HAVING started out dancing as a child, Michaela Allen is now at the helm of her own award winning dance school in Letterkenny.
The St Johnston woman started dancing under the tutelage of Wendy MacBean in Derry when she was just eight years old, competing until the age of 21.
The day after her last competition, Michaela took her teachers’ exam and has since been fulfilling a lifelong dream of inspiring local dance budding stars of the future in her very own school – Michaela Allen School of Dance (MAD) in Pinehill Studios, Mountain Top.
Michaela teaches freestyle disco and slow dance. The styles require a lot of flexibility and incorporates gymnastic-based free style dancing including acrobatics, jumps and flips.
Michaela and her competition dance students took some time out of their rehearsals this week to meet with the Donegal News to tell us about what they love so much about dancing.
“I’ve been dancing here in Letterkenny since late 2015, before then I was in Derry. Throughout secondary school I never really knew what it was that I would like to do. Nothing else really ever stood out to me, but dancing was second nature,” said Michaela.
Michaela runs disco freestyle and slow dance classes every Tuesday and Thursday in the local studios, founded by Sarah-Marie McDevitt. Competition practice takes place on both days. A mini class for children aged between three and five years takes place on a Tuesday before the competition class at 7pm. A class for those aged six years and over just for fun is on a Thursday night.
Speaking about her competition group on Tuesday evening, Michaela said: “In this group the youngest is 11 and the oldest is almost 14. These girls have won so many individual trophies at competitions in Cork, Dublin and Belfast. We’d like to travel across the water to compete at some point but it is costly. We will get there eventually.”
Learning a routine can vary in terms of time. While Michaela sets out a routine, she likes to give her dance students the opportunity to incorporate their own moves into it.
The girls in her competition class have won many awards and have had huge success at major shows including The Greatest Showman in An Grianán Theatre, which Michaela considers to be one of their standout accomplishments.
“They’ve won countless trophies. They win them individually. They are very good girls, I am blessed with them,” said a proud Michaela.
Nerves can be a huge part of the competing process.
“Every time they compete they have nerves and that is exactly the way I used to feel when I was competing. It’s an adrenaline thing. I always say to them a little bit of nerves is good because if you weren’t nervous about something it would mean you didn’t care. Nerves mean you care, which is a good thing.”
The girls are busy rehearsing for their next competition at the end of this month.
“It’s Dancer of the Year competition in City North Hotel in Dublin. It’s one of the bigger competitions that is on every year. The girls will be trying to qualify for that individually. They will do a 30-second solo by themselves in front of everyone. I am more nervous watching them than I was when I was dancing,” said Michaela.
As well as having fun and learning new skills, Michaela said she believes the importance of dance in a young person’s life goes further.
“Dancing gives young people something to work towards. It always taught me that yes, you might lose today but the next day you are going to win. Dancing is a mindset, something to drive yourself towards and is a way to set goals to accomplish.
“It’s never always about the winning either. Every one of these girls attended a different primary school, only two girls went to the same primary school, so they are making new friends out of it. A lot of these girls started secondary school this year. Coming here means they have their friends in school and their dance friends too. It’s very much a social thing. It’s so easy for young people to fall into the trap of social media overload. Dancing gives a focus and real life friendships.”
Seeing their children compete in dance competitions is a huge moment for the student’s parents also, whom, Michaela says, are incredibly supportive.
“The mammy’s are always there cheering on their daughters at home and further afield. When we went to Limerick for the Western European Championships last month there was a real sense of family and all the girls did very well, each one of them.”
The busy mum of one, who also works as a supervisor in Applegreen, said it brings her happiness to see her dance students progress and have fun.
“Most Sundays are competition days so we are always really busy, but to see the girls achieve so much makes me so happy.”
What the dancers said:
Abi-Lee, 13, from Letterkenny, is a student at Loreto Secondary School, Letterkenny.
“I’ve been coming here for a few years now. I like it because in other dance classes the routines are made up, but with Michaela we get to put in our own dance moves.” Abi-Lee has won 20 trophies for dancing and said she hopes to continue dancing after she finishes school.
“I might teach dancing,” she said.
Tiyla Bogan, 11, from Letterkenny, is a pupil at Woodlands National School.
“I like making up moves and taking part in competitions. I get nervous sometimes, but I will stay on here for a long time.
My family love to see me dancing.”
Moya Stafford, 12, has been attending MAD for three years.
“I heard about it from my sister who has been coming here for longer than me. I saw her doing it and I wanted to do it too. I like getting to see my friends the most. Michaela teaches us the moves and then we can make up our own. It’s really fun, I love it.”
Moya said she particularly enjoys freestyle dancing.
“It’s unique. It’s like gymnastics. My family are so proud of my sister and I and love to see us competing.”
Áine Barron, 13, is a student at Loreto Secondary School in Letterkenny. She joined MAD after attending an open day at Pinehill Studios and chatting with Michaela about her favourite programme, ‘Dance Moms’.
“I love the way we get better each time and we take part in making up the routines. Taking part in the competitions is so much fun, you get to meet so many people and make friends.”
Fellow Loreto Secondary School student, Ellie Patton (13) has been a student of MAD for three years having also signed up for the class following an open day at the studio.
“I love taking part in the competitions. I like dancing to slower songs. You can put more emotions into it. My family are proud,” she said.
For more information on classes see Michaela Allen School of Dance on Facebook.
Posted: 12:32 pm September 16, 2019