veteran of various tours, Nicola Butler understands the special demands facing Irish dancers who struggle to stay healthy during their intense grueling tour schedule.

“We’ve got an awful lot of shows and not many days off,” Butler said by telephone from Toronto during a brief break from rehearsal earlier this week. “So when we can we have to take care of our legs. It can be hazardous on the legs. But we do it because we love it.”

Butler and the rest of her fellow dancers are in the midst of strenuous preparations for the North American tour by Spirit of Ireland. The forerunners of Riverdance and other popular Irish dance companies, Spirit of Ireland kicks off its U.S. tour Sunday, March 7, in Lewiston at the Colisee.

Spirit of Ireland was started by Ceol Chiarrai, an Irish organization formed in 1985 to promote the country’s culture of song and dance. Ceol Chiarrai is Celtic for “music of the kingdom.”

According to Butler, Spirit of Ireland was the country’s first national and international success story. Dancers from the group became part of the original lineup of both Riverdance and Lord of the Dance.

The current Spirit of Ireland lineup features 12 female dancers and a single male lead. The performance also includes Irish musicians and a female singer. Unlike other touring companies, Butler stresses that this show is “100 percent live.” The show lasts roughly two hours.

Butler, 24, has been with the group for nearly a year, spending much of that time on a tour of Europe. While she has performed numerous times in the United States, this is her first time touring America as a member of Spirit of Ireland.

The troupe is spending this week in Toronto making final preparations.

“We’re doing a lot of rehearsals on stage to get use to this stage,” said Butler. “Loads of full run-throughs because your stamina is very important to be able to keep going. You have to be very fit. At the moment, we’re doing constant rehearsals from 9-to-6, 9-to-7 some days. We’re in the hall just dancing away. It’s a long day.”

Those long days began at age 3 when Butler described herself as an active child. Her parents knew exactly where to channel that energy.

“Anyone who is young and jumping about is a dancer,” Butler said with a laugh.

“You’re just taking classes and it continues from there. I’ve done competitions and traveled up the ranks and then I was lucky enough to audition for dance shows. You’re very lucky if you get a part in a dance show these days. The only other thing if there weren’t dance shows is to teach.”

Touring in various shows has allowed Butler to see the world. Besides Europe and the United States, she has performed for audiences in China, Australia and Malaysia.

The show will continue for several weeks before Butler can return to her home in southeastern Ireland.

“I’ve been so lucky,” said Butler. “But when I do go home to Ireland, I will sleep for a week. I’ll be so tired from traveling, dancing and everything.”

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