Photo credit: Paul McEvoy
Jackie O'Riley spent her formative dance years in the Irish set dancing community in Boston, MA. Over the past 17 years, 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 11th 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.
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.
Photo credit: Sean Smith