Hundreds of family and friends turned out in Midleton, Co Cork, to welcome home the 31-strong dance troupe from Billie Jean Sargeant’s Rhythm and Dance Company and School of Performing Arts (RDC).
The dancers, who range in age from 10 to 23, performed a stomping routine with military precision in the live grand final on TV3 on Saturday night and won the hearts of the voting public to win the €50,000 prize.
Ms Sargeant, who has been running the school for the past 16 years, said the last few days have been a whirlwind.
“We knew we had a chance,” she said. “But we could also see what we were up against. We didn’t feel nervous, we worked hard and did our best. We were all in sync, all in coordination and the bottom line is we were the best act on the night.”
She dismissed comments from judge Louis Walsh who said “everyone in Cork will vote for you and there’s a lot of people in Cork”, and the reaction from some Twitter trolls who criticised the voting format which pitted a group of 31 dancers against some solo performers.
“We got votes from all over Ireland,” said Ms Sargeant.
“People aren’t stupid. They weren’t going to vote for an act if they didn’t think we were good enough.”
She said her focus now is on protecting the troupe in the wake of such high-profile TV and social media exposure.
“These kids need to be protected and their welfare is my top concern,” she said. “Everyone is entitled to their opinion but we are going to focus on the positive.”
She said the prize money will be split among the troupe and they are already working on plans for their one-hour Christmas TV special, which was part of the overall prize.
So many people travelled to support RDC that not all could get tickets to the Helix. Up to 100 family and friends gathered to watch the live show in the nearby Bonnington Hotel, and were treated to champagne when the final result was announced.