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Rachel Dean's Big Ask: Riverdance star Amy-Mae Dolan on how being a role model inspires her

'When I stop to think that I'm a role model for little girls I have to pinch myself... it also inspires me to make sure I'm worthy of that'

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Let’s dance: Amy-Mae Dolan

Let’s dance: Amy-Mae Dolan

BBC

Let’s dance: Amy-Mae Dolan

In this week's interview Rachel Dean talks to Riverdance lead dancer Amy-Mae Dolan (22) from Aghyaran in Castlederg, Co Tyrone. She lives with her mum Siobhan, dad Francie and siblings Rylee (17), Alex (15) and Scarlett (6).

Q. Tell us about your childhood

A. My mum and dad are both from Aghyaran in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, and that's where I grew up with my sister Rylee (17) and my brother Alex (15). My youngest little sister Scarlett (6) was born when I was 16 - and she loves Irish dancing as well. My parents have a painting business, Dolan Decorating. My mum Siobhan does all the book-keeping and accounting side of it and my dad Francie is on site every day.

We're from the most rural area you could ever find - we really are in the middle of nowhere. But it's beautiful and the people here are so lovely. It's a close-knit community which is really nice to come from.

Growing up, I was always involved in dancing and I actually really loved school as well. I went to Holy Cross College in Strabane and I loved it there. I started Irish dancing when I was about two years old, so it really is all I've ever known. It really has been my whole life.

My mum was an Irish dancer, so that's one of the reasons why I ended up getting into it myself. My cousin danced too and her mum babysat me - I used to watch her dance in class and I wanted to do it as well. Then, I had the videos of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance at home and I just obsessed over those, so I think I would have always fallen into dance somehow.

Scarlett started going to Irish dancing classes when she was four, but before that she just followed me around the house, dancing all the time and watching videos of me dancing. Now because we're in quarantine, she and I dance together for about two hours a day, which is lovely.

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Amy-Mae after winning the World Irish Dancing championships in the under-13 category

Amy-Mae after winning the World Irish Dancing championships in the under-13 category

Amy-Mae after winning the World Irish Dancing championships in the under-13 category

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I'm most proud of joining Riverdance and then becoming the lead dancer of the show. I joined the Riverdance Summer School just after I finished my A-levels in 2016, which is a week-long camp environment. There, you basically learn the choreography of Riverdance from the people who are in the show.

It's like a week-long audition process. Then, in August, the day after I got my A-level results, they phoned my mum and asked would I be interested in joining the show. So, I went on my first tour to China in November of that year.

You're usually in the show for a while before you build yourself up to a lead role, but it just happened that year that a new position came available for new female lead dancers to be trained in.

They asked me then to train in as a lead in April 2017, after my first tour, which was absolutely the biggest moment of my life.

I watched Riverdance my whole life growing up and I used to fast-forward to the female lead parts and watch her over and over again - it was Jean Butler and then it was different dancers. That role was so inspiring to me, so now to get to do it myself is just really fun and I'm so proud.

Whenever I stop to think about the fact that I could be that role model for little girls like me, I just can't believe it, it's crazy.

I was in the BBC documentary True North: Born to Riverdance, which aired on Monday. I remember when things like documentaries and films would come out when I was younger, as an Irish dancer you were so excited for that because there wasn't much Irish dancing stuff on TV or the internet.

So I was just thinking, "They're going to be so excited to watch the documentary" and then I thought, "Oh my God, it's me they're watching". I have to pinch myself a lot - even when people come to see the show and I get messages afterwards saying "I'd love to dance like you when I'm older!" I can't believe it's me sometimes.

It's really inspiring in other ways for me too though, because then I'm pushing myself to be better, to be worthy of that.

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World stage: Amy-Mae with Bobby Hodges in True North: Born To Riverdance

World stage: Amy-Mae with Bobby Hodges in True North: Born To Riverdance

BBC

World stage: Amy-Mae with Bobby Hodges in True North: Born To Riverdance

Q. The one regret you wish you could amend?

A. I actually don't think I have any right now. I'm still young, but any mistakes I've made I've learned from them.

Q. What about phobias? Do you have any?

A. I have a phobia of clusters of holes - it's called trypophobia. I could throw-up when someone shows me something like that. I hate it! I remember everyone was sharing this particular image a while back and I was thinking, "I have to stay off Facebook".

Q. The temptation you cannot resist?

A. Either dancing whenever there's music on, or talking about dancing. I have to stop myself. I say to myself: "You've talked too much about dancing today".

Q. Your number one prized possession?

A. That would have to be my little sister Scarlett. I was 16 when she came along and my parents were really busy with things that were going on with their own parents, so I took on a lot of responsibilities with her.

We're just very close and I can't imagine my life without her.

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Amy-Mae with sisters Scarlett and Rylee

Amy-Mae with sisters Scarlett and Rylee

Amy-Mae with sisters Scarlett and Rylee

Q. The book that's most impacted your life?

A. I have two for this. One is Mindset by Carol Dweck and the other is Commit! by Enda McNulty. Whenever I read them, about a year-and-a-half ago, I knew what my goals were for dancing, but I was kind of just doing it.

Then, I read them one after the other and they completely changed how I looked at every single day, by having a schedule, setting smart goals, trying to achieve them and maintaining a positive mindset. I really enjoyed those books, and I've read them both again since.

Q. If you had the power or the authority, what would you do?

A. Right now, I would put more money into our health service. Just with everything that is going on at the moment, I think we should reward the doctors and nurses a lot more.

I would make sure that the NHS had enough money to keep functioning.

Q. What makes your blood boil every time without fail?

A. People using their phone when they're driving. It's so irresponsible - just put your phone down.

Q. Who has most influenced you in life?

A. My mum, for sure. The main thing she instilled in me was that if there was something I wanted to do, I should just work really hard to try and get there. She's always said to me, "There's no such word as can't. You can try anything".

As well as being so motivational that way, she was also my best friend throughout it all. She made sure I was okay and happy with my dancing. I wouldn't have got anywhere in dancing without her - she's probably done more than I have to get me where I am today. She's my biggest cheerleader and we're very much a team through all of it.

Q. Your top three dinner party guests, dead or alive, and why?

A. Carol Dweck, the psychologist and author who wrote Mindset. I would love to know even more about the stuff she talks about in her book.

And Michelle Obama because I find her so interesting.

From anything I've ever watched or read about her, I've noticed that she goes about everything with kindness, consideration and respect.

Then, I thought Gordon Ramsay could do the cooking. People always expect me to say Jean Butler, but I actually already got to have a sit down with her, which was great and so lovely. I have so many other interests outside of dancing that I'd love to explore.

Q. The best piece of advice you've ever received?

A. Definitely my mum's advice to me and my siblings - there's no such word as can't.

Q. The unlikely interest or hobby that you love?

A. I love sightseeing, which I do quite often while on tour with Riverdance. Or even exploring Ireland, getting to experience new places that are on my doorstep.

One of my favourite places I went to with Riverdance was Singapore. It was very clean and the weather was amazing. I would love to go to Bali someday, but I don't think I'll get there with the show. I would love to tour with the show in Australia.

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World stage: Amy-Mae

World stage: Amy-Mae

BBC

World stage: Amy-Mae

Q. The poem that touches your heart?

A. A Poem About Alzheimer's (or Do Not Ask Me To Remember). This poem has held a special place in my heart since I was about 17 because of my nanna, Bridget Coyle. It helped me understand what she was going through.

Whenever someone has Alzheimer's, it's really confusing for the whole family involved, and that little poem just explains what's going on in their mind. Sadly, my nanna passed away about four years ago. She was my mum's mum, and I was so close to her. She was so supportive of my dancing.

Q. The happiest moment of your life?

A. Whenever my little sister Scarlett was born that was pure happiness and a relief that she was born safe too because mum was a little bit older.

Then, last year, I danced in Croke Park in front of 80,000 people for the Pope. It was one of those moments that you don't actually believe is happening. It was a dream come true without it ever being something you had ever dreamed of. I couldn't take it in.

Q. And the saddest moment of your life?

A. My two grannies passed away within a couple of months of each other. That was definitely the saddest time in my life.

Q. What event changed your life?

A. Doing the Riverdance Summer School. It really determined the course of my life. I would love to be with Riverdance for as long as I can - everyone's career is a bit different in length, but I want to dance for as long as possible. Then, I have different goals outside of that.

I was meant to study medicine at university and now I'm trying to decide if that's something I want to do.

I love the idea of TV presenting as well, so right now I'm trying to work out what I want to do after Riverdance.

Q. What's the ambition that keeps driving you onwards?

A. To always keep improving, whether it's in dancing or improving myself as a person. I recently created a YouTube channel, which was funny and really scary at the start, but I'm all for doing something every day that keeps me pushing forward.

Q. What's the philosophy you live by?

A. Do something every day that scares you. I try to go by that, and I like trying to put myself out of my comfort zone to see where that could take me.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. As someone who always worked hard, was kind to everyone and was happy.

Watch Amy-Mae in True North: Born To Riverdance, which is available to stream on BBC iPlayer now

Belfast Telegraph