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School of Geography

Eimear Kelly


PhD student

Telephone: +44 (0)20 7882 3363
Room Number: Geography Building, Room 218


PhD Research

Alternative forms of Irish dance

Contemporary competitive Irish step dancing is an intensely regulated practice with strict rules over what counts as authentic and what is acceptable in terms of novel trends. It is both deeply shaped by its “national” origin and practiced in local, regional, national contexts in and beyond Ireland. My Masters research has already shown that though Irish step dancing is now often seen as a globalised sport, not a national dance, it is inextricably tied to Ireland and questions of tradition versus modernity, community versus the individual, and Irishness versus “foreign” influence both within and between the “homeland” and diaspora. Within Irish step dancing today there is a struggle between a push to innovate dancing steps, style, and costumes and a pull towards retaining traditional “Irish” moves and costume design. Yet there are choreographers, dance schools, and dancers who are challenging this rigidity, and bypassing these often deeply commercial concerns.

A number of Irish dance choreographers have trained later in life in contemporary dance and began exploring their traditional dance form with a new approach gained through their contemporary dance training. Some Irish dance choreographers are incorporating body percussion and a relaxed upper body into their dancing, while others are creating performances that more overtly deconstruct and critique the traditional ‘Irish dance show’. These choreographers are expanding the possibilities for what Irish dance can be. While all of these dancers trained from a young age as traditional competitive Irish dancers before exploring and challenging the limits of their practice as adults, there are dance schools which are teaching non-competitive, unique forms of Irish dance to young dancers. Many of these dance schools are focused on performance, and teach Irish dance alongside contemporary dance and ballet resulting in unique expressions of Irish dance.

Engaging with wider questions about the entangled national and diasporic learning and remaking of tradition and questions of cultural ownership, this research explores these alternative forms of Irish dance from the perspective of those who choreograph, teach, and learn Irish step dancing. This is being examined through interviews with key choreographers and dance teachers, ethnographic research undertaken at dance schools which are teaching Irish dance in innovative ways, and through practice-based research in which I am exploring what it means to practice innovative forms of Irish dance as a dancer trained in competitive Irish dance by taking part in alternative Irish dance courses, classes and performances myself.   



  • Queen Mary Postgraduate Research Fund 2016
  • British Association for Irish Studies Postgraduate Bursary 2016
  • 2015-2018 Queen Mary University of London Principal’s Studentship

Academic background

  • 2014 MA Cities and Culture, Queen Mary University of London (Distinction)
  • 2013 BA (Hons) Journalism with History of Art, Kingston University (First)


  • Green London (1st year fieldtrip), 2016
  • GEG5103 Geographical Research in Practice (2nd year course), 2016

Other activities
I am a news editor for Geography Directions, the associated site for RGS-IBG Journals and Geography Compass. I write articles that connect recent journal content to news topics.

In 2015, I worked on the Archive of the Irish in Britain at London Metropolitan University. I was responsible for integrating new material from the London Irish Women’s Centre into the archive.

In 2015, I proofread the manuscripts of Professor Catherine Nash’s book, Genetic Geographies: The Trouble with Ancestry and Dr Phillippa William’s book, Everyday Peace? Politics, citizenship and Muslim lives in India.

Prior to starting my PhD, I worked at the Royal Geographical Society with IBG with the programmes and events team.