Sunday, March 11, 2018

#148 See Riverdance At Radio City

A year ago, beloved Steelers kicker Chris Boswell tried to pull this really wicked offside kick. He had done it before at Rice University and when executed properly, it is freakin' awesome. When executed poorly, however, it looks like Riverdance gone terribly wrong. I even posted that minutes after the kick. Turns out, many in the World of Interwebz also saw the connection, because within an hour, there was a mock Riverdance video of Boswell and the failed offside kick.

In it is.

That got me reminiscing to another time in my life. It was a time when Irish step dancing was taking the world by storm. That's right. I said Irish step dancing and world domination in the same sentence.  And yes, I chuckled a little writing that but it is completely true. Trust me. We were all taken off guard by the shamrock studded whirlwind created by the Lord of the Flies and his Irish Rockettes.

If you will, allow me to take you back to a time of puffy white blouses, straight jacket posture, pants stuffed with socks and Michael Flatley's hair. Allow me to take you back to 1996.

I can so much do this! Well not really.

I don't remember where I first saw the Riverdance phenomena. It may have been on QVC during their annual St. Patrick's Day all Irish 24 hour extravaganza. It may have been on Letterman. It may have been on Regis and Kathie Lee. I can't recall my first viewing experience but I do know the dancers were being showcased almost every day on different TV programs as well as in the news. I figured out who Michael Flatley was pretty fast because his bulging black pants, bad contouring job and Irish Flock of Seagulls hair do were splashed across every magazine known to man.

I had no idea who was doing his make up but I wanted to call them up and tell them all about blending brushes and how they were a wonderful and useful cosmetic tool. I swear the dude wore more blush than the entire cast of the 1980's TV Show Dynasty. He was a phenomenal dancer though and his stage presence was show stopping.

The female lead and his dancing partner, Jean Butler, bore a striking resemblance to Nicole Kidman. She was a tall, slender, red headed woman with a bashful smile and porcelain skin. She was a classic beauty and an amazing dancer in her own right.

Jean Butler and Michael Flatley
I enjoyed watching Michael and Jean dance but when the entire Riverdance dance troupe came on the stage, that was when the real magic happened. The dancers would do these five minute TV spots on different shows and blow my mind completely every single time.

Chills would crawl up my spine each time the entire troupe would start pounding their feet on the stage, reverberating this stellar, rhythmic sound of many, many feet tapping in perfect unison. I was totally awestruck by the way they tapped so fast and so hard without moving their entire body. It boggled my mind and left me wanting more.

It also began to make perfect sense to me why my mother signed me up take tap dancing lessons. Hello? Part of my ethnicity was Irish. Although in all seriousness, I had no idea Irish people even tap danced until the whole 1996 Riverdance craze. I always thought Irish people enjoyed Polka dancing because that's what my Irish grandmother loved. I thought the Polish people shared their dancing with the Irish. No matter, it was all coming full circle for me now. Little Irish girls took tap lessons. That's what they did.

I never had good posture. My mom would bitch about that.
Only I did not learn how to tap dance like the women in Riverdance. I was taught to move my entire body with the steps. Shuffle, shuffle, ball change, twist, and sway my arms to the beat. I guess I learned the American version of tap dancing.

I am American first and foremost. It makes sense. Watching these Riverdance TV spots made me begin to miss tap dancing. I still had my tap shoes up in the attic but there was no way I could possibly fit into them now, even though my feet were tiny.

And the reason I knew my feet wouldn't fit into them was because I may have went up in my attic and tried them on because I wanted to try Irish step dancing in my kitchen. It was an epic fail in the shoe department. A huge wave of disappointment washed over me. I had pondered buying a new pair of tap shoes but they were not cheap.

My Irish step dancing days were over before they ever began.

The whole tap shoe thing did not quell my obsession with Riverdance though. I was still completely hooked. I wanted to see the entire show. All these little TV spots and dance clips were just a tease to me. I started watching all the documentaries on TV about the making of Riverdance. Then, I started watching documentaries on Irish step dancing in general. Pretty soon I was fascinated with any TV show that had anything to do with Ireland. Riverdance had rekindled an interest in part of my ethnicity. And, to this day, the fire still burns.

 I will get to Ireland one day. I have to.

Anyway, they started selling Riverdance and Lord of The Dance Videos and DVDs on TV but they were way too much money. The kids were little yet and I only worked part time. I couldn't spend $99 on Michael Flatley videos. I began checking the newspaper for bus trips to see Riverdance but I had no such luck in my endeavors. They were no longer touring in the Tri State area. Sighs. I guess I would just have to carry on with my life but it was going to be hard.

Then, one weekend, a beautiful thing happened. PBS was doing one of their weekend fundraisers for donations. Usually PBS airs some pretty cool programming during their fundraising weekends. They pull out all the stops. And, as long as you can manage through the many pauses in programming where they plead to the audience to buy one of their donation packages, you can watch some shows and concerts you normally wouldn't be able to see without attending the actual event or spending mucho bucks on the DVDs.

In 1997, PBS decided to pull out the big guns. They aired the entire Riverdance show from the March 1997 Radio City Music Hall series. I kid you not, I watched it every single time they played it that weekend. I think it aired 6 or 7 times. I was hooked. I was an Irish step dancing junkie. The show was amazing. It was everything I imagined it could be and more. There was no more Michael Flatley though. He was no longer with the troupe. However, after watching Colin Dunne perform, I was like "Michael who?"

Colin was meant for that role. Michael may have originated the role, but Colin Dunne owned it. This man was one of the best dancers I had ever seen. And the show was not at all what I was expecting. It was so much more than Irish step dancing. The show started by telling the story of growing up in Ireland before the potato famine. As it progressed, it went into the struggle of the Irish people during the famine. So many of them had no choice but to leave their beloved Eire in hopes of finding a more sustainable life in America. The story ends with the Irish immigrants integrating into the melting pot of American culture while adding their own unique, distinguished style.

It's funny because my favorite part of the show will always be when all the dancers are on stage at once tapping up a storm but, there were two other parts of the show I adored that had more to do with other styles of tap than Irish tap. Maria Pages was in the show. She is a world renown Flamenco dancer. I had seen some Flamenco dancing on TV here and there over the years but never enough to garner a true feel for it. When I watched Maria's scenes and they way she danced the Flamenco, I was completely entranced.

Maria Pages
She was nothing short of exquisite. There was a rawness in the way she performed. Her Flamenco dances were so mesmerizing that you could actually feel the emotions she was purveying in every step. That right there is true talent.

I mean, we can sit and watch an amazing performance and enjoy it immensely. We can love it. We can feel pure joy witnessing it. But, it takes a special kind of talent to bring forth such raw emotion and heated passion in a performance that the audience can actually feel it within themselves. That is what Maria did for me.

My other favorite performance was Trading Taps. Trading Taps is where Irish Step dancing meets Jazz dancing in the streets of NYC.  It's one of the most fun and spirited dancing scenes I have ever seen. Tarik Winston and Toby Harris stole the show with their moves. They are up their with Colin Dunne as some of the most talented dancers I have ever had the pleasure of watching. You could see by their faces that all the guys were having a complete blast performing this scene.

So yes, I absolutely loved Riverdance. I was also working full time again waitressing so I decided that I would eventually purchase the DVD. It was so worth it.

Riverdance at Radio City Baby!!
Fast forward to September 1997. I always checked the newspaper for show listings and bus trips. I never went to anything but that gypsy soul of mine always liked to live vicariously. Maybe one day, I would be able to travel and experience life like I once did in high school.

And I wanted to share that part of me with my kids. I wanted to take them on adventures and trips. I wanted them to experience many, many new things. It was so important to me that I give that part of me to my children. Eventually I was able to do just that, but at this point in our lives, back in 1997, they were still too little.

Anyway, I was scanning the bus trips in the paper when I let out a loud scream in the middle of Friendly's where I was waitressing. A local bus company was running a trip to see Riverdance in Radio City on September 27th. Oh my god I was so there. I had to make this happen. I hadn't been to the city in 6 or 7 years. I was actually having strange dreams about NYC. ( I still do. They are a good strange though. Always a good strange.) I checked my bank account. I could swing this. I called the bus company and made arrangements.

My sister was coming with me! I could not sleep a wink the night before the trip. I was too anxious and excited. I would pay for it the next day unfortunately. The bus left Hazleton at 700 am. Showtime was at 1:00 pm in Radio City. I really wished I had been able to sleep on the bus but I was still too wired. We arrived in midtown NYC around 10:30 am.

There was a car show and festival taking place in Rockefellar Center. We figured we would kill some time checking out the cars and stands and Holy Shit!! Was that a Bugatti??? It was freakin stunning. My sister and I had to get a closer look. This was obviously a very expensive car show. As we strolled around the Piazza de Rockefeller, we saw Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Mercedes, Corvettes and a host of other luxury cars. The Bugatti took the cake though. I couldn't believe I actually saw one in person. To this day. I have never seen one again. I probably never will either.

I was so much there.  The cars were stunning!

We decided to grab something small to eat before the show. I started going on and on about the Fashion Cafe. We had to go there. You see, I grew up in the 80's. I was witness to the "Era of the Supermodel". I knew all of the models by name. Some of them I truly adored. Others I thought were spoiled, unappreciative divas. I was a loyal subscriber to Cosmopolitan, Allure, Marie Claire, and Glamour magazines. I sometimes bought Vogue and Elle but only if Claudia Schiffer was on the cover. She was my all time favorite supermodel.

Claudia, Elle MacPherson, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell were investors in the Fashion Cafe. The restaurant was located right in Rockefeller Plaza where we just happened to be. We would not have to wonder far from Radio City to grab a quick bite. My fellow show goers were not as thrilled to try the Fashion Cafe as I was but they were hungry so they reluctantly obliged me. In hindsight, I wish they would have put up more of a fight. Hotdogs in dirty water from the street vendors would have been a way better snack.

My girl crush for Claudia was for real!
Yes, I know the irony of it all. I thought the same thing when I first saw the models had opened the restaurant. Models are clothes hangers. They do not eat like the average American. What kind of food would they be serving? Cucumbers and water? Saltines and carrot sticks? I'm sure they had to have salads and healthier sandwiches on the menu right? Yes, models owning a restaurant was definitely ironic and I personally got to experience the irony of it all.

When we walked into the restaurant, the first thing I noticed was that Claudua Schiffer was not there. WTF?? Just kidding. I had hoped for a Claudia sighting but at 11:30 am on a Saturday, I knew the possibility was more than highly unlikely that she would be there.

What I did notice was the decor. Some of the walls looked like they were just slapped with paint. There were huge cracks in the walls that were not fixed, just painted over. There were some dresses and couture items on display but most of the decor was made up of crookedly hung little photos here and there of the models.

We were led to a little room down some steps. It was big enough to hold a small counter. Guess we were not fashionable enough to sit upstairs even though there was practically no one upstairs. Whatever. No one was in the downstairs room at all.

We decided to glance at the menu while we waited for our server. I almost died when I laid my eyes on the prices. They were outrageous.We decided to go the cheap route although it was by no means cheap. We got potato soup, a vegetable salad and a dessert to split. Our bill was still going to be around $30 for those three items.

Epic Fail

The salad wasn't bad. It was small but not bad. The potato soup.....yea, let's talk about the potato soup. What do you picture when you hear the words "potato soup"? I know what I picture when I hear the words "potato soup". I imagine a large soup crock filled with thick, creamy, buttery goodness loaded with chunks of potatoes. Obviously models picture something else completely because what our server brought us was a small bowl of broth with a little boiled potato in the middle of it.

I almost blurted out " What the f@ck is this?" but kept my composure. After I recovered from the initial shock of what was placed in front of me, I took a spoonful of broth. It tasted awful. You want to know how it tasted? Boil a potato then dump a cup of diluted vegetable stock over it. That is how it tasted. I paid $9 freakin dollars for this, this liquid singular potato nightmare. As for dessert, I can't even remember exactly what we ordered but I know I could have walked into the Acme and bought it in the cheap frozen pie section.

There was a famine for Christ's sake. Potatoes deserve better.
I can still recall what the cake at my third birthday party tasted like. For me to not remember this dessert, it had to be god awful. Another $8.00 well spent, not! It was absolutely no shocker whatsoever that the Cafe went out of business the following year. It sucked. Everything about it sucked.

I even said to my sister while we were in the restaurant that I could not see this restaurant lasting very long in NYC, the mecca of fabulous, unique and delicious food from just about every ethnicity known to man.

I mean, we were getting ready to watch a performance about how an entire country suffered from a major potato famine and this is how you treat a potato? Seriously? I felt bad for the little spud. It wasn't his fault. He didn't know. He deserved so much better than what he got. But enough of my Fashion Cafe rant. It was now time to head over to Radio City to see Riverdance live and in person. How exciting!!

It's show time bitches!

We had seats in the balcony. And while I was not close enough to see the sweat beading down the dancers' faces, the view was amazing. You could see the entire stage. I opened my program and three little papers spilled out from it. I picked them up and read them. I felt a deep sadness wash over me. I had known Jean Butler was no longer with the troupe but Colin Dunne and Maria Pages were not performing in the matinee. Their stand ins were. I guess they were resting up for the evening shows.

I was devastated for about five minutes. Once the curtain was raised and the performers were on the stage, I forgot all about my utter disappointment. The sound of the tap shoes live and in person provoked chills all over my body. I closed my eyes for a few moments to really take in the sound. Big mistake. Not really sleeping for over 24 hours hit me immediately. I became very drowsy. I fought it off with all of my strength.

When the Irish choir took the stage, I knew I was not going to win this battle. You see, trained Irish singers have very distinct, very melodic, almost angelic voices. Enya, Sinead, Dolores from the Cranberries, they all have lullaby voices. Yes, they can rock out, but they also have that traditional Irish voice. The choir sounded so crystal and ethereal and within two minutes I was out cold. I have no idea how long I was out but it had to be a good ten minutes. All I know is my neck snapped my head back up from my chest and looked around wildly, trying to figure out what the hell just happened.

My sister laughed at me. I was so internally pissed at myself though. I paid $65 to make one of my dreams come true and I was going to sleep through it? WTF was that all about? Wake the hell up and enjoy this show live and in person, I scolded myself. I did not nod off again completely but I did struggle through the entire first act. Once I was able to walk around at intermission I was good again. I was still very upset with myself though.


The second half of the show left me even more impressed with Riverdance. The stand ins did a fantastic job. You would have never known they were substitutes. No, they were not Colin and Maria but they were amazing nonetheless. The Flamenco, Trading Taps, the Finale,  I got to watch all of it.  More importantly, I got to hear all of it. That was absolutely priceless. When the show ended, we all gave them a standing ovation.

In closing, as we made our way out of the world famous RCMH and into the crisp NYC air, I was grinning from ear to ear. It had been so long since I actually went out and made something happen for myself. I had just made one of my dreams come true. This was the first time it had been all about me and not someone else in 6 years. I had hoped to be able to do more of that in the years to come. Irish eyes were smiling upon me that day. They had awoken the dormant gypsy in my heart.


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