A trophy star — and Riverdance newcomer

He’s a world class act but it wasn’t an easy ride to the top for Cork dancer John Lonergan, reports Fiona O’Donovan

RIVERDANCE newcomer, John Lonergan has taken many steps in life. The most important were those to overcome bullying. An ever-expanding trophy, medal and belt collection in his Ballyphehane living room is testament to this.

At only 10 years of age, Lonergan won the Munster Championships but it wasn’t enough to maintain his dancing ambition.

Shortly after this win, he hung up his shoes.

“I gave up for about a year and a -half, I just stopped. I was bullied because I was a male Irish dancer in school,” he says. “I was called everything from a girl to being gay, stones were even thrown at me.”

It got to a point where even his toe tapping to music stopped, something he was notorious for at home.

“The kids my age didn’t get it, and it’s funny because some of the same guys have since congratulated me and their mothers have stopped my mother in the supermarket to say their son used to be friends with me.”

Fortunately, he was persuaded to return and, with the backing of the Kiely-Walsh academy, he raised the curtain on a period of huge success, including winning his first World Championship title at 13.

Since then he has been in the top two in every major competition and has also won an amazing five world Irish dancing titles, five All-Ireland titles, five Great Britain titles, two All-Scotland titles and nine Munster Championships titles.

Opting for a dance career over college, he took the next step and sought to enter the professional world.

Last July, the 19-year-old sent in his CV and video to Avon Productions in Dublin to audition for Riverdance. In the meantime, he toured with Magic of the Dance in Germany.

While it had been nine months since he applied to Riverdance, Lonergan was aware that a call might never come. In the end, though, hours of daily practice, evening classes and weekend competitions paid off.

“I didn’t expect to be contacted for a very long time, but at the end of January, I was offered the position of a troop for the May Riverdance tour in Australia and New Zealand, which was amazing. Having waited so long, I was beginning to wonder if I had made the right decision to pursue dance over college. But it really is what I’ve always wanted. I even remember meeting Michael Flatley at an Eason’s book signing and thinking I want to be a part of that phenomenon.”

Moya Doherty, producer and co-founder of Riverdance is delighted to have Lonergan on board.

“It’s always exciting to see new dancers joining Riverdance, but it’s especially exciting when one of those dancers has recently won the world Irish dancing championships in his category.”

Having appeared on Tasmanian television and Australian radio, the tour has been going very well for him.

His family, however, will not get the chance to applaud his performance on the Irish tour as they had hoped.

Instead, Lonergan will be adding more stamps to his passport this summer, touring with the production in Belgium and South Africa.

Riverdance runs at the Gaiety, Dublin until September 2. See www.riverdance.com

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