Every performer hopes to take their talents to the public on stage. Student Kelsey Latham has achieved that dream taking her dancing talents to the world. Latham took a three-year hiatus from her Southern studies to join the traveling company for Riverdance.
Being a part of Riverdance meant Latham got to travel the world. Her first tour was in China and lasted two-and-a-half months, and prior to going she says she felt some apprehension.
“It’s like the absolute opposite side of the world and I didn’t know anybody there yet,” says Latham. “It was a really scary experience, but it ended up being so cool and I learned so much. Never in my life did I think I would ever go to China.”
After China, she says she has toured North America three times and Europe once, in addition to spending two summers in Dublin, Ireland, where she performed for the entire summer.
“The European tour altogether was my favorite,” says Latham. “I’ve never been to Europe besides Ireland, England and Scotland, but I loved seeing Paris, Germany and Amsterdam. It was so much fun.”
When it’s a big show, she says she will feel some nerves—like at the show in London that was attended by several of her bosses, producers, choreographers, the show’s owners, as well as all her friends.
“Just knowing there are people in the audience there to see me, makes me more nervous,” she says. “But if I’m at a show in the middle of China and I don’t know anybody in the audience, I’m a little less nervous.”
Along the way, she says the people she works with have become some of her best friends, and it has been an interesting experience getting to know people from different places.
Latham says there is an audition process to get into Riverdance; however, when she got in, she just sent in her audition tape and they accepted her after a phone interview.
She says the following summer the audition process became more rigorous, as they set up summer camps where people attended and then were selected at the end to make it to an audition.
After auditions, most of the show is learned, but before a tour starts, Latham says there is usually a week of rehearsals, depending on how new the entire cast is.
“You’ll probably be in from nine in the morning til four or five at night with a lunch break. But you’re in a studio dancing all day, so it can be tough,” says Latham.
She says she was a quick learner, but Irish dancing is different because people must learn with their hands by their sides, different than show dancing, where students use their arms and make formations.
On the stage, Latham says she’s part of the “troupe role,” where there are about 11 or 12 women and nine men that know the same role because their spot can change from day to day.
“I might be on the right side of the stage this day and the left side of the stage the next day, so you have to be able to adapt, like really quickly on the spot, so you need to know all the different places,” she says. “You’re not doing the same thing every day.”
One of her biggest challenges, she says, was living out of a suitcase for months at a time. On her second year of touring, she spent 10 months on the road and had only two months at home. She says that living on the road is a completely different lifestyle and sometimes she would spend 15 hours on a bus and then go straight to a show.
However, Latham says that the best part of this journey is being able to reach the highest level in Irish dancing, which is Riverdance, as well as the relationships she has made.
“I’ve made some of the best friends of my life there,” says Latham. “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Latham’s perfection of her dancing skills has been building for years when she started learning Irish step dancing when she was 6 years old.
As a child, after seeing a St. Patrick’s Day dance show at her church, she says she told them, “I want to do that,” and that was the beginning.
“She displayed real talent for rhythm and Irish step dancing at a very young age,” says Mary Beth Griffith, director of Griffith Academy, where Latham is now a teacher.
“She’s an outstanding teacher, great motivator of our competitive Irish dancers and a great role model for the students,” said Griffith.
“We all knew that she was extremely talented, a great student and a champion Irish dancer.” says Griffith, who has known Latham since she was a child.
Griffith calls Latham an “incredible competitor” and an “incredible performer.” Latham has achieved success at the highest levels: top 10 in the world, third in North America and a two-time New England champion in Irish step dancing.
Irish step dancing, Griffith says, requires stamina, endurance and practice, which is something Latham was willing to do.
Despite not using her arms in Irish step dancing, Griffith says that at Griffith Academy, students like Latham learn different kinds of dances such as ballet, tap and jazz, which makes their dancers unique.
Since devoting her life to dance, she says she is now behind in school, but came back to finish and will graduate in May. However, juggling school and dance throughout her life was not always easy for her.
“In my head, the most important thing for me was dancing. And my schoolwork, I’d be like, ‘ugh. I just need to get this done,’ and I’d just do it to get it done. It wouldn’t be the best that I could do, which I kind of regret in ways,” says Latham.
The decision to return to college this year was not easy though, as she says she was “torn” since the 25th anniversary is huge for Riverdance, established in 1995.
Despite taking time off, Latham says she was invited back when Riverdance performed in New York in March.
“Any dancer or performer’s dream is to perform at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, so I was so excited for that,” she says
Latham is working on getting her certification in dancing called a TCRG, which is for the commission in Irish dancing. In the future, she would also like to teach. She always sees dance being a part of her life and says that it will “never leave her body.”
“It’s just unbelievable,” says Latham. “To be able to do something you love every single day and have a crowd standing up on their feet cheering for you at the end of each night, it leaves you on a high and you just feel so lucky to be where you are.”