Lady of the Dance

Maggie Revis as Saoirse in The Lord of the Dance
Maggie Revis as Saoirse in The Lord of the Dance

By Tara Dougherty, Music Editor
June / July 2009

Maggie Revis, native to Putnam Valley, New York, took to the stage in Belgium this past winter for her debut as the female lead dancer in Michael Flatley’s The Lord of the Dance. Born into a family of competitve dancers, Maggie began her dance career at the age of three and secured her first win at the Mid-Atlantic American Oireachtas (Regional) Dance Competition in Philadelphia by the age of six. She continued to compete until 2004 when she traveled to England fresh out of college to begin rehearsals as a dancer in Flatley’s Celtic Tiger. Now five years into her professional career, Maggie shines as the star in Lord of the Dance, which since its premiere performance in 1996 has enjoyed the highest success rate of any professional Irish dance touring company. The thrillingly dramatic show filled with Irish dance and music, based on a folklore story of good and evil, was created by Michael Flatley to follow up the Riverdance phenomenon. The initial inspiration for the show was an a cappella dance Flatley envisioned during his time with Riverdance which would later become the new show’s finale “Planet Ireland.”

Irish America sat down with Maggie in her hometown in Putnam County,  after just wrapping up her European tour. In a house complete with an array of Celtic music and a practice stage in the basement, courtesy of Maggie’s father, Fred of German descent, the Revises’ Irish step-dancing roots are undeniable. Maggie’s mother, Cathy, started her own dance school at a young age which would be Maggie’s second home and her introduction into the world of step-dancing.

“My mother growing up was an incredible Irish dancer, and when she became a dancing teacher and judge it was only natural for her kids to follow in her footsteps. … People who have watched me dance say I have her same style and stage presence,” Maggie said.
Growing up in her mother’s dance school, Maggie, her sister Katie, and brother Freddy (though he may deny it now) embraced step-dancing immediately. “My sister and I were always very active and loved Irish music, so we would just come to class and dance about with the other kids.” When Cathy sold her school to focus on a nursing career, Maggie’s training fell into the hands of Kevin Broesler, who took over the school. “That was when I started to compete. It became my after-school sport. Some people played soccer, I danced every day.”

Kevin Broesler described Maggie as “an inspiration” in his Irish dance classes. “She was a great competitor and an enjoyable student. All the dancers in my class looked up to her.” Maggie danced for Kevin’s school throughout her competitive career.

Tracing her Irish roots back to County Galway, the second-generation Irish-American made her first trip to Ireland at the age of twelve when she competed for the first of many times in the All-Ireland and World Championships.

“In those early days of trips to Ireland, it was not just about going to compete. It was about meeting our relatives, eating tons of the amazing ice cream, and  exploring the castles and ruins that we would pass along the road.” Since those early years, Maggie has continued to visit Ireland to see family and friends, and while she has become very familiar with the sites and the people, she will not get behind the wheel on Irish roads. “I will never feel comfortable driving on the narrow roads or on the roundabouts ever again. I still won’t rent a car!”

Maggie’s grandmother, Nellie Spencer, now 92 years old, was born in Galway and immigrated to the United States bringing with her a passion for Irish culture which she made sure to instill in her daughter and grandchildren. “They didn’t have competitive Irish dancing when [my grandmother] was young,” Maggie said. “It was just mandatory that they learned basic steps and ceilis. Even now I don’t think my grandmother at ninety-two could dance a full, choreographed step but she knows the basic posture and rhythms, and her gracefulness in dancing is something I would like to say she passed down through her daughter. She saw me perform with Michael Flatley at Madison Square Garden and she tearfully bragged about how she ‘started it all,’ and she is so right.”

While her older sister Katie eventually left Irish dance for a career in competitive gymnastics and her brothers Freddy and Danny focused their energy on soccer, Maggie continued to pursue dance competitively for close to two decades. In 2003, she reclaimed the title she held at six years old at the Oireachtas Regional Dance Competition in the senior ladies category. It was the following year when Maggie would achieve her career goal and win the North American Championship.

“I was just graduating from college at the time and finding the space, time and discipline to practice was difficult. But I made a promise to myself that I would not retire from competitive dancing until I claimed that title, and I did it,” Maggie said. “I think by that time, after competing for so many years, I knew that dancing was something that I genuinely loved to do, and when you love to do something that much, you perform better.”

Not long after her success at the North American Championship, Maggie retired from competitive dance but found she was not quite ready to hang up her shoes. “You realize that it’s a part of who you are. I think that’s what really started my thinking about going professional.”

After graduating from Loyola University in Baltimore, Maggie went to England to begin rehearsals for Michael Flatley’s production Celtic Tiger, inspired by the economic boom in Ireland. Touring with the show brought Maggie to unfamiliar places, performing everywhere from Budapest to London and also reunited her with some familiar faces. The cast included dancers from all over the world whom Maggie had encountered in various competitions early in her career. With the new adventure of touring and the competitive heat behind them, the cast was able to bond and form a family.

“I like the fact that I am now good friends with so many dancers that I used to watch in competition,” Maggie said.
After a successful run with Celtic Tiger, Maggie joined the touring troupe for Lord of the Dance. “I first started dancing with Lord of the Dance two years ago and I made it a career goal to audition for lead. I did not stop smiling during the audition, which I think helped me a lot.” Surpassing the goal of just auditioning, Maggie landed the coveted part of Saoirse. She shares the role with three other dancers, Tracey Smith McCarron, Siobhan Connolly and Louise Hayden, and plays opposite the male lead, a role played rotationally by Ciaran Connolly, Jason Gorman and Don McCarron. Newest to the role of Saoirse, Maggie will dance primarily in matinee performances in the upcoming North American tour.

“It was a dream come true, cheesy as it may sound. I worked really hard leading up to the audition, and my cast mates were so helpful and supportive throughout the whole process.”

While competitive Irish step-dancing involves its fair share of theatrics, bouncy wigs and intricate costumes included, Flatley’s shows utilize an entirely new style, unnatural at first for most competitive dancers. “For a long time my dance captains had to remind me to loosen up and perform for the audience more. It took me a while to get used to moving my arms and my upper body while dancing, something which traditional Irish dancing forbids.” After years of posture training and frozen arms, the dancers in Lord of the Dance have to embrace a new skill of maintaining their lightning-fast footwork and high leaps with upper body choreography. “I like to think I am better at it now, but there is always room for improvement.”

“I was on cloud nine the whole day of the first performance. I love the music I danced my solos to, I love the costumes I got to wear, and I love the other lead performers that I danced with. It is truly a blessing to be able to say that I reached the epitome of an Irish dancing career. My mother still looks at the pictures from that first performance every day.”

Performing as Saoirse for the first time on the European leg of her troupe’s tour, Maggie was unable to share that experience with her family back in the States. She looks forward to her upcoming North American tour which will provide her the opportunity to perform throughout the United States this spring.

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