Before he gets to talking about Soda Bread Box, his contribution to this year's First Fortnight festival, Ronan Conway has a story for Ryan Tubridy. While working for Soar, an organisation dedicated to supporting teenagers, he visited a school where, he was told, there was gang rivalry going on:
"I remember it was in this big convent, kind of wooden floors and high ceilings and I walked in and there were 50 teenagers in there – guys and girls – and their heads were down and their shoulders were slumped and you could feel the tension."
After 15 minutes, Ronan steered the conversation to influences in our lives and he asked the 50 assembled teenagers a series of questions. Have you emigrated from a different country? Ten hands went up. Have you ever felt anxious in your life? Thirty-five hands. Ever had body image issues? Thirty hands. Ever experienced bullying? Again, thirty hands.
"So as the hands were going up and down, you could just feel the tension and the animosity just dissolving."
At the end of the session, one of the girls who Ronan was told was the leader of one of the gangs, stood up:
"She said, 'I just want to say something. I come in here and I treat ye like hell and I, but I just want to say, I’m pretty miserable, I’m going through a tough time at home. The reason I am projecting my stuff onto you is because I’m deeply unhappy. At least today I can share that with ye.’ I just remember leaving that workshop and just seeing the teenagers acting like teenagers again."
Ronan first heard about the notion of dark dancing when he was in Australia about 8 years ago. It doesn’t have anything to do with Bruce Springsteen, it’s more about, well, dancing like no one is watching. Ronan told Ryan what happened when he got back from Australia and mentioned dark dancing to his housemates:
"And the lads were like, ‘Let’s just go into the kitchen and try it out.’ So, we brought our cups of tea from the living room into the kitchen, we put them down on the kitchen table, we turned off the lights, we plugged in the speaker and we cranked on two tunes. We had a dance. We turned on the lights 10 minutes later and there was a lot of sweaty faces and a couple of knocked over kitchen chairs. And that, in that moment, Soda Bread Box was born."
Soda Bread Box is a dance event with no alcohol and very little light which Ronan and his co-organiser Diarmuid have been running in a basement in Dublin’s Temple Bar for the past 2 years.
"And what it is is, for 2 years people came and they – there's no alcohol, they go into the basement, there’s no lights and it’s between 7 and 8pm on a Monday night, ok? 7 to 8pm on a Monday night. No lights, no alcohol. Cranking tunes then for an hour and people come and dance after work, after college and they’re home and all in time for the 9 o’clock news."
Ryan just has one question: why? Everybody can dance, Ronan says, but many people don’t because of years of conditioning or because we think we can’t, or someone laughed at us in school that time.
"The point of Soda Bread Box is that you can come in, there’s no lights, you can dance whatever way you want, you can move whatever way you want. It’s not about looking good, it’s not about picking up partners, it’s not about taking pictures of yourselves. It’s actually just going and having a bit of a move, getting out of your head and into your body."
You can do all this, as Ryan points out, in your bathroom, but at Soda Bread Box, it’s a communal experience. And Ronan says that some people leave with renewed confidence in their ability to dance and some people are amazed that they’ve had a good time and there’s been no alcohol involved. Ryan reckons it’s for him, but Ronan, having seen some Toy Show dance routines, tells him he might have more craic than he thinks. We’ll watch this space. Oh wait...