DUBLIN, Ireland – A professional dancer from south Belfast has said he is deeply honoured to have been asked to perform for Pope Francis in front of 75,000 people in Dublin’s Croke Park next weekend.
Tura Arutura (44), a Zimbabwean native who moved to Northern Ireland 25 years ago, is to participate in the Festival of Families concert, which is being held as part of the Pontiff’s two-day visit to the Republic, on August 25.
The father-of-three said there was no question of not accepting the offer from the event organisers, who contacted him after spotting him on television.
“It was an immediate yes. I was flabbergasted and completely blown away,” he said.
Mr Arutura is one of a series of acts from Northern Ireland – including the famous singing trio The Priests and Lisburn soul singer Dana Masters – participating in the concert, all sharing the bill with Donegal crooner Daniel O’Donnell and opera sensation, Andrea Bocelli.
For his part, the dancer – whose talents have been showcased in the BBC One NI programme Dancing Back in Time, a series he co-presented with famous choreographer Carrie Grant – will initially take to the stage with the Riverdance troupe.
He will then give a short speech before leading another dance which will showcase his urban-style moves, sharply contrasting with his first performance in the sean-nos tradition – an old form of Irish solo dancing accompanied by renowned dancer, Emma O’Sullivan.
“It’s a huge event involving thousands and thousands of people.
“You have the Pope, the Irish president and all these dignitaries. I am nervous,” he admits.
Unfortunately, his wife Lisa and daughters Tateyana (19), Angel (18) and nine-year-old Sienna are unable to attend due to a family wedding.
He will, however, have the support of other relatives who make up one of the 116 families specially invited to concert to the meet the Pope.
“They are very excited for me though,” added Tura, who can speak Irish and is also currently working towards completing his law degree with the Open University.
The performance artist is relishing the opportunity to address the crowds to thank his adopted home which he says has shaped his life in a hugely positive way after his arrival in 1993, following in the footsteps of his aunt who had established a new life in east Belfast.
“The people here wear their heart on their sleeve. They have such a hunger for life, such a spark and have such a giving nature,” he said.
“My speech is really about the sense of freedom here, which has been instilled in me, and given me a sense of self.”
Busy rehearsing for his performances, Mr Arutura is full of praise for the head of the Catholic church, whom he described as the ‘People’s Pope’.
“Pope Francis is ahead of his time. He connects with people. You don’t need to be Catholic to connect with him. He’s a good human being, making the world a better place,” he said.