Originally from Dublin, Niall O’Leary is a former All-Ireland and world champion Irish dancer. He is also a Irish dance choreographer, teacher, coach, adjudicator and musician. He lives in Greenwich Village.
When did you come to the U.S?
“I came in summer of 1996. Like a lot of Irish people at that time I was fortunate that I did not need to emigrate, but I wanted to experience life in a big city with lots of energy and chose New York City as I had been there twice before on tour and loved it!
“I had already performed Irish dance in many big events in Europe, including 'Ireland Day' at Expo '92 in Seville, Spain, and I had been teaching dance in Ireland. I taught the first ever multi-national team in the World Championships in 1996, but I felt the time was right to bring my skills to new markets!”
Tell us about your dance school, the Niall O'Leary School of Irish Dance.
“I started the school in Dublin in 1995, New York 1996, Florida 2007 and, most recently, Cancun, Mexico in 2012, We have trained many dancers who have danced in the World Championships, and many more aspiring champions.
“All our dancers are instilled with an appreciation and love of Irish culture, and are imbued with a deep understanding of the importance of connecting to the music while dancing. Continuing the multi-national theme, I trained a team of four young adults, all born in different cities in Europe, to win the regional championships in Philadelphia.
“We have classes all year round for children and adults. Currently our classes are all over New York City, western Florida and Cancun. We teach solo dancing, team dancing and dance drama. Our students have included fashion model Coco Rocha, CNN's Mary Snow and Irish comedienne Fiona Walsh. There’s more information www.nialloleary.com.
Why is Irish dance so popular in the U.S.?
“Since 1994, as a result of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance, Irish dance performances have been seen by people all over the world who have absolutely no connection with Ireland, and in the U.S., there are Irish dancing schools in far-flung towns and cities where there are no native Irish people for hundreds of miles.
“Also Irish dance is a really fun activity, a great workout, is exciting to watch, is easy to do at a basic level, and is challenging to the higher cerebral regions at an advanced level. These are all reasons for its immense popularity.”
What has been your most memorable performance as an Irish dancer?
“There are many! Osaka Festival Hall with my professional dance troupe, Carnegie Hall with Darrah Carr, Milwaukee Irish Fest with Green Fields of America, St. Patrick's Day Gala Ball this year in Bangkok, Thailand with Mick Moloney, the Irish Arts Center's New York City Irish Dance Festival on the first Sunday in May every year.”
Is it ever too late in life to learn how to Irish dance?
“Never! People of all ages can be good at Irish dance: I teach programs for children from age four, and classes for adults of all ages. All classes are tailored to the age and ability of the student. There are great Irish dance teachers all over North America!"