Dancer Down Under Rises to the Top: Conor Ayers, Australian ADCRG and Star TV Presenter

Introduction – Tell us a bit about yourself? What were your favourite subjects at school, where did you study further education?

I’m Conor Ayres, an ADCRG with the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing in Melbourne, Australia. I live in the inner West of Melbourne with my husband Ben and 2-year-old daughter Polly. The inner West is known for its excellent coffee culture, gorgeous wine bars, multicultural cuisine, and family friendly atmosphere, so it is a wonderful place to live!

I come from a big Irish family. The Ayres (my father) side of the family is from County Westmeath and I have 11 aunties and uncles on that side, and about 37 cousins. My dad’s sister Christine started the dancing school 23 years ago. I learnt from her as did my brother, Liam, who is also an ADCRG, and the former lead of Riverdance. I currently teach 4 of my cousins, including my cousin Sarah, who is also looking to follow in the family footsteps and become a teacher! It’s a family affair!

I am a Children’s Television producer with the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

I’ve been producing television for 10 years, and before then I was a producer and on air personality in commercial radio for 7 years.

Favourite subjects at school- English, Literature, History, Drama.

I studied at RMIT University in Melbourne, completing a Bachelor of Arts (Journalism)

  • Why did you choose to become a Producer? Did you always know this was going to be your profession?

 I actually always wanted to be a print journalist, following in my father’s footsteps (he was a crime reporter during the 70s and 80s). Unfortunately, it is incredibly hard to become a print journalist without a lot of experience and I didn’t have enough after graduating University. Everyone wanted experienced journalists but wouldn’t give you the opportunity to get the experience! It was a catch 22!

I tried my hand at radio and loved how fast paced and immediate everything is. I loved being able to book in talent for an interview about the trending topic/newsworthy issue of the day and helping entertain and inform a large audience.  I got into TV production because I was asked to meet the Executive Producer of Children’s television at the ABC. She had heard about my work in radio and thought I would be a good fit. TV is home for me. I love everything about making television. Working in Children’s Television is awesome. The ABC has a worldwide gold standard for children’s content, meaning it is the most trusted channel for children. I’m very proud about our work there and hope to maintain that trust from the Australian public.

  • What is your professional experience as a producer?

I graduated from RMIT University in 2004 with a Bachelor of Arts Journalism with a major in Literature. Rather than head to regional Australia to get experience as a journalist (as recommended) I stayed in Melbourne (I couldn’t bear to leave Irish Dancing classes!) and got a job at Nova 100, a commercial radio station. The only way I could get my foot in the door there was to start off as the AM receptionist. I would answer calls and greet guests from 8am-1pm, then I would go into the studios and learn how the newsroom and the on-air studios worked.  I was then offered a gig answering phones for the 8pm show.

I realised radio was something I wanted to explore more of, so I gained more experience doing shows on community radio (SYN FM) until I had a showreel decent enough to pitch to my boss at Nova. He gave me a slot on air as a DJ every weekend.  At the same time a position came up to produce the breakfast show and despite the 4am wake up calls, it was the best job for me to realise producing is where I wanted to be. I would be booking guests, calling people who’d made the news that day, laughing with my comedian hosts , making coffees for celebrity chefs and being complimented on my outfits by Next top Model judges. It was a great, fun gig.

I was promoted to produce the Drive show, which was broadcast across Australia, and this was a much better time slot. (The only time you want to be awake at 4am is if you’re coming home from something!) The perks in this gig were endless. Lots of dining out at exclusive restaurants, being hosted at parties by various companies all in the hopes we would mention them on the show the next day. I met the likes of Kim Kardashian, Adrian Grenier, The Strokes, and Ben Affleck.  I only did a year in this role because I was faced with the choice of relocating to Sydney to continue to produce the show or be made redundant. I am a Melbourne girl born and bred, and had just bought a house with my brother Liam so thank goodness the Executive Producer of Childrens content at the ABC had heard of me and wanted me to take up the position of Talent Producer for their Children’s Show Studio 3.

I moved from Talent Producer (booking guests) to becoming a writer, then a studio floor producer, then a senior producer. I’ve been here for 10 years now. And even though the perks are nothing like I used to be privy to at Nova, it feels like home.

I’m currently a writer and producer on a news/parody show for children aged 9-12 called Definitely Not News. My team and I came up with the concept when we were forced to work from home during isolation because of COVID-19. The entire show is written, filmed, produced, edited in isolation. I haven’t seen my team in person in 12 weeks!

Before isolation, I produced an hour long live show called The Pack Down. I was the senior producer on the show, meaning I came up with the creative, booked guests, directed the show on the studio floor, and managed the three hosts of the show.  

I’ve worked on a number of shows before that including Studio 3, News to Me, Dance Like, and The Floor Is Yours.

So…at the end of the day…although I wanted to be a journalist…I’m still yet to work in a newsroom!

  • What is your professional experience as a dancer, teacher, adjudicator?

I danced for my uncle Ray for the Ayres School of Irish Dancing, then my aunty Christine under the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing.

I am a qualified adjudicator and teacher with the Christine Ayres School of Irish Dancing. I teach alongside my Aunty Christine,  my brother Liam, and my good friends and colleagues Kieran Harvey and Claire Delaney.

I have won 6 Victorian solo Championships and consistently placed on the podium, in particular as runner up in the Australian Nationals.

I have won many team titles throughout my dancing career. Highlights have always been dancing in figure dances.

I was an assistant teacher with Christine since I was a teenager and throughout my remaining years as a dancer.

I gained my TCRG in 2010. The next year we brought a figure team to Dublin for the World Championships and placed 4th. We went back in 2012 and won both the Mixed Figure and Ladies Figure that year. In 2018 we won the Mixed Figure and came third in the Ladies Figure.

I achieved my ADCRG in 2013, and have been privileged to have adjudicated throughout Australian and New Zealand, many World Qualifiers in Australia, the Mid Atlantic Oireachtas in 2017, and have been honoured to be invited to adjudicate the NAIDC. I was unable to accept the invitation as I was pregnant with my daughter and couldn’t take the risk of flying. I hope to get there again!

  • When things didn’t go to plan, how did you handle it? (We want to focus on maintaining discipline with the loss of the World, NANs etc)

I deferred my second year of University to focus completely on training for the World Championships in 2001, only to learn they were cancelled due to Foot and Mouth disease. I was devastated. Especially coming from Australia, there’s a huge cost involved with flying across the other side of the world to dance, let alone knowing I had to add an extra year of studying because I had deferred. My family and I still went to Ireland and we had the trip of a lifetime. It was a wonderful experience meeting members of my family, bonding with my immediate family, and taking home more knowledge about how to be a better dancer. Since then I’ve been to countless World Championships, and as a teacher I’ve had 3 Figure Dance teams win the Worlds. Although things didn’t go to plan that year, I have had much more fruitful experiences since that year.

It’s always best to take a breath and step back from the situation when things don’t go to plan and try to have perspective. Right now, the world is in a pandemic. It’s the most unprecedented thing we’ve ever had happened to us globally. When something you always expect to be there is taken away from you it’s upsetting. Especially with the cancellation of the Worlds and the NAIDC. I think this situation will bond the dancing world even closer. There has been so much sharing of knowledge from teachers worldwide, about how to conduct classes, how to keep dancers motivated, how to keep beginners to stop dancing out of frame on Zoom classes etc!

  • How did you handle dancing competitively and studying for University?

It’s all about time management. I sacrificed a lot of socialising with my peers because I had my goals in mind, which meant going to dance class, rather than going to parties.

I was, and still am, a Queen of lists! I used to make lists and schedule in times to have breaks, practise, go to class, go to lectures, etc. There’s a real sense of satisfaction when you cross off that last thing on your to do list for the day!

I think dancing was always a great outlet to have a break from studying. It was a chance to concentrate on something else, exercise your body and not have to worry for awhile. I always found coming back to studying after a dancing class, my mind felt fresher, and I felt much more energised!

  • Did you take time out of dancing to study or did you manage both?

I gave up solo dancing when I was doing Year 12 (the final year of school in Australia) to really focus on that last year of school. I had a big goal of getting into a competitive and very sought after University course and I really wanted to focus on that. I knew Irish Dancing would always be there. I also knew if I wanted to pop the shoes on and attend a class I could. We in turn make sure our Year 12 dancers also feel that way- the door is always open- Irish Dancing is always here, but your final year of school isn’t. It really sounds so obvious when I type this statement out, doesn’t it?? But when you’ve been so caught up in Irish dancing for years to take a year off is a really big step to take. The best we can do as teachers is to make sure our dancers know we are always there for them.

Apart from that I have always had Irish Dancing in my life, and I still treat it the same way now as I did when I was studying. It is my outlet; my safe space. I get to see my closest friends, and forget about anything that bothered me that day, to focus on dancers, the music, etc. I feel like I can go to work then logout and drive to dancing (or, right now, log onto Zoom from home) and dive into something that makes me happiest. That’s Irish Dancing.

  • Do you think being involved in Irish Dancing has helped shape your professional life and helped you to develop key life skills?

Irish Dancing has absolutely helped me develop key life skills!

It’s helped me realise what my priorities are in life. When I was a dancer I was very competitive and in particular when I was a teenager I allowed myself to succumb to pressure and nerves. When I didn’t get the result I was aiming for I’d allow my emotions to take over. As I got older and I realised how much I really needed to  practise to get better, I learnt how to be a good sport- to have  good sportsmanship. I learnt that although I may not have gotten the result I wanted, as long as I knew I danced my heart out, with no mishaps, and as long as I was happy and I carried myself with grace and humility, that is what matters.

It has taught me to turn disappointments into a driving force- to use disappointments as a positive- to drive me to be better and not feel that way again. I’ve been lucky to use my Irish dancing connections in my own profession as well! I will always call upon my dancers if my show needed interviews for St Patrick’s Day, or if I wrote Irish dancing into a segment! It’s been great PR for Irish dancing, and also great that I have a network I can contact straight away to get Irish Dancers!

Irish Dancing has helped me learn that it’s not just persistence that pays off. It’s persistence and listening. Find a mentor. Listen to them. Learn from them. That’s how I became a better dancer, and in turn a better teacher and adjudicator but it’s how I became a better producer. Experience and being able to learn from experience counts. If you keep persisting, you will get what you want. If you listen andpersist, you will get what you want and even more will open up for you. Take advice, even if you don’t think you want to hear it.

Finally, while I’m on this train of thought…passion is key. I am lucky to have 2 careers that I love so much. I am so passionate about Irish Dancing and I love everything about it. The classes, the feiseanna, the people, the fun, the friendships, the creativity. I also am so passionate about making great kids TV. I love the urgency, the studios, the lights, the laughs, the friendships, the creativity. I am so lucky to have passion for the things I spend most of my time doing.

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