‘Riverdance’ star Jean Butler talks about life after Irish culture phenomenon (VIDEO)
Butler remains an inspiration for the up and coming generation of Irish dancers today
Jean Butler remains an icon in the Irish dance world after helping ‘Riverdance’ bring both Irish dance and Irish culture to the world stage nearly twenty years ago in the 1994 Eurovision contest.
The Herald caught up with Butler who was in Dublin for a recent Guinness World Record event which saw nearly 2,000 Irish dancers from the world over line the River Liffey to set the newest record for most Irish dancers dancing at once.
At only 25 years old in 1994, Irish American Jean Butler became a star as the lead in the phenomenon Irish dance show ‘Riverdance’ alongside Michael Flatley. Despite her quick rise to fame in the 90s, Butler bowed out relatively early from the show.
“You have to realize that I was very young when I started the show,” Butler explained. "This was my first job out of college and it was an incredible job. But, at the same time, I felt I could never dance better than I did.”
"I had other ambitions and needed to fulfil them and felt it was a graceful time to go."
While her parents, Irish emigrants to New York Josephine and Michael, were perplexed originally with Butler ending her ‘Riverdance’ career, the stunning redhead went on to have a fulfilling career in other ways.
In 2003, Butler complemented her BA in Theatre Studies from Birmingham University with a Masters in Contemporary Dance Performance from Limerick University. At Limerick, Butler was the Artist in Residence from 2003 until 2005.
Now, the native New Yorker lectures at New York University as well as develops a jewelry line. Her third collection named ‘Meadows’ is inspired by the heritage of Ireland. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Cuan Hanly, a fashion designer and creative director at New York label Jack Spade.
"Deciding to go back and do my Masters was another instinct where I had to trust myself," Butler said.
"I had done Riverdance, then ‘Dancing On Dangerous Ground’ (her own dance show which ran in London and New York) and recorded with the Rolling Stones, The Chieftains, Peter Gabriel and Donal Lunny, done all this amazing stuff, and I really didn't realise I was so tired. I needed to step back from producing stuff and recharge.”
"When I started the masters it could have been the end or the beginning, but it ended up being the beginning of something else. Now 10 years later I have this whole other life which complements my life as a dancer," she said.
Butler also taught a masterclass for Irish dance at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre while visiting Ireland recently as an event for the tourism initiative The Gathering. Nearly twenty years after ‘Riverdance,’ Butler still draws a respected hush and awe from Irish dancers in attendance at the masterclass.