After a six-year layoff, it’s time away from the computer screen and back to the boards with Heartbeat of Home for dancer Ryan McCaffrey.
Heartbeat of Home, of course, is the new extravaganza from the producers of Riverdance. After a world premiere in October in Dublin, a visit to Beijing, then a North American debut in Toronto in February, the production makes its first stop in the United States at the Oriental Theatre in downtown Chicago March 2 – 16.
McCaffrey comes to the show after taking six years away from professional dancing. He used that time to earn a college degree in communications, then worked in social media.
He’s putting that skill to use with Heartbeat, contributing with other cast members behind-the-scenes stuff for the Facebook posts, Twitter feeds and website for the show.
“A lot of people with the production grew up with social media, and we’ve been encouraged to use it as an extension of the show. It’s a huge (marketing) tool for us,” McCaffrey said.
Despite this love of virtual contact, nobody texts while dancing.
“That probably would be dangerous,” McCaffrey said with a laugh.
Speaking of, when most kids are getting their driver’s license, at 16 McCaffrey was heading to London to star in the West End production of Dancing on Dangerous Ground.
Canadian-born McCaffrey took to Irish dancing after his parents emigrated from Northern Ireland to Calgary 35 years ago. As fate would have it, one day in the mail the family got a flier for the Irwin School of Irish Dance – a place not as common to find as it might be these post-Michael Flatley days – that was in the neighborhood.
McCaffrey, his brother, and sister all wound up taking lessons.
“I loved it, for the social aspects at the start,” McCaffrey said.
While his siblings eventually stopped Irish dancing, McCaffrey stuck with it, past his early teen years when peer pressure to do other things almost led him to quit.
After all, by the age of 10, McCaffrey was a North American Champion and by 13 he was ranked second in the world.
Past being dangerous in England, McCaffrey joined the cast of Riverdance on Broadway for two years before heading home to get his high school diploma, then hitting the road again touring North America, Europe and Asia with that show.
While he kept in shape and taught dance workshops during his hiatus, what brought him back to his craft was a call from Heartbeat’s assistant director, Padraic Moyles, with whom McCaffrey worked on Riverdance.
The gig meant heading to Dublin for a nine-week boot camp where the moves were created and other styles of dance had to be learned. For Heartbeat features not only Irish, but also Afro-Cuban and Latin styles.
“That was the biggest challenge. We built the show from scratch, and while I mostly dance Irish, I had to take it all in and keep up staying fit,” McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey explained that the first act of Heartbeat features individual styles of dancers “doing what they do best”, while the second brings them all together to present “the world as a wedding.”
There’s no drunken uncle, though, and McCaffrey said Toronto’s notorious Mayor Rob Ford hasn’t shown up to take in the action.
“At least not yet,” McCaffrey said with a laugh.
The cast of Heartbeat is bigger than Ford’s belly and numbers 40, including 18 Irish, three Afro-Cuban, four Latin and two flamenco dancers as well as a 10-piece band.
This will be McCaffrey’s second visit to Chicago with a dance show, with the city one of his first Riverdance stops about 12 years ago.
“I’m lucky to be doing this again. When you’re younger you tend to take things for granted. This time I’m trying to let it all soak in,” McCaffrey said.
Heartbeat of Home is produced by Moya Doherty, devised and directed by John McColgan, choreographed by David Bolger, with narrative and lyrics by Joseph O’Connor and music by Brian Byrne.
For more information see www.broadwayinchicago.com or heartbeatofhome.com.