Orla McCarthy – Shawbrook School of Dance

Orla McCarthy

Home to one of Ireland’s leading ballet schools, Longford has earned itself a reputation for producing world class dancers.

Based just outside the rural village of Legan, Shawbrook School of Dance has continually developed some of the leading dancers, some of whom have grabbed the headlines at the world stage. Added to that, Longford-based Michael Keegan Dolan, and his Fabulous Beast Company, have developed some of their award-winning shows there, including Giselle, The Beast and most recently, Rian, a collaboration with Liam O Maonlai.

One of the latest crop of dancers from Shawbrook, Orla McCarthy (19), is about to embark on a career in dance. Having performed exceptionally well in her Leaving Cert, which included top marks in a number of subjects, Orla is to follow her ballet dancing dream in Germany.

“I was delighted with my Leaving Cert results; I was dancing throughout the Leaving Cert year and I suppose initially I felt that it would be an extra stress, but I auditioned for about six schools of dancing during that time,” she explained.

As well as proving to be a welcome break from her studies, ballet provided Orla with a choice of career, as she embarks on a course at Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts, where she will study dance – one of the first from Ireland to be accepted to study at the institution.

The intensive three-year degree programme will include contemporary dance, improvisation and technique, ballet, anatomy and choreography.

Dancing since the age of six, Orla started out with the Shawbrook School of Dance under the guidance of Anica Louw, founder and co-director of the school, which has theatre, rehearsal rooms, dance studios and accommodation in a converted dairy farm, surrounded by a forest of oak, lime and ash.

Anica plays a major role in developing the young dancers from an early age, and understandably has been a huge influence on Orla’s career to date.

“Anica has been such a help to me and to be honest with you; I wouldn’t even have found out about the dancing schools were it not for her,” she said.

In the past month, Orla got a taste of the big stage, performing in one of Scotland’s famed theatre venues.

“Through the Shawbrook Youthdance Company, Anica picked ten people to dance at a youth festival in Aberdeen and I was lucky enough to have been selected. We had to raise money to go on the trip and the theme was a mix of music and dance.

“We performed in His Majesty’s Theatre in Aberdeen; it was my first major performance and the first time that I performed outside of Ireland, so it was very exciting.”

Earlier this year, as she was making her post secondary school choices, Orla made contact with another former student of Anica, Marguerite Donlon, whose Donlon Dance Company in Saarbrucken, Germany, is now a renowned contemporary dance company.

“It was she (Marguerite) who suggested that I apply to the dance school in Frankfurt,” Orla said.  “The course is done through English, but I will study German and that is also a great opportunity for me to learn a new language. I will study classical and contemporary dance and it is a degree course.”

While the move to a new country will create a distance between the local dancer and her family in Newtownforbes, she finds it hard to hide her excitement at the prospect of the challenges that lie ahead.

“I am apprehensive about being away from home and I will miss my family, but there is Skype.

“At different stages throughout the last couple of years, I did think about doing something more normal and I tried to find courses that I would like, but I always came back to dance.

“If things don’t work out in Germany, then I can always come back home and look at other options.

“With regards to where I’ll be in five years time, I have no idea; I would hope to get into a dance company eventually, but we will just have to wait and see.”