Jean Butler retires to soft pumps

Butler, the Irish American from Long Island who worked up a storm with her Irish dance moves on "Riverdance" back in 1994, told Irish Times reporter Roisin Ingle last week that her days of "lepping around" have come to an end.

“I’m 39, I’m not able for all that lepping around any more."

Butler, who is working on a solo show "Day" in Dublin, was first introduced to Irish audiences when she performed on the Eurovision stage as part of the interval act alongside Michael Flatley in Cork in 1994.

She, along with Flatley, and the rest of the dance troupe shot to fame immediately and put Ireland on the map throughout the world.

"Riverdance" was my life, I gave everything to it, I had nothing else,” she told Ingle.

Butler, whose mother is from Co. Mayo, is now working side by side with famous dance choreographer Tere O'Connor for her solo show.

She had seen his work in New York.

“I knew I really wanted to work with him, I would watch his work and think ‘I want to do that’. I am so glad he said yes,” she said.

Butler describes contemporary dance to painting on a canvas - “A Jackson Pollock painting can mean something different to me than to you . . . nobody tries to put a blanket meaning on art but they do on dance.”

On the art of contemporary dancing and how it can sometimes confuse people with it's interpretation, Butler said, “My poor mother, the first time she saw me do anything that wasn’t a slip jig she was pretty much aghast. It’s a massive departure but that’s where I am and I couldn’t have stayed where I was because I had more interests.”

Butler tells the Irish Times working with Michael Flatley on "Riverdance" was strictly professional. The pair don't keep in touch.

"He was much older than me and he certainly wanted some specific things that he wouldn’t be shy about saying.”

"It was not a friendship, it wasn’t a non-friendship either, it was professional, we had very different kind of agendas and aesthetics.”

Trying to go out on her own she produced a similar "Riverdance" style show called "Dancing on Dangerous Ground."

Butler said it didn't work.

“It was flawed from the start in terms of organisation and management,” she admitted.

“We were very ambitious about what we wanted to do . . . I don’t think the world and the audience could really grasp it. Unfortunately "Riverdance" and "Lord of the Dance" presented such a strong image of Irish dancing it was very hard to penetrate that and create something else.”

In 2002 Butler, married to fashion designer Cuan Hanley, took up a masters in contemporary dance at Limerick University's Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.

“It was a time to recharge the batteries because they were pretty low . . . I think I just wanted to step out of all that expectation for a while.”

In 2007, she created her first solo show "Does She Take Sugar?" for the Project Theatre in Dublin.

“That show was very much a self-portrait although I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that at the time,” she says.

“It was the beginning of something for me as an artist, which probably I would have been very unhappy saying I was five years ago but it makes sense to me now.”

Would she go back to Irish dance asked Ingle.

“I don’t go back, I go forward,” she said.

She is hoping contemporary dance will give her a longer life span in dance and keep her love for dance strong.

The interview appeared in the Irish Times online on Monday, May 17.