Reelin’ In The Years
Riverdance’s Maggie Darlington has Devoted Her Life to Irish Dance

By Lee Valentine Smith


When Riverdance first became a pop culture phenomenon, California-born Maggie Darlington was barely in kindergarten. But even then, she’d already mastered many of the traditional Irish dances featured in the show. Now, as Riverdance reels around the globe on an extended 20th Anniversary tour, Darlington is a lead dancer of the troupe. The production, which began as a short feature, has grown over the years into a veritable cottage industry with multiple touring companies and International performance academies. From a tour stop in Dayton, the award-winning dancer called to chat with Insite about the enduring popularity of the show.

Were you a fan of the show when you were studying Irish dance as a child?

When it came out, I was around 5 or 6 and I remember that it became such a big deal. It was on PBS and there was this big buzz about it. I can remember being at swim parties and running inside to watch it! I’d been doing that style of dance and when it became really popular all of sudden, it was so exciting for me because I already knew how to do it.

When did you start dancing?

Basically as soon as I could walk, I danced. My sisters had started before I was even born, so I’ve known my dance teacher my entire life. I was following in my big sisters’ footsteps for sure.

How did they react when you became a part of the part of the Riverdance cast - and they didn’t?

They were very excited. I’d been doing well in competitions already. Then my older sister was invited to audition but she finally decided to stay in school instead, so she actually pushed me to do it.

Most people only know competitive dancing as something cheesy like Dancing With The Stars, but it’s much more complicated and respected than a glitzy reality show.

Yes and it’s for an audience of your peers mostly; they all know what you’re doing. And there are very few spectators, which can make it even more nerve-racking. Now I’m dancing for audiences who often don’t know the history, so there’s less pressure in a way and you don’t have to be as technically perfect. It’s a lot more enjoyable.

Dancing isn’t just recreation, it can be a very serious sport. And dangerous at times.

There’s a big physical demand and technique that goes into it. You definitely risk injury when you land out of a jump and things go wrong. Now with the popularity of shows like Riverdance people are becoming a lot more aware of how to actually stay safe with it. So it’s important to me to remember as I’m getting a little older, I can’t burn the candle at both ends. I need proper rest so I can’t stay up too late or go out all day sightseeing in a new city.

When you were first learning the techniques, were you aware of the historic nature of Irish dance?

My teacher was from Galway, so she’d teach us some of the stories behind it. She was really good at passing the traditions down to the American kids who really knew nothing about it. Even though I have Irish family, I definitely learned a lot.

Did you audition for the show in 2011?

Actually I think it was 2010 when I auditioned and I then didn’t hear anything from them for about a year. I was just moving on with my life when I got the email. I was like, “Ok, I’ll do this for a while.” Six years later, I’m still here.

The production has considerably evolved over the years. What changes are in store for the anniversary tour?

We have a new number called “Anna Livia.” It’s acapella so it’s just drums and feet and a little bit of singing as well. It’s based on a character from James Joyce and it’s a little different. It’s fun and very strong and I kind of feel like I’m a witch or a strong being of some sort, controlling the elements. (Laughs) oh, the things you do in your head when you’re performing.

There is a myriad of possible stories in Riverdance.

Yes because it isn’t really a linear narrative, so to speak. Every dance has its own theme so each one is unique. Especially in the first half, the characters are based on Irish myths and legends so they all have their own special story. It all makes sense together within the show.

After six years with the production, does the interchangeable cast feel like a family to you?

Definitely. Sometimes we’ll be on the same tour together for a year and then sometimes people will branch off and they might go to China for a while. Then we might all be back together in another year, so it’s kinda fun. You definitely get to know each other inside and out.

Riverdance runs May 5 through 7 at The Fox Theatre. For more information visit foxtheatre.org.

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