The dream of becoming a world class professional ballet dancer has taken 17-year-old Ciara O'Rourke all the way from her home in Riverstown, Birr to study at the prestigious London Russian Ballet School.
The only daughter of Hugh and Loretta O'Rourke, Ciara is a self-confessed dance fanatic and has been hooked on ballet ever since she first began taking classes with the Cassandra Kenny school of dance at the tender age of four years.
Cassandra recalls how she recognised the amazing talent of her young student “from very early on” and knew that she had lots of potential. “She was so determined and focused right from the start, and did extremely well in all her exams, so by the time she was nine or ten she was coming to extra dance classes, and she kept improving all the time,” says Cassandra. At one stage, the young dancer was spending up to 19 hours a week at her ballet classes!
At just 13 years of age, Ciara O'Rourke joined the Irish National Youth Ballet Company and quickly graduated from the junior to the senior ranks. With day-long rehearsals in Dublin every Saturday, it was a gruelling schedule for the young dancer to combine her studies in St. Brendan's Community School with her dancing commitments. It was also a big sacrifice on the part of her parents to make sure she attended classes in Dublin from 10am to 6pm every Saturday, but it was “all worth it” according to her father, Hugh, who says both he and his wife always knew that Ciara was determined “from a very young age” to work very hard towards her goal of becoming a professional ballet dancer.
The big break for Ciara came last March when she travelled to London with her parents to audition for one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the world, the London Russian Ballet School. She was offered a place immediately, and began her three year course of study three months later.
As well as offering professional ballet dance classes, students also continue to pursue their academic studies, so Ciara O'Rourke is also studying for her A Levels in London. 12 hour days are the norm for the ambitious young Birr student, with up to six hours spent dancing and another six hours studying.
Ciara's parents and her older brother travelled to London before Christmas to see her dance alongside the principal soloists from the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet at the London Palladium, which was a very proud moment for both Ciara personally, and also for her family.
Closer to home, Birr audiences got to see their young local dancer in action on January 13 and 14 last when she performed in front of a home audience in the Birr Theatre and Arts Centre as a guest dancer in at a beautifully-choreographed show, Pirouette, staged by pupils from the Cassandra Kenny School of Dance. All proceeds from the event went towards funding Ciara's dance tuition in London.
Hugh O'Rourke says the family are “very appreciative” of all those who have helped to fund Ciara's tuition in London, including Maureen de Forge, Director of Birr Festival of Music & Voice, Birr Lions Club and her former dance teacher, Cassandra Kenny.
Ciara O'Rourke stated in an interview on Midlands 103 two years ago that she hoped to be a member of a professional ballet company by the time she is 20 years old and was looking forward to dancing professionally into her 40s.
With the drive and determination this young dancer has displayed so far, and the many sacrifices she has made along the way, no doubt she has a very bright future ahead of her on the world ballet stage.