Fierce feet feat

Fierce feet feat

Meeting the Riverdance troupe fired Coco Lam's desire to be an Irish dancer on the world stage


Coco Lam and Aoife O'Connor show their Irish dance skills as they practise for next month's World and European Championships.
Coco Lam and Aoife O'Connor show their Irish dance skills as they practise for next month's World and European Championships.
Photos: Edward Wong/SCMP
The Irish dance phenomenon, Riverdance, took Hong Kong by storm two years ago. Audiences were thrilled as the performers carried out lightning-fast tapping and energetic scissor-kicks while holding their backs ramrod straight and arms stationary at their sides.

Young Post junior reporter Coco Lam was stamping her feet during the two-hour show. But it was our exclusive workshop with the troupe that inspired her to take her passion for Celtic dance on to the stage.

Last month, when we met the 16-year-old Marymount Secondary School student again, she was busy practising - fiercely clicking the floor with her hard dance shoes and also bouncing in soft, ballerina-like ghillies with 11other teenagers at the Echoes of Erin School of Irish Dancing. They are preparing to represent Hong Kong against Irish dancers from 25 countries at next month's World and European Championships, in Germany.

Coco never expected that meeting Riverdance performers would lead to this. "I fell in love with the way they use their feet like drums to create rhythmic patterns and timely beats," she says. "It's very energetic and fierce."

After only 18 months' practice, Coco has been good enough to enrol in nine dances in the beginner's category at the championships. All the moves were choreographed by her teacher, Catriona Newcombe.

Coco's favourites are the primary reel - one of the first, soft-shoe dances students learn - and the primary slip jig - which combines grace and power and is dubbed the "ballet" of Irish dance. "Compared to hard-shoe dance, soft-shoe dance is more about elevation, grace and the way you point your toes," she says.

Coco practises up to five times a week, sometimes for four hours without a break. It is exhausting, too, because dancers are required to move around the entire stage.

"I need to improve my stamina," she says. "I have to keep the energy up and jump as if I'm floating."

Apart from rehearsals, she does Pilates at home for half an hour a day to strengthen her core muscles. And she spends a further 30 minutes on cardiovascular exercises to keep her in good shape.

When Coco started Irish dance, she found it hard to balance when clenching her fists and pulling in her arms; she often leaned forward during the routine.

Her fellow dancer, Aoife O'Connor, faces the same problem. "I tend to use my arms to help me gain height and balance," Aoife says.

Coco's online friends suggested a clever trick. "They told me to hold a clothes hanger in my hands behind my back while I practise," she says. "It really helped me stay upright while dancing."

Aoife, 11, is also ready to show her skills in reels, jigs, hornpipes and set dance at the championships.

Born to Irish parents, she has been learning Irish dance for four years. She and Coco are excited to be performing on a global stage for the first time as the Irish dance community unites in Germany.



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