Irish Dancing through the Stillness of a Coronaquiet Morning: Thank God for Kieran Jordan

Kieran Jordan, contemporary Irish dancer.
As a writer, performer, and educator, I spend so much time “putting out” information and a disproportionate amount of time taking it in. Some of us (particularly the ones who don't like to sit still for very long) move too fast in general to watch every musician friend's live video and read every friend's long thoughtful post. Still, in our motion, every day offers time for observation. We watch the behaviors and words of those around us, and we integrate and synthesize. We fold, we sort, we clean, we purge—and while our bodies are in motion, our minds think back to people we know and love and the things they have said, and we ponder and process. If we are truly fortunate, we have insightful friends who text and email us from time to time, and challenge us with intriguing poetic messages that spark our minds and souls. And of course we have Facebook—but that's a little like standing among a flock of penguins on a cacophonous South Atlantic island trying to pick out which squawk is actually directed at you. Today, though, I heard mine. It was Kieran.

This morning in the new coronaquiet, I had time to sit down to read some beautiful messages from my friend Kieran Jordan, a contemporary Irish dancer and teacher, and I was bathed in her air of calm and peace. For the last year or two, she was working through debilitating Lyme disease that threatened her health, her livelihood, and presumably her sanity, but now she's back... only to meet Quarantine 2020... yet she keeps moving forward. While she and I live different lives far away, she is one of those people I consider a soul-fed companion on this peculiar path of self-conscious, woke artmaking. 

The Boston Globe calls Kieran the "first-lady of contemporary Irish dance." Kieran is one of the truly special people music has given me, yet as she worked through her illness and journaled her journey online, I didn't have the bandwidth to take it in. I knew it was happening and I felt for her, but did not reach out much, such as I was about a million miles away desperately herding the sheep of nowness. There have been so many sheep…. Still, my heart was with her, and as she has been recovering, I have been lifted to see her up and about and recovering. You undoubtedly have a friend whose journey might be like that, too. They're going through tough times but you haven't had a chance to reach out. I think we can forgive ourselves. It's ok. 

Which one of you is saying something to me?
I am on Kieran's mailing list because I've always loved the idea of learning to Irish dance. I'm intrigued by her approach, which is the sean ós style, a loose, improvised kind of solo Irish step dance that is much older and more personal than the stiff, sparkly Riverdance style that has come to define Irish dance in the last few decades. Kieran opened her own studio in Hyde Park a few years go after many years of operating out of Green Street in Cambridge. She offers classes, performances, parties, lectures, and wellness seminars, carving out a special place for her unique approach to Irish dance. These activities have created a community that she further invigorates by 1) being a splendid human being, and 2) offering a thoughtful regular newsletter. 

This morning, I had time to read her newsletter, and am so grateful I did. Kieran's was a voice of quiet and calm, a change from the chaos I've been living in here in a small house with four big personalities. Our own chaos has been great fodder for comedy, and I have embraced it in my writing... but calm is nice too. I loved Kieran's messages for their acknowledgment of the real, of the heroic, and of the unknown. I am so grateful she shares her mind and her writing in this way, couched in her business of dance, movement and joy.

Her teaching and her studio is not just about teaching technical skills. She said that the reality of social distancing has made her realize that everything she does professionally "has the goal of bringing people together—performing, teaching, running my own dance studio, and producing events like céilís, classes, concerts, sessions, and art exhibits," she said. "My work is not about "virtual" or online experiences — it is about face-to-face human connection — the very thing we must avoid at this time."

And so like many, she is struggling to reinvent what she does. She's trying to figure out how to stay afloat and teach online with the struggling technology and limited tools at her disposal. But like many, she feels just as busy as ever, but now it's about cleaning and cooking and communicating and living. The sheep of the now are eternally dispersed. Shepherding is an essential business and shall remain open during the stay-at-home order.

Me, I am thinking that this is my chance to finally tick that box off on the bucket list - learn to dance a little. I might sign up for a lesson or two, to try something new and maybe just to get the chance to sit at Kieran's feet awhile. Because she's a splendid human being. And a hell of a dancer.

This virus has given us lemons, but there are a thousand recipes for lemonade. All we have to do is take those first steps. She tells her community, "tell me what you want and I'll make you a video." So… I guess I want to make foot music like those tap men in Riverdance (and Maria Pages) and also all those Appalachian cloggers and also the Alvin Ailey company and maybe Gregory Peck and also Hilary Klug, and the women in White Christmas. And it all starts with a single step.

Kieran, can you teach me to shuffle-ball-change? I'll do it, but only if I can wear these. Amazon is still delivering, right?

Penguin shoes.