Moira Miller has been dancing for most of her life. She was initially inspired in 1997, after taking in a performance of Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre.
“I sat mesmerized the whole show and told my mum and dad that I wanted to do what they were doing on stage,” recalls Miller, who was four years old at the time. “My dad is a folk musician, and we would regularly travel to gigs and festivals from a young age. I grew up listening to traditional music, so I guess this, too, had a part to play in my interest in Irish music and dance.”
Starting with ballet and tap, it was Irish dance that eventually stole her heart.
“Irish dance was never just a hobby. I would eat, sleep, and breathe Irish dance growing up and now it is just a part of me. There is no better feeling than stepping into the studio, putting on your shoes, and flying across the floor. It is my happy place.”
Miller later took to teaching dance, starting off at Indepen-dance in Glasgow, an inclusive dance company, teaching disabled and abled students at both professional and non-professional levels. “I learned a lot from the fantastic people at this company and I knew I wanted to pursue teaching as a career.”
Now 27, she currently lives and works in Falkirk, Central Scotland. She is a primary school teacher as well as a dance teacher. She opened the Miller Academy of Music and Dance in 2015 and operates the facility with her sister, Rhona. They teach students aged 4-23.
“We are like one big family. I like to provide different opportunities for the dancers, so not only do they perform at competitions, but we also host bi-annual dance shows. Through this, the dancers get the opportunity to explore different styles of Irish music and dance and learn a little bit of the history along the way.”
Looking back, Miller credits her parents and teachers as some of her biggest influences, and she notes that Lord of the Dance was an ongoing source of inspiration.
“Every night before bed, I would watch Lord of the Dance on repeat. I could probably still dance all those steps in my sleep. Even now, there is so many creative artists out there collaborating with musicians all over the world to create new and innovative content. This is probably my biggest influence right now.”
Miller’s involvement in Irish dance from a young age meant that she had to juggle her schoolwork and social life with her passion. She missed out on parties and other social events. Her family went on Irish dance trips in lieu of vacation. It was all worth it, however.
“When you want something, you make it work…”
Some of her fondest memories are from dance trips, and she has made life-long friendships as a result of her career.
Miller has a slew of competitive accomplishments as well; the 2018 WIDA (World Irish Dance Association) World Championships in Maastricht is among her recent experiences. There, she was crowned Traditional Set Dance World Champion. She passed on her prowess to her students as well, training the Miller Academy dancers to compete at the World Championships in 2019. “We took 13 dancers over to Eindhoven to compete in both solo and team dances and our two youngest dancers won the World title for their two-hand.”
Although the past year has been difficult for the dance community, physically distanced outdoor practices, Zoom classes, and virtual competitions have made ongoing connections possible.
“Every year, we host the Falkirk Open Feis for dancers to attend and compete. This year, we will still be going ahead, but virtually. It won’t be the same as a real feis, but it does allow the opportunity for dancers from all over the world to compete. We hope to welcome friends from America, Europe, Australia, et cetera. We hope that, as restrictions ease, we will be able to host our Miller Academy show towards the end of the year. I am sure we can work around the challenges if not and put together a virtual event for this, too.
“I know all my dancers are looking forward to getting back together again so a team night will definitely be on the cards to celebrate all their hard work during these challenging times.”