Traditional and Old-Style Irish Dance
Jackie O'Riley spent her formative dance years in the Irish set dancing community in Boston, MA. Over the past decade and a half, she has ardently sought out old-style or traditional step dancing, sean-nós dance, and set dancing and is now a respected performer and teacher, with a unique repertoire that includes older steps she’s collected from masters and field footage, and original material she’s composed. Jackie performs and teaches in the US, Canada, and Ireland, was an original member of the touring sean-nós dance show Atlantic Steps, and in 2018 performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin as part of Na Píobairí Uilleann's production, "The Sound of Ireland". She founded, directs, and teaches O’Riley Irish Dance, a unique, non-competitive dance program for kids and teens now in its 10th year, and is the co-recipient of a 2017 grant for choreographers through the Boston Foundation. In 2019 she released a debut, first-of-its-kind visual album, From the Floor. Above all, she believes in prioritizing musicality in dancing, being a part of the wider musical and traditional community, and maintaining the joy that drew her to the tradition in the first place.
Photo credit: Paul McEvoy
There was no music in Jackie’s house growing up, but even so, as a kid, she was enamored with traditional Irish music after hearing it at a local concert. Starting around age 8, she’d save up her money to buy cassettes, and beg her parents to bring her to Irish music concerts, but surprisingly it wasn’t until her teens that she discovered dancing. Her first experience was at a local ceili and shortly after she began going to the Friday night set dancing in Quincy, run by Sheila Berry and Ronnie Baron. She was the youngest dancer in the room by decades, but still she was taken in as part of the community, learning casually and socially. Those years of watching the older dancers’ rhythm, joy, and respect for the tradition formed the basis for everything that followed.
As a college student, Jackie started learning step dancing with the McNeish School in Burlington, VT and in 2005 studied abroad at University College Cork, taking step dancing lessons from the wonderful Peggy McTeggart in the basement of the music building on Sundays Well Rd. Though she didn’t realize it at the time, she’d stumbled on an older-style of step dancing - and loved it. It was dancing that had a close relationship with the music, and that was done at tempos that musicians naturally played it.
In 2007, at a house ceili in New Hampshire, she met Kieran Jordan, and shortly after began studying with her. Kieran was uniquely talented and a generous teacher, and her approach and passion for dance, both preservation and innovation, was inspiring. It was also Kieran who introduced Jackie to the improvisational tradition of sean-nós dance, and who mentored and encouraged her for many years.
Starting in 2008, Jackie began to travel all over to seek out dancing masters - to watch, spend time with, and learn from. As a result, her repertoire is unique - she’s been very lucky to spend time with many dancers she admires, including Patrick O’Dea, Michael Tubridy, Aidan Vaughn, Padraig O’hOibicn, Noel Devery, and others. Jackie also works extensively with field footage and even written notation - reviving steps and movements that have been recorded on film or on paper. This is some of her absolute favorite work.
In 2008, Jackie began teaching step dancing classes for adults in Medford, and Brookline, MA. By early 2010 she had begun O’Riley Irish Dance, a non-competitive Irish dance program for kids. She was driven by the deep conviction that there was something missing in the options for young people interested in Irish dance. She believes in the work of passing on not only the old steps, but in understanding the tradition as a whole and celebrating the community of it. While her teaching style emphasizes clean technique, timing, and rhythm, the program is non-competitive; its goal is to foster dancers who are musical with their feet, and to encourage a lifelong appreciation for the tradition. From one small class in Cambridge, MA, the program has expanded to a large group of dedicated students in Cambridge, Watertown, and Medford.
Jackie also travels to teach, and has been on the teaching faculty of various festivals including the Catskills Irish Arts Week (NY), Music Arts and Dance (MAD) Week (MD), Augusta Heritage Center’s Irish Week (WV), and Celticfest (MI).
Jackie is now a respected performer in the world of traditional dance. In the fall of 2016, she was very honored to be invited to perform at Liberty Hall in Dublin, as part of Na Píobaí Uilleann’s Ace & Duece of Piping concert, for
Photo credit: Sean Smith
which she danced two original compositions and a traditional piece. She was an original member of Atlantic Steps, a unique , non-cookie cutter danceshow, organized by sean-nós dancer Brian Cunningham, and directed by Kieran Jordan, from 2012-2015. She's appeared in many productions by Kieran Jordan, as well as as a solo performer in ensemble shows. She frequently performs as a duo with her partner, uilleann piper Joey Abarta, and is recently finished creating new work with long-time dance partner Rebecca McGowan. Jackie and Rebecca were very honored to be the recipients of a 2017/2018 "Next Steps" grant through the Boston Foundation for Boston-based choreographers. In 2019 they released their debut and first-of-its-kind visual album called "From the Floor".
Jackie continues to expand her dance classes, tour and perform, and to dance sean-nós and old-style step dancing. Always inspired by the understated elegance of the steps and the effortless musicality of older dancers, she continues to research and revive the steps of the past.
She’s also a concertina player, and in 2013 was the recipient of an apprenticeship grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council to study with Clare concertina player Florence Fahy. Both her playing and her dancing have a light and fluid touch, underscored by strong rhythm, and an infectious joy for inheriting and living the cultural traditions of Irish music and dance.