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Elite Athlete and Nursing Student, Sophomore Emily McFadden Dances in the Desert

Emily McFadden

On her way to becoming a nurse, sophomore Emily McFadden is taking a detour to Expo 2020 Dubai UAE this fall with the famed Riverdance, a music and dance performance inspired by Irish traditions and heritage, now in its 25th year. 

The Gaithersburg, Maryland native has been preparing for this unique opportunity since she was five and said yes to the offer after she stepped out of anatomy lab to take the phone call. Since then, she’s been working closely – and quickly – with FCN leadership and faculty to help make this dream a reality.

Here’s her story, in her words: 

Emily McFadden in Irish dance costume
Emily McFadden has been dancing since she was five. Here, she is at her annual regional Irish dance competition in 2020 where she placed second out of 130 dancers.

“I train in competitive Irish dance with the O'Riain Academy under the instruction of Ryan Broesler. On campus, I am a member of the Villanova Irish Dance Team. I began dancing when I was five years old and saw Riverdance live for the first time at seven years old.

I have always enjoyed competing, but my passion for the performance side of Irish dance blossomed at the Riverdance Summer School based in Dublin back in 2015. It was during this Irish dance intensive where I realized my dream was to dance with the show I had admired from a young age. It was that same year when I decided to begin homeschooling so I could concentrate on dance. When I started my freshman year at Villanova, I was worried that as a nursing student, I would not have the time or resources to pursue my dancing goals. I have the Student Performing Arts Assistant Director, George Pinchock, to thank for providing me with Villanova's dance studio, without which I simply would not be able to continue training.

Toward the end of this past August, Riverdance posted an opportunity on social media for an open-call audition they were holding for tours coming up in the next couple months. This was posted just days before I left for fall semester, but I was determined to get something in. I literally had my roommates film me first thing when we got back to campus, and I submitted my audition tape not expecting much of anything.

Around 600 dancers applied and Riverdance only needed 16 dancers, so given these odds, I really was not convinced that I would hear back. To my complete and utter surprise, during my Anatomy and Physiology lab, I received a call from the associate director of Riverdance, offering me a position to join the troupe in Dubai from the end of October going into the month of November. Needless to say, I accepted the offer, and am beyond blessed and humbled to have received this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The event itself is called the Expo 2020 Dubai UAE.

Through this experience, I have gained an immeasurable amount of pride as a student at Villanova's nursing school. I received an unreal amount of support from my advisor and my professors, all of whom readily accommodated my workload for when I am away. The fact that the College of Nursing encouraged me to go after my dream without letting my academics prevent me from doing so made me gain a whole new respect for my incredible university and the faculty who work in it.

To say I am excited about traveling the world and doing what I love most is an absolute understatement. Riverdance has been a goal of mine for years, and the fact that this dream is becoming a reality still doesn't feel real. Knowing that I have the support from the faculty at the nursing school is simply the cherry on top. While balancing rehearsals with the rigorous nursing curriculum has proved difficult, I am embracing this new and exciting challenge, and am eager to see how the remainder of this semester unfolds.

Dancing actually had a big influence on my decision to choose nursing! I have suffered from countless injuries as a result of my often-intense training, and as a result, have gained a passion for the medical field and particularly the care for and rehabilitation of others (specifically young athletes). When COVID-19 hit back in 2020, one would think that the devastating impacts it inflicted on the healthcare workers would have hindered my desire to go into nursing; however, the pandemic served as the biggest reassurance that this was the right path for me! I am also lucky enough to be working under the instruction of the enthusiastic and knowledgeable faculty at Villanova's nursing school--their drive and zest for the field is evident in lectures and labs, and it only inspires me more.”