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Belfast choreographer Eileen McClory on her dyslexia struggle and how she uses dance to communicate

Ahead of her show which was inspired by Brexit, Belfast choreographer Eileen McClory tells Stephanie Bell of her struggle with the reading disability and how she uses dance as a means of communication

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Belfast debut: choreographer and dancer Eileen McClory

Belfast debut: choreographer and dancer Eileen McClory

Belfast debut: choreographer and dancer Eileen McClory

A local choreographer who is about to put on her first dance show in Belfast has revealed how the arts saved her from the misery of struggling at school to read and write.

Eileen McClory (37), from west Belfast, has opened up about her lifelong battle with dyslexia in the hope of breaking down the stigma and encouraging people to ask for help.

The highly qualified dance teacher was only formally diagnosed three years ago when she was studying for a Master's degree, although she had suspected for years that she had dyslexia.

"The biggest thing for me is to not have a stigma so that people can openly talk about it and ask for help," she says.

"When I am teaching I will tell the students that I'm dyslexic and there is always one person in the room you can spot reacting to it.

"I would openly say, 'Sorry can someone else please write that on the board as I am dyslexic'.

"When you struggle to read and write at school, you do start to think you are not smart, but that's not the case.

"Your brain just works in a different way and it's about finding new ways for it to work, and for me that was visual learning through the arts."

Eileen is married to Gil David (38), who runs the marketing consultancy Run DMG, and the couple are expecting their first child in June.

She has just been commissioned by Maiden Voyage Dance to bring her first piece of dance theatre to The Mac, Belfast and the Market Place Theatre in Armagh this month.

Entitled Brink, it will be formed as part of a double bill alongside a second piece called 'The Here Trio' by Liz Roche, a choreographer from Dublin.

Her first local production comes after years of travelling the globe as a performer and teaching dance in local further education colleges and Ulster University.

She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in dance from Liverpool John Moores University and went on to complete a two-year professional training programme at Dance New Amsterdam in New York, before returning to Belfast to study for a Master's degree in dance at Ulster University.

Her dyslexia certainly hasn't held her back despite the challenges it poses.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words. Also called reading disability, it affects areas of the brain that process language.

Eileen explains how it impacted on her school life which changed dramatically for her when she discovered music, drama and dance in St Louise's Comprehensive College, Belfast.

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Dancing queen: Eileen with her husband Gil on their wedding day

Dancing queen: Eileen with her husband Gil on their wedding day

Holly and Lime Photography

"I was tested twice for dyslexia at school but because of the way I performed in the tests I wasn't diagnosed properly until I took another test three years ago," she recalls.

"I really struggled to read and write. If I was taught verbally I could remember and understand things but if I had to read, it took me ages and writing was very hard. I started to think I wasn't smart and I didn't like school because it was such a struggle.

"I was lucky to discover the arts and I studied music, drama and dance which all came quite naturally to me because they were verbally taught. I did dance at GCSE and A-level," she says.

"My mum and my sister also have dyslexia and they have great jobs - they are both nurses. I think you tend to end up in more practical jobs and you learn to put strategies in place to cope.

"I have danced all over the world and for me, movement is our language, a way to process our thoughts and communicate them with our body.

"You can go into any class in the world, and even if you don't understand the spoken word, you will understand what people communicate through dance."

Working in the arts, where form filling is necessary for funding, Eileen says she has had great support from colleagues as well as family and friends.

She has enjoyed an exciting career doing something she loves and feels strongly that her experience proves just how crucial the arts is in education.

"It is only when I have to write something or I'm asked to read that I start to struggle," she says.

"I have found lots of support from people within the arts community, especially with all the form filling you have to do for grants.

"I love my job - it's brilliant - but the arts sector is struggling and it's shrinking due to funding and yet it is so important that we have the arts in education as it certainly was a lifeline for me."

Eileen is excited to be bringing her first piece of work to the stage in Belfast. Inspired by Brexit, it will be performed by two professional dancers on a 1.5 metre high table.

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Belfast Telegraph -  Eileen McClory  - Choreographer - 6th February 2020
Photograph by Declan Roughan

Belfast Telegraph - Eileen McClory - Choreographer - 6th February 2020 Photograph by Declan Roughan

She explains the thinking behind it: "Since the Brexit referendum result, we've been in a state of constant, stressful negotiation - this feeling like we're on the brink of something, but we don't know exactly what it is and have no control over it.

"As the negotiations got smaller and smaller and boundaries got smaller and smaller, we ended up - instead of having a seat at the table - being on the table.

"Choreographically, the restriction on space presented by our high table has created a lot of obstacles, but also a lot of possibilities.

"We have really stripped back the choreography and ended up with two human beings laid bare as they try to negotiate and build a future together.

"There's a lot of risk in the piece - reflecting how one wrong word can throw a negotiation the wrong way."

She adds: "For us, it's one wrong move and you could be off the edge of the table!"

The Maiden Voyage Dance Double Bill will be performed at The MAC Belfast tonight and tomorrow at 8pm, and at the Market Place Theatre in Armagh on Wednesday at 8pm. Tickets are on sale now from www.themaclive.com and www.marketplacearmagh.com

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