Photo by Megan Stahl

Every Irish dancer has a history to tell, a lineage to trace and a reason they dance the way they do.

Our Steps, Our Story: An Irish Dance Legacy Archive is created to reconstruct Ireland’s solo dance steps, which are in critical danger of disappearing.  Due to the ephemeral nature of dance and the alarming lack of documentation undertaken to date, Our Steps' inaugural project starts the urgent work of reconstructing and recording the history on which the current global Irish dance world has been built.

Innovating new methods of performance documentation, this rare archive places focus on the intricacies of the body moving in space to capture the idiosyncratic stylistic variations that once defined regional, national and international styles of Irish step dance. The documentation, created in a workshop setting, consists of intergenerational participants — including elder master dance teachers and former students — teaching the solo steps of their day to a younger generation of dancers currently competing. Filming the entirety of this generational exchange highlights the uniqueness of how Irish dance is taught, learnt, and imprinted in the body.

To date Our Steps has accumulated over eighty hours of video and aural material, recreating set dances dating from 1950 to 1994 and recording interviews as part of an accompanying oral history project.

The collection will be made available in perpetuity with our partner, the Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library, the most prestigious and largest dance archive in the world.  Our Steps, Our Story: An Irish Dance Legacy Archive is a living archive, ongoing and perpetual. We recognize there are many types of Irish dance styles and organizations to include and much ground to cover.  Our work has only just begun.

Photo by Father James Browne

A note from Linda Murray, Associate Director, Collections & Research & Curator, Jerome Robbins Dance Division

A longstanding issue with dance archiving has been the ephemeral nature of the form. Unless one intervenes and actively documents, often no trace survives. The Jerome Robbins Dance Division understood this early on and since the 1960s has been filming public performances throughout New York City and nationally in an attempt to preserve the field. However, this activity does not enable a community to work together to remember and reconstruct a dance. Dance archival practice is becoming more sensitive to this issue, working to find new ways to document dance beyond recording performances. By providing a studio space for multiple generations of dancers to convene and by filming the process, the Dance Division hopes to create a new road map for enabling and sustaining dance memory.

Archive collaborators

Siobhan Burke Writer in Residence and Oral History Collector
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Kristyn Fontanella Project Manager and Oral History Collector
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Cori Olinghouse Archivist and Curator, Oral History Project Planner
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Megan Stahl Director of Photography 2019, Second Camera Assistant 2018
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On behalf of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division

Francois Bernadi Director of Photography 2018
Sean Conaboy Second Camera 2018
Cassie Mey Oral History Producer
Daisy Pommer Librarian and Original Documentations Producer
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