In a perfect world – or perhaps the “old” world – Irish dancing is taught by an instructor face-to-face and toe-to-toe with the student. But the world’s not like that anymore, which is why Boston-area dancer Kieran Jordan has become proficient in creating instructional videos that are available not only on DVDs but also via streaming or download via the Internet.
Jordan recently released “Musical Feet! Volume 2: The Next Step,” the second in a series of tutorials for the sean-nos (“old style”), the “low-to-the-ground” improvisational type of Irish dance of which she is an acknowledged master. In both volumes, she breaks down and demonstrates specific steps – from basic to more intricate – that can be used in dancing to Irish music; where Volume 1 focused on steps for reels, Volume 2 looks at jigs.
This is the third video overall Jordan has produced: In 2008, she released “Secrets of the Sole,” a documentary in which she interviewed and performed with two dancers she regards as major influences, Kevin Doyle and Aidan Vaughan.
Jordan is by no means the only Irish dance teacher who has turned to video as an instructional tool. But her experience serves to illuminate the continuing post-“Riverdance” popularity of Irish dance, and the role of technology in sustaining it in an era where distance-learning is becoming all the rage.
“There’s no question about the impact of ‘Riverdance,’” says Jordan, whose career as a full-time professional dancer, teacher, and choreographer began a few years after “Riverdance” first caught the public fancy (she graduated from Boston College in 1996, the same year the show had its North American debut). “Irish dance has changed a lot from the rather insular world I grew up with, and it is alive and well in many forms and stylistic expressions, whether it’s large stage shows, or great solo dancing in the context of a band performance, or something smaller and more intimate – like a pub session or a house party. It’s also grown in terms of academic research: There are an increasing number of places where you can do a serious study of Irish dance.
“I feel very fortunate to be in Boston, where there is so much interest and activity in Irish dance along so many lines.”
As Jordan explains, part of the impetus for producing the “Musical Feet!” videos was simply meeting a demand. “’I’ve constantly received requests for videos from Irish dance students, especially if they’d been to a special, ‘one-off’ workshop or class. A video can be a helpful tool for review.”
Jordan also was mindful of those people who, while not necessarily dance students, might want some kind of introductory resource. “Sean-nos dancing, thought it’s becoming more popular, is something you’ll find in only a handful of cities, especially in the US,” she explains. “There simply may not be access to a class on a regular basis. So I thought a video could be a way for someone to at least learn about sean-nos and what it’s about, to try it out at their own pace – with the possibility of someday being able to take part in a class or workshop.
“At the same time, I wanted to give people – whether experienced or not – the option to stream or download instead of buying the whole DVD. So now, someone can sample one of the modules to see if it’s what they want, and then have the choice of trying more.” Jordan says she gets orders “from all over the world.”
She has enjoyed using video as a medium, and found it an educational experience for herself. “It looks like a small production, but it’s pretty involved and complicated – we use two cameras and theatrical lighting, and that means finding the right angles and the proper amount of illumination to get the shots we want.
“One thing I learned was to get more help on the production side, such as lighting and costume, even getting my hair done – those things you may not think are important. A live performance is one thing, but in a video whatever you do is multiplied and highlighted: For example, I had quite a few people point out to me that, in one video, the shoelaces on one of my dance shoes were frayed; you could see that whenever we did a close-up shot of my feet.”
Jordan says she tries to approach her teaching on video much the same way as she does in person – at some junctures during “Musical Feet!” you can see her working with a small group of dancers, as she does in her studio.
“There are many different philosophies and stylistic things to consider in sean-nos and other Irish dance, so I try to anticipate the questions that may come up, based on my experiences with students,” she says. “But the main thing I want to get across when I teach is that in sean-nos, improvisation is very important. And even though I am providing instruction, I want to convey how critical it is for a dancer to find his or her own creative way.”
Another hallmark of Jordan’s videos has been her recruitment of respected area musicians like George Keith, Sean Gannon, and Amanda Cavanaugh to play for her dancing; for the new volume of “Musical Feet!” she asked Rhode Islanders Armand Aromin and Benedict Gagliardi (who perform as The Voxhunters) to sit in. The two are often in the shot as they play during many of the sequences in which Jordan demonstrates steps, and they also can be seen at rest while she is talking, as is the case with the musicians in the earlier videos. And that’s as it should be, Jordan says.
“The relationship between dancer and musician is so important, and I felt the videos I make should underscore that by having the players be visible. I was very happy to have Armand and Benedict join me for this one: Armand is himself a wonderful sean-nos dancer, and Benedict has a profound interest in how the dances and the music fit together. Our rehearsals were a lot of fun, talking about the dances and which tunes they should play.
“As with the other musicians who’ve played with me, this was a true partnership, and it felt very natural to have them there in the shot, even when there was no dancing at the time.”
Jordan is currently finishing up another project, a 15-track CD of music for set dances, including popular ones such as “The Blackbird” and “Garden of the Daisies.” Jordan, whose dancing will be featured on three of tracks, worked with musicians Sean Clohessy – a fiddler in the Boston area – Sean McComiskey, Matt Mulqueen. and Josh Dukes on selecting and arranging the tunes.
For more information about “Musical Feet!” see Jordan’s website, kieranjordan.com.