We nearly lost Alan Foley to disco dancing. He was inspired by the film Flashdance and, at the tender age of 13, sent a letter to the Royal Ballet School asking them if they had courses in disco dancing. This was obviously a non-runner, but he subsequently discovered ballet, applied to the Kirov Ballet School and was accepted.
Alan founded Cork City Ballet, which is celebrating its 21st anniversary this year. The company has enjoyed great success performing full-scale productions including Swan Lake, Giselle and The Nutcracker.
From an early age, Alan trained with Joan Denise Moriarty, Ireland's first lady of dance. He is hugely passionate about the company and a joy to talk to. When he was studying with Moriarty, he knew he wanted to travel but also had the idea of setting up something in Ireland.
"I thought if everybody leaves, there will be nothing back here. I founded the company based completely on naivety. For our first performance we did excerpts from The Nutcracker and Swan Lake and it sold really well."
Alan hasn't looked back since. Using his Irish charm, he invited dancers over from Russia and American . . . and they came.
But what about boys and ballet, is it still tough for boys to study this particular dance form? Alan admits that he did sometimes get a hard time in school, but it never bothered him as he was so happy dancing. He is no shrinking violet it should be said and was well able to stick up for himself. But if Flashdance was the film that made Alan want to dance, did the film Billy Elliot have an effect on this generation of male dancers?
By all accounts it did. "Two years ago, on the full-time dance course I was teaching, we had half male and half female dancers. That was a huge achievement for me personally. I think a lot of that has to do with me being a bloke. I've always said that ballet is no longer the preserve of the privileged; if you are passionate about what you want to do, then go and do it."
Alan no longer dances himself. Following major heart surgery, he was told by his doctor that he would have to give up. This was tough, but he focuses now on his work as artistic director of Cork City Ballet.
"When a student starts with me, the first thing I do is I line them up in front of the mirror and I say look in the mirror and what you have got, that is your instrument, your body. If you don't like what you see, you and only you can change it, I can help but it's a two-way thing." Alan is not being harsh, he is being realistic.
So if I was to talk to Alan in 21 years' time, what would he wish for the Cork City Ballet? Without a pause, he says he would hope to be funded.
"My dream would be to find someone, like in the days of patronage. I would love to be in a position where we didn't have to worry so much about money."
For this 21st Anniversary Ballet Spectacular Gala, Alan is chuffed to have secured one of the top prima ballerinas in the world, Lucia Lacarra, and her partner Marlon Dino. "She was right at the top of the queue the day God was giving out ballet bodies, she has everything," he says.
Cork City Ballet celebrates the company's 21st anniversary at the Cork Opera House, November 21-23 at 8pm, with a matinée on Saturday 23 at 2.30pm, starring Lucia Lacarra and her partner Marlon Dino. Including highlights from Swan Lake and Paul Simon's Bodyguard. See www.corkcityballet.com
Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 12-2pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.