Hannah Schwarze ’15 of St. Paul was able to high-step her way through Riverdance choreography this past fall as part of Saint Mary’s London Study Abroad Program.

While the other students trained at Ireland’s Gaiety School of Acting, Schwarze — who has been Irish dancing for 18 years — was able to take two weeks of private lessons with Niamh O’Connor, dance director for Riverdance’s European tour. She also worked with Eileen Martin, who was a lead female dancer when Riverdance was running on Broadway.

Schwarze says she can’t remember a time when she wasn’t Irish dancing. Just having the opportunity to visit Ireland while studying abroad was a life-long dream come true. “I was nearly hyperventilating when we landed! It was the best trip of my life.”

When Schwarze was a sophomore, she created an individualized major, Dance: Emphasis in Irish Studies, in addition to her math major. “Since this is the only school in the country that offers Irish dance for credit, it’s the only one where a major like this is possible,” she said.

While the students were studying in London, Schwarze was told of her unique dance opportunity. “If you ask any of my friends on the trip, they’ll tell you I was telling everyone multiple times who I got to dance with. It was phenomenal. I even Skype-called my Mom to share the news. To be perfectly honest, I never really allowed myself to dream about dancing with Riverdance. When I found out I was doing actual Riverdance choreography, I freaked out a little bit.”

Schwarze said her nerves were quickly put to ease. “I learned an entire piece of choreography the first day with Niamh, and then I learned an entire second piece with Eileen the next day,” she said. “They looked at me at the end of each practice and said they were impressed by how quickly I had picked it up. I was glowing the rest of the day, when I wasn’t passed out from being so tired! I left every single rehearsal knowing I gave it my all, and it showed when I collapsed on my bed and couldn’t move for a while.

“Eileen told me it took some dancers months to learn what I picked up in a day. That comment will stick with me for the rest of my life.”

Because of her hard work, Schwarze was also allowed to wear a Riverdance costume and was even encouraged to dance with Riverdance in the future.

“I’ve even been invited to — if Riverdance tours through Minnesota again — call up the person in charge and tell them Eileen and Niamh suggest I try to get plugged into a few dances. This idea which has been higher than a dream for me is now a reality. How crazy is that?”

Schwarze’s excitement radiates through her words. “I loved every breathless second of it. I am so grateful I got this opportunity. I still have to remind myself that it really did happen. I didn’t just imagine it. This experience has changed my life.”

Each year junior theatre majors travel to London for a required intensive semester of study and performance at the Tara Arts Studio Theatre in Earlsfield. To see pictures and read more about the Saint Mary’s theatre study abroad group’s semester in London, visit their blog.

This article, written by Deb Nahrgang, was previously published in the Spring 2014 Saint Mary’s Magazine.

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