Spanish steps - peek inside this upgraded red-brick home
There is nothing Mariam Ribon likes more, after a hard day's work, than watching her tropical fish in action.
Mariam throws herself down on the red leather sofa in the living room of her cosy home in Dublin 8 and delights in gazing at her gouramis and angel fish, her pleco and her mountain cloud, as they busily dive and glide, flit and flutter around their fresh warm-water tank.
"I love how graceful they are; it really relaxes me. It's like a form of meditation," Mariam says.
The attraction for Mariam possibly lies in the fact that for once she is not doing the moving. Mariam is a dance teacher and choreographer, and her life is all movement - teaching contemporary dance to her students; showing how to do the steps; dancing all the time, and leading by example.
Not that she would want to be doing anything else; Mariam is passionate about dance and has been since her early childhood back in Burgos in Spain, where she grew up, the youngest of three girls.
"My dad was a professional footballer. He played in the first division for Cadiz, for Celta de Vigo, for Oviedo, for Burgos, back in the days before footballers became rich," she says with a laugh.
She adds: "He is very artistic. He sang zarzuela, a genre of singing in Spain, and he plays the violin. When he was late for football practice, the coach would say, 'I hope you're late because of a woman and not because you were playing the violin'."
Mariam remembers telling her dad when she was five that she wanted to be a dancer. However, there was only one dance teacher in Burgos, and when Mariam clapped eyes on her, dressed in black and wielding a stick, she decided to give the classes a miss.
At 14, she braved dance class again, and this time she was hooked. "Like everyone, I started with ballet. Then a teacher I had in Madrid, where I went after Burgos, told me she thought I would be very good at contemporary dance, and that I should go to the Carmen Senra dance school in Madrid.
"I did, and I thought it was fantastic. In ballet, the girls talked only about their [physical] condition for ballet, but in contemporary dance, they were very relaxed. The hair was loose, they wore no shoes, as contemporary dance is barefoot, and they talked about normal things, like their weekend. And, unlike ballet, there's no hierarchy in contemporary dance. I felt right at home."
Mariam went on to train to be a professional dancer, but finding work in her field in Spain wasn't easy. In 1995, she decided she wanted a "big change" in her life - a friend had already moved to Ireland some years earlier and Mariam decided it would be a good idea to join her here.
Almost immediately, she got work teaching dance in the old Digges Lane, and she hasn't looked back. She dances professionally with CoisCeim; the Irish Modern Dance Theatre; Daghdha Dance Company, and Catherine Young Dance.
Since 2002, Mariam has been the artistic director of the Dublin Youth Dance Company, and she teaches student dancers of all ages. "There are two age groups, really: 12 to 17 and then the more serious dancers, who are 16 to 25. I teach five days a week, including Sunday. I teach adults, too - they come for the fun and the creative aspect," she explains.
In her role as director of Dublin Youth Dance Company, Mariam is also the prime motivator behind the Irish Youth Dance Festival - this year's event is currently on at the Pavilion in Dun Laoghaire, and continues until July 8.
It's a packed, vibrant programme, with skilful, highly physical performances from the company's dancers, as well as from many talented international performers. There's hip-hop, and jazz dance. There are also masterclasses, workshops and even some free dance classes.
Back in 1995, when Mariam first came to Ireland, a secondary reason for travelling here was to learn English. She had virtually none when she came, but it didn't stop her meeting the love of her life - her husband Gerry Eagers, who is in sales.
"I was here three weeks when I met Gerry. I was out with my friend Eva and some of her Irish friends, including Gerry. I couldn't put three words together. We started speaking, he told me his name but I couldn't pronounce it, so I said, 'Can I call you Lucas?" she laughs, adding, "I think he thought that was strange, but we survived."
Though Mariam has a delightful accent, she speaks English fluently now, probably helped by the fact that she and Gerry have two children - 14-year-old Ethan and 10-year-old Joshua.
Gerry and Mariam lived in an apartment until she became pregnant with Ethan. "I didn't want to have a baby in an apartment," Mariam explains.
And so the couple bought their terraced red-brick home in Dublin 8. Initially a three-bedroomed house, it wasn't in great nick when they bought it, but they were seduced by features such as high ceilings, original fireplaces and old stained glass.
Over the years, they've upgraded the house. They converted the attic, making it the master bedroom; they knocked a wall between the dining room and the living room; the bathroom was small, so they converted that into a shower room and created, in addition, a lovely spacious bathroom with a utility room off it.
They put in skylights to add to the light in the house, and they also increased the size of the kitchen. "When we first bought the house, we only had a strip of garden to the side of the kitchen, but there was a small derelict building behind us and we decided to buy it to increase the size of our garden," says Mariam.
At the time it was the height of the Celtic Tiger, and the owner wanted an exorbitant price. Fortunately for the couple, the price was reduced considerably during the recession. It's now a sun-drenched patio which has room for a giant trampoline as well as some pretty painted garden furniture made, unusually, from wooden pallets which Mariam found in a market.
Mariam has kept the decor of the house simple - the floorboards are stripped back, and the walls are all white, but it's full of colour and creativity, with paintings by her sister, and several of her friends.
There are framed posters promoting the Irish Youth Dance Festival over the years, posters which Gerry has always helped her with. There are also, of course, framed drawings done by the boys at school. "I feel it gives them confidence to see their work framed," Mariam says.
Unfortunately, neither of the boys is into dance. "That's my little cross to bear," she says, only half-joking.
She obviously loves her boys the way they are, but there's no doubt she had her heart set on girls to begin with. The bathroom is home to an arresting collection of black and white masks; prior to getting that collection, that particular set of shelves had been used to display a whole range of Barbies.
"When I got pregnant with Ethan, I started collecting Barbies, but then I had one boy and then another, so the Barbies are in the attic and the masks by Aoife Dunne, a visual artist, with whom we did a collaboration, seemed more suitable," Mariam says with a laugh, adding, "The Barbies are collectors' items, so they may be useful to sell when I retire."
Fortunately for lovers of dance in Ireland, that should be a long way off for the vivacious and talented Mariam.
The 18th Irish Youth Dance Festival runs until July 8 at the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire and Smock Alley Theatre, Temple Bar, see dublinyouthdance.com
Edited by Mary O'Sullivan
Photography by Tony Gavin
Sunday Indo Living