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An interview with Marty Dowds, Riverdancer
An interview with Marty Dowds, Riverdancer
by Eric Andrews-Katz - Special to the SGN

Quick! Let's play a game. When the word "Riverdance" is said, what comes to mind? Lines of Irish lads and lasses with their arms glued to their sides and their legs moving in complete synchronization, at incredible tapping paces? It just goes to show how little you know about the show.

By the time Marty Dowds joined the cast of Riverdance in 1997, the show had already become an international sensation. Starting in 1994, Riverdance has played in every major city in the world. The final tour of Riverdance comes through Seattle beginning January 29. I caught up with Marty Dowds in Portland. He speaks with an accent reminescent of Liam Neeson, but with a softer edge - the kind of voice you'd like to hear over morning coffee.

Eric Andrews-Katz: In the ten years you've been in Riverdance, do you have a favorite place you've performed?
Marty Dowds: Some of the memorable places I've performed include dancing on the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall. But my favorite place is definitely Broadway, New York.

Andrews-Katz: Even more than the Great Wall or the Berlin Wall? Why is that?
Dowds: When you travel in a show and work hard, you like to relax in the creature comforts. New York presented all of that.

Andrews-Katz: What kind of dance training do you have to accomplish before becoming a Riverdance dancer? I imagine tap would be a major part of it.
Dowds: Good coordination is the major thing to have. Irish dancing is distinctive and it takes strict training. It's almost like an Olympic sport, in that you have to practice nonstop.

Andrews-Katz: Is being Irish a pre-requisite?
Dowds: No, you don't have to be Irish, but it helps.

Andrews-Katz: How old is the average dancer in the show? Are there any limits on age?
Dowds: I'd say the average dancer is about 30 years old. You'd have to be at least 18 to leave Mum, so that would be the youngest. There wouldn't be any other limits. You could keep on dancing until your body holds out.

Andrews-Katz: Is there promotion from within? Can someone start in the chorus line and then tap their way to one of the leads?
Dowds: There are always understudies. So there are always chances for advancing.

Andrews-Katz: How often do the ballets change, or is it set?
Dowds: Numbers do change. Sometimes they get cut and then revamped. Later on they might reappear in the show. There's a set form but room for change at the director/producer's discretion.

Andrews-Katz: How did Riverdance transform from its Celtic origins into a mass pop culture sensation?
Dowds: The styles of the dance have changed. In traditional Celtic dancing the arms and hands are kept at your sides. Hands are never used. Riverdance has been adapted, more flash. The audiences seem to go mad, shouting and whistling. It's like a football game.

Andrews-Katz: American Football or U.K. Football?
Dowds: Either.

Andrews-Katz: What do you think impresses them so much?
Dowds: I think the line wows the audiences. The chorus line, where we are perfectly in sync with each other, really impresses them.

Andrews-Katz: What US city holds the final performance of the final tour for Riverdance?
Dowds: Oh, I don't think we know yet.

Andrews-Katz: What kind of maintenance do you use to keep your bodies in good shape?
Dowds: I work out daily and stretch before each shows. I also use "strapping" padding [silicone pads] on the balls of the feet and on the shins. Some of those stages are hard and if a dancer gets shin splints, they are there for the run of the tour.

Andrews-Katz: Does Riverdance travel with any specialists? I know an excellent massage therapist.
Dowds: The show hires a chiropractor and massage therapists to work on the dancers. The leads get massaged on a nightly basis and the cast and chorus get massaged, usually, three times a week. Chiropractic care is separate.

Andrews-Katz: Is that common to be included in the dancer's contract for Riverdance?
Dowds: Not in the dancer's contract, but provided at the producer's discretion. They like to protect their investments.

Andrews-Katz: What kind of personal competitions have you competed in, and have you won any awards or titles?
Dowds: I've competed and won titles in several international competitions, including the All-Ireland, the British Nationals and the World Championship competitions.

Andrews-Katz: After the Riverdance tour finally ends, what will be the next step for Marty Dowds? Dowds: Probably, I'll teach. Teaching dance and helping to train kids for dance competitions. Teaching kids can be frustrating and I haven't taught in a long time, so we'll have to see how it goes. Andrews-Katz: Thank you for taking time for the interview. I wish you continual success. Riverdance will be playing at Seattle's Paramount Theater January 29 - February 3, 2008. Tickets range from $28.00 - $60.00 and can be purchased at Ticketmaster or at the Paramount Box Office.

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