ARTS AND FEATURES — 25 March 2014

Rachel with her celebrity students, Ant and Dec

By David Hennessy

Rachel Downey of the relatively new Downey Academy of Irish Dance will graduate as a fully qualified TCRG instructor at this year’s world championships. Being able to graduate at the event in London will be perfect for the London based Rachel who has toured the world with Riverdance and even instructed TV stars, Ant and Dec.

Rachel established her school around a year ago and told The Irish World: “That’s the reason I took my teaching exam last year: To qualify for London 2014 so all my family and a lot of my friends can see me get my certificate. It would be the perfect end to a great year.”

Rachel took her TCRG exam last year, passing first time. Dancing since the age of four, 23-year-old Rachel earned a medal at the world championships, among many other accolades in her successful competitive career, and would love to see some of her pupils achieve similar heights: “It is definitely the aim to have students dancing at next year’s world championships. My little sister Megan aged 7, actually dances for me and she’s got such potential and I’d love to send her to the world championships next year. This year will hopefully be my last year without any students in the competition, I can just enjoy it but next year, hopefully it will be training for it and I’ll have students in the competition.”

Rachel (right of centre) with the entire Riverdance team of dancers and the Irish Ambassador Dan Mulhall. Photo: Brendan Vaughan

Rachel gave up performing all over the world with Riverdance, a show she spent five years with visiting an incredible 21 countries, to pass on her skills, something she finds equally “fulfilling”, and her students were able to see her performing at Trafalgar Square as part of the recent St Patrick’s celebrations and Riverdance’s 20th anniversary last week. Something her pupils found inspiring: “A lot of them came down and I think it hit home that that’s what they could do, that that could be them in a few years. I was really glad that my dancing school did come down and support me. I’ve had a lot of great support from my kids and parents.”

The St Patrick’s festivities drew a record crowd with 125,000 people estimated to have attended Trafalgar Square on March 16.

Rachel teaches five days a week in Walthamstow and Islington and says that although Irish dancing is more popular than ever due to media exposure, getting a new school established is a more than full-time job: “You’re always working on it. I do after school clubs, private lessons: There’s always different areas to get involved in and you’re always trying to build it up and promoting it all the time. It never stops, it’s an ongoing thing.

Her students Megan and Hannah support Rachel at Trafalgar Square

“At the beginning, I only had 5 kids and I was losing money but I knew that in the long run this was what I wanted to do and I had to keep those kids interested. It’s a sacrifice you have to make.”

Last year Rachel had the pleasure of personally tutoring Ant and Dec to perform in Riverdance for their St Patrick’s Saturday Night Takeaway show: “They were really, really lovely to work with. They were down to earth, really fun. They were really friendly guys. Dec had danced before so he picked it up a lot quicker whereas Ant was getting quite frustrated because he couldn’t get it.”

However, Ant certainly did get it with Rachel’s help and there’s a YouTube video to prove it. For more information on a dancing school with star quality, you can call Rachel on 07536064831 or email downeyacademy@hotmail.co.uk.

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