GOTG Profile: Nicole McKeever, Founder McKeever School of Irish Dance
By Lisa Murphy & Chantel Elder
On Sunday, the McKeever School of Irish Dance (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) held its first class in its new location at the E. Claire Raley Studios, a performing arts campus located at what was formally the Fremont School. Nicole McKeever, a professional Irish dancer with an impressive career, (including international tours with the companies of Riverdance the Show and Ragus), founded the McKeever School of dance in October of 2013. Since its opening, the school has grown rapidly. Moving to this new space is a unique opportunity for McKeever and her students. She is hoping to tap into the collaborative spirit that Raley studios will offer and expose her students to other styles of dance and art. The Sacramento Ballet, Brazilian Center for Cultural Exchange and Alliance Francaise de Sacramento, are all moving to the new space as well.
We sat down with Nicole McKeever to learn about her incredible background and what brought her to Sacramento to share her passion for Irish Dance:
Where did you grow up and when did your love affair with Irish Dance begin?
I grew up in a few places, Arizona, California, Ohio and then New Jersey. When I was little my parents would listen to Irish music like The Chieftans and we would go to Irish Festivals and parades. That’s where I first saw Irish Dance and loved it! It wasn’t until I moved to New Jersey at the age of 12 that I had the opportunity to take classes. The very Summer I enrolled, Riverdance the Show on VHS came to the USA, I was hooked and determined to dance just like the female lead Jean Butler!
You have a very impressive career, including tours with Ragus and Riverdance the Show. What was it like living and performing abroad?
Its many things rolled into one! It’s a dream come true and a chance to see the world for free and save money. It’s the chance to make lifelong friendships with your fellow cast-mates, and its also getting the chance to be on stage among the very best of your craft and inspire the next generation of dancers. What people often don’t see are the grueling physical and mental aspects to touring life. Finding food is often a challenge especially when you land in remote towns in foreign countries. You really don’t have privacy or get to take sick days and you dance through injury and illness. Any pain or stress happening in your personal life gets left behind and you have to deliver your best performance on stage. I did tours where in 6 months we had one day off and we were in a new city every day. In those 6 months we traveled the circumference of the Earth on a bus during the day and you would drive anywhere from 2-11 hours and do the show that night. It was an amazing adventure!
What made you decide you wanted to teach?
Its one of those things you don’t really decide you just know its your next step! I love to choreograph, coach and help kids achieve their dreams. I can see myself in all of my students, and there is nothing more rewarding than taking a beginner and seeing them develop into a performer lighting up a stage or achieving success at competition.
When did you open the McKeever School of Irish Dance? Why in Sacramento?
I moved here after my last tour with Riverdance which was ten weeks traveling all over China. It was August of 2013 that I drove out here and I opened my school that October. My Aunt and Uncle live here and they knew it was the right kind of atmosphere for me. Sacramento is accessible, affordable, artistic and there are just so many opportunities here that were not there for me in New Jersey.
What ages do you teach? Are you the only instructor/does anyone help you run the school?
I teach all ages from kids in my Tiny Tot class (ages 3-5) and then I have adult classes with amazing dancers who are parents and grandparents! Up until this past September I was doing it all by myself but now my sister, who was also a champion dancer, has moved to Sacramento and she is assisting me in some of my classes, which really has helped a lot! In the future I want to train my dancers to pass their teacher’s exam if they have that desire.
How did your school come upon the opportunity to move into the E. Claire Raley Studios? What does this opportunity mean for you?
About a year ago I could see how much my school was growing and I could anticipate needing more stability and different facilities. I started an intense search for my own studio space and my amazing Aunt came across the Raley Studios. Fate put me in touch with Turton Commercial and they were so helpful getting me in touch with the right people. I feel so lucky to have jumped in right at the end! This not only means growth and stability for my business but my students will have premium space to train. They will walk the halls and meet other performing artists and hopefully be inspired and realize they are artists too. It also means a lot to Irish Step Dancing to be placed next door to a professional ballet company like the Sacramento Ballet. I want to show Sacramento that Irish Dance is more than folk dance, more than just an intensely physical and competitive sport, but it’s an art form that is evolving and deserves recognition.
Do you plan to collaborate with other occupants of the Raley Studios?
The very nature of The Raley Studios is set up for collaboration, all the tenants are like one big team trying to make this space an amazing place that gives back to the students in Sacramento Unified School District. Beyond this I definitely have hopes to collaborate artistically with any and all of the tenants! There is so much exiting potential!
What are some common misconceptions about Irish Dance?
There are so many different styles even within the Irish Dance genre, Ceili Dancing, Set Dancing, Sean Nos Dancing, Festival Dancing, Competitive Irish Dance, Traditional Irish Dance, and it keeps evolving through innovative shows and choreographers like some of my Riverdance friends in the group Prodijig. There are several myths about not using our hands while we dance. However, there is actually little to no historical information on why the dance form keeps such a specifically rigid posture. The most likely theory is that Irish dance was meant to be danced in small spaces and the traveling dance masters would come around to a town and teach social dances and refined deportment along with their steps. In some ways that traveling dance master culture still exists in a modern form. The posture just became exaggerated through competition. I learned some dances at the University of Limerick that were over 150 years old and the style was meant to have loose arms. Irish dance has evolved quickly in the last 100 years because of competition. To win you must always catch the eye of the judges and push the limits. New jumps and moves are made up constantly and the costume styles change radically every year!
You’ve taught and performed all over the world, what do you like about Sacramento?
Sacramento is so friendly and easy to adjust to for someone like me who moved here from the East Coast. It’s full of life and potential. You can really feel the buzz and see the city grow right now. I love how it has so many opportunities for artists, and so many great places to eat and visit! It’s also so walk-able which is unique in the United States.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Anyone can learn to Irish Dance if they have desire and dedication, any age, any heritage, any gender!
Visit McKeever’s Website: http://www.mckeeverdance.com/
Contact Nicole McKeever at: McKeeverDance@Gmail.com