Nicole McKeever, Irish dance instructor

The dance instructor talks Riverdance and whether all of those kicks ever accidentally connect with a face.

PHOTO by luke fitz

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For those who've been looking for a heady challenge, you are hereby summoned to a dance class with Irish dance instructor Nicole McKeever. If you can master the correct toe steps and kicks needed to perform the simplest dance in one lesson, you are already way ahead of the curve. However, Irish dance is a complicated form that, upon further inspection, will prove much more daunting and difficult than anything you’re doing currently. And while the steps involved in the form may seem purposely impossible at times, McKeever has proven herself to be one patient teacher who finds great solace in helping people master the form. Her dance studios—of which there are two—are located in Midtown and she offers a multitude of classes for adults, teens and little children alike. McKeever’s love for dance and Celtic music is wholly evident as she performs with her students at area events including Grass Valley’s annual KVMR Celtic Festival.

SN&R caught up with her in between classes to ask her about Riverdance, teaching kids to dance and whether all of those kicks ever accidentally connect with a face. No overly complicated dance steps were performed during the writing of this piece.

What is the most challenging part of teaching different ages?

The little ones are just learning how to follow directions and stand on one toe while the older kids are all about confidence and building up their character. The adults, however, have such high expectations of themselves. Learning material and remembering gets much harder and people expect to get it right away. You have to work and build

Any age group you find particularly challenging?

The really little ones, starting at age 2, have been a real learning curve for me. I taught the last couple of years at St. Robert Catholic School and was already somewhat prepared since it was virtually all grades. You don't know what the kids' backgrounds are who are coming in to class and you have to be extra gentle so they love what they're doing.

Any response to folks who say Irish step dancing looks funny?

I get it. It's a different kind of dance form. Audiences all around the world seem to love it and there's competitions all over the globe for the enthusiasts. It's an intense and challenging dance form. I toured with Riverdance for five years across the country and hit all the states but Alaska as well as performing in 26 different countries and four continents. We even danced at the Kremlin Palace which was quite amazing.

How do you respond to a parent who gives up on their child after only a couple of lessons?

That's a tough one. It's difficult since I rarely have much communication or interaction going on with most parents. What many don't understand about this form of dancing, in particular, is that it takes commitment and it's not easy. There's a level of dedication, that can be a hard sell to many parents.

Did your parents force you to dance?

My parents loved Irish music and supported me. It was me who chose to do it. It was the year Riverdance came out on a grand scale, and immediately I knew what I wanted to do. I attended dance class and started dancing at age 12, and competed internationally until I was 25. Later, I went to Ireland to get my Masters in Irish Dance. My teacher gave me highest honors.

How does Irish dance stack up against ballet?

Irish dancing is always challenging, joyful and you get to make rhythm with your feet. It's a jubilant form which gives anyone such a high when you're pushing yourself. Unlike ballet and its constricting boundaries, Irish dancing gives you the option of being unique where you can put your own spin and character into your dance.

Ever accidentally kicked someone doing your routine?

Oh, yeah. When I toured with Riverdance, during the big lineup our legs come up so high that many of us would end up with blood on our thighs from being hit so many times. It was inevitable since we were dancing so close to one another.

How intense is the training?

If there's any kind of pressure, I think my performing students bring it on themselves. I certainly don't put any on my kids. I know firsthand you can be a lead in Riverdance and slip. We are human. I have very professional kids who compete that know what they need to do and, thankfully, I have parents that are very levelheaded as well.

Editor’s Note: This piece has been updated to correct an inaccuracy about the subject’s time in international competitions.