voyage Dance here: maidenvoyagedance.com
Cover Photo by Joe Fox Photography