Doctor swapped starring role in Riverdance for Covid front line

Catherine Wylie, PA
·3-min read

A Riverdance star who swapped a world-famous stage for the coronavirus front line said the past year has felt more like a decade.

Dr Maria Buffini, 37, from Dublin, was dancing at Radio City Music Hall when the pandemic hit last year, cutting short her time performing in the New York leg of the show’s 25th anniversary tour.

The trainee GP felt unwell when she returned to Ireland and found out on Saint Patrick’s Day that she had tested positive for Covid-19.

When she recovered, Dr Buffini left her dancing costumes behind and changed into full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to care for coronavirus patients at Connolly Hospital in Dublin.

Reflecting on this time last year, she told the PA news agency: “I was dancing in the show in Radio City New York onstage, I think Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday night, you know, very exciting, all very glamorous, all very once-in-a-lifetime kind of stuff.”

Dr Buffini has been performing in Riverdance for more than 15 years (Riverdance/PA)
Dr Buffini has been performing in Riverdance for more than 15 years (Riverdance/PA)

Dr Buffini said there was a “massive contrast” in her life over the course of a few weeks, adding: “Now I was dressing up in full PPE which wasn’t quite as nice as my Riverdance costumes that I’d been wearing a few weeks previously.”

She said: “We basically did three shows, and then the rest of it was cancelled.

“It was that week that really everything changed – on both sides of the Atlantic, I suppose.”

Dr Buffini, who made her debut in Riverdance in 2004 and has performed for the Queen and Michelle Obama, said returning to work was a “completely different environment” to the one she had left and described working on the Covid frontline as a “very testing experience”.

“It was just a really anxious time,” she said, adding: “Every day you were going into work, it was kind of like: ‘Is this going to be the day that we just get completely overwhelmed?'”

Dr Maria Buffini went from the Riverdance line to the frontline (Riverdance/PA)
Dr Maria Buffini went from the Riverdance line to the front line (Riverdance/PA)

Reflecting on caring for Covid-19 patients, Dr Buffini said she was aware of how lonely they must have been.

“I always tried to be conscious that you were probably one of the only people that they’d have a bit of a social interaction with that day,” she said.

“It was really sad, especially for some of the more elderly people, you know, trying to arrange communication with their families, different things like that, and yeah I can still remember names and faces of people during that time.

“Or obviously the really sad stories of people who passed on from it.”

Dr Buffini said that if she happens to be off work this Saint Patrick’s Day she would like to celebrate by watching the Riverdance gala show performance which was filmed in Dublin last year to celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary.

Riverdance is scheduled to resume touring again in the UK this August (Riverdance/PA)
Riverdance is scheduled to resume touring again in the UK this August (Riverdance/PA)

“It feels like 10 years ago since it happened, rather than just gone a year now, with everything that’s happened,” she said.

Dr Buffini said she was aware of the historical nature of being involved in the performance and described it as an emotional experience and a “brilliant” feeling.

“I think everyone in the theatre felt it that night as well, and it’s those kinds of nights that you really would remember forever.

“You’ve done thousands and thousands of shows but sometimes the select few will stick out and that will definitely be one of them,” she said.

Riverdance: The New 25th Anniversary Show will be available to stream exclusively at GreatStageOnScreen.com on St Patrick’s Day, and the UK tour is scheduled to resume in August.