Our Steps, Our Story: An Irish Dance Legacy

Jean Butler

By Mary Gallagher, Assistant Editor
September / October 2018

For 10 days in July, the New York Public Library (N.Y.P.L.) partnered with choreographer and original Riverdance star dancer Jean Butler to lead a workshop celebrating the history and variety of Irish dance. Titled “Our Steps, Our Story: An Irish Dance Legacy,” the program took the form of live discussion and performance, and was filmed in what will be the first of four installments in a documentary series named The Stepping Fields. The series will explore the lineage of teachers and influencers and the evolution of Irish dance in the U.S. and around the world.

Butler, a dedicated scholar of Irish dance for over four decades, spearheaded the project to preserve the tradition of Irish dance in a visual medium. The final product, which will be released in 2020, will be accompanied by an oral history of Irish dance in the U.S. descending from the McNiff dancers of the 1950s-60s to the work of Butler herself. Archivists Cori Olinghouse, Siobhan Burke, and Kristyn Fontanella worked with Butler on the progam, which was sponsored by N.Y.U.’s Glucksman Ireland House, University College Dublin, the N.Y.P.L., and the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, who embraced the venture with enthusiasm. “Jean Butler is one of the most accomplished Irish dance artists of the last century and a pioneer in the field, expanding and re-imagining the vocabulary and boundaries of Irish step dance,” said Linda Murray, curator of the Dance Division. “We were honored to serve as partners on this project.” Contact info@ourstepsfoundation.org for more information. To donate to the cause, go to ourstepsfoundation.org. ♦

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