Accolade for former prima ballerina

Rana O'Brien, SPAR People's Podium NI regional winner
Rana O'Brien, SPAR People's Podium NI regional winner

Rana O’Brien from Carnmoney, a former prima ballerina who set up a school of ballet in Belfast over 20 years ago, is a regional winner of Spar’s 2019 People’s Podium Award.

First launched in 2018, the People’s Podium initiative invites the public to nominate a local sporting hero whom they feel has made a huge and positive impact on their community.

Following thousands of votes submitted via social media and shortlisted judging by a dedicated People’s Podium panel, ballet teacher Rana was named winner for Northern Ireland.

Rana was presented with a cheque for £2,000 and a trophy by Henderson Group Head of Corporate Marketing, Bronagh Luke, as part of a surprise visit by the Spar UK People’s Podium team during a ballet lesson at De La Salle College in Belfast.

Rana said: “I had absolutely no idea I had been nominated for this award and it was an amazing moment to walk into our training room and see so many pupils with their families as well as everyone from Spar. It was all so unexpected but so wonderful.

“To win this award is a recognition of all the hard work by my dance students and the commitment of their families and indeed the whole community. We can all celebrate this accolade together.

“I’d very much like to thank Maureen Gwynne, mum to three of my pupils Jaynie, Jessica and Elizabeth, as she put me forward and of course I’d like to thank everyone at Spar UK and Henderson Group locally. It’s a fantastic funding award and we are using the prize money to purchase new ballet barres and pointe shoes which will help students further practice their dance technique and skills as well as raise the bar in terms of our performance and professional approach to dance training.”

Bronagh Luke, Head of Corporate Marketing at Henderson Group, owners of the Spar brand in Northern Ireland, congratulated Rana saying: “Rana really encapsulated our People’s Podium initiative as she has devoted herself to developing her School of Ballet in Belfast and Carryduff whilst inspiring a number of her pupils to study dance and take up professional jobs in the industry.

“Rana really gets to know her pupils and becomes like a second mum to them, helping them to excel to the best of their ability, develop confidence, teamwork and leadership skills which will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“Her classes cater for all levels from learners and leisure dancers to elite performers and she also offers a weekly class for young people with special needs helping them develop new skills and fitness levels. Using sport and team activities to bring a community together is a huge part of our ethos at Spar NI and Rana is a fantastic example of how this can be achieved.”

Rana O’Brien learned ballet from the age of three and joined the Istanbul State Opera and Ballet Company at 18 and spent over sixteen happy years with the company performing famous classic ballets at venues throughout Turkey.

After meeting and marrying a Belfast man she set up home in the city in 1997.

In early 2011 she set up a ‘community interest company’ High Points Youth Ballet alongside three of her 18-year-old students, to help talented young dancers further enhance and expand their dance skills.

High Points Youth Ballet will perform The Nutcracker at Stranmillis University Drama Theatre with two shows on Saturday, December 14 and a 3pm matinee on Sunday, December 15.