What She Holds: How Jean Butler choreographed a life less ordinary

The New York-based dancer and cultural icon is on a mission to help capture the disappearing story of Irish dancing

Jean Butler photographed at New York’s Fort Greene Park exclusively for Arts&Living. Picture: John Midgley

During the Covid lockdowns, anyone passing under the length of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York might have seen something striking: a flame-haired woman tracing graceful shapes in the city air. In NYC you can be as anonymous as you wish, and so even Jean Butler must have blended easily into the cityscape as she ran and danced beneath the bridge.

These open-air dance sessions gave the Riverdance star the time and space “to remember what it was like to move with joy”, and to connect to her childhood memories of Irish dancing. This in turn fed into a new project called What We Hold, which premiered at City Assembly House during Dublin Theatre Festival in 2022.