Featured Artist Q & A:
The Irish Dancing Queen
Our February Featured Artist is talented in many ways: Nicole McKeever is an Irish dancer, skilled painter and illustrator and a tireless choreographer. The former “Jersey Girl” moved to California to be closer to family and to share her passion with others at her very own McKeever School of Irish Dance. With a number of her students winning coveted dance titles, it seems that McKeever can add “dance teacher” to her long list of accomplishments.
Read on to discover what “moves” the Irish dancing queen in our interview below:
1. You studied Irish Dance early on in life. What first attracted you to the dance form?
I grew up listening to Irish music like The Chieftans thanks to my father. It moved me and I just had to dance to it! When I moved to New Jersey at age 12 my family could finally afford to pay for Irish Dance lessons; I signed up straight away. Never could I dream that my decision would lead to my future career and that the dancers I admired would become my friends and colleagues.
2. You’ve traveled all over the globe, touring with Riverdance and Ragus. Can you share an interesting story from your travels with our readers?
I am lucky enough to have seen many of the world’s major cities on tour as well as many small towns and villages that rarely make it onto a tourist’s map. I have a better understanding of my own country, its beauty and diversity as a result. My favorite moments were walking around the twisting and turning medieval streets of Europe with no plan, just absorbing my surroundings. The best part of tour is not only the traveling aspect but how close knit the cast becomes and the adventures you have together.
One of McKeever’s proudest acheivements was being featured on the Riverdance poster as a solo dancer.
3. Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
I am one of those people that like to get there early and have plenty of time to get ready for the show, stretch and mentally relax. Whenever I have been rushed before the show it changes my performance. When we had catering I used to love sitting around with my fellow dancers chatting and having coffee.
4. Why did you decide to settle down in Sacramento to establish your McKeever School of Irish Dance?
I knew there were fewer Irish dance schools in California and even more specifically within Sacramento. This is especially in comparison to New Jersey, which is an extension of the New York hub of Irish American culture. My family has been in California for five generations and my entire family (bar my parents) live here, so I have always felt connected to this state. My Aunt and Uncle sold me on Sacramento’s affordability, culture, and accessibility and I have not regretted my decision to relocate one bit!
McKeever teaching a new generation of Irish Dancers.
5. What is the most rewarding thing about being a dance teacher?
I always keep in mind the mentality and drive I had as a kid and I strive to give my students what they need to be their best. There is nothing worse than working hard and not getting the right guidance or training. When I see my own choreography danced on stage by someone I have trained and they are having fun, becoming confident and winning at competitions it is the best feeling in the world.
6. As well as being a talented dancer, you are a skilled painter and illustrator. When did you realize that you were also a visual artist?
The strange thing about the visual arts and my life is that I never made any decision to become an artist. It was always just who I was. I neglected it for a few years while I was studying abroad and touring, so it feels good to now be settled and taking lessons, visiting galleries and painting.
7. Are there other artistic medium(s) that you would like to further explore in the future?
I tried to learn how to play the fiddle and the tin whistle and it was really hard. I would love to sing and play music and I admire those who do. I suppose I am lucky enough to have two mediums of expression and made them my career so I am not going to ask for anything more than that!
One of McKeever’s many Irish Dance paintings.
“Irish Dancer II.” 2005. 24″/36″
8. What has been your proudest achievement so far? (Professionally and/or personally)
Professionally, I would say becoming a touring dancer and being featured on the Riverdance poster as a solo dancer were achievements I could never have imagined that for myself.
Personally, becoming an art teacher at a local elementary school here in Sacramento and seeing myself inspire kids to love and respect art as more than just craft feels like something I was meant to do here on earth.
9. What is something interesting about you that people might be surprised to hear?
I come across very prim and proper, but I know how to crack a good joke and not take myself seriously!
I also absolutely love genealogy and history. I have an interesting family tree that has Native American chiefs, Moroccan Pirates and European Royalty among its branches. Everyone should learn of where they come from.
10. Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with our readers?
I am currently working on some abstract paintings but these are more for personal enjoyment. I am just looking forward to growing the McKeever School of Dance here in Sacramento, preserving and spreading Irish culture and hopefully putting my own mark on the dance form through my choreography.
When my school grows bigger I would like to offer my students the ability to study performance based experimental choreography within the realm of Irish dance that could perhaps be formed into a full-fledged dance company.
Keep Up With Nicole McKeever:
Interview by Sacramento365 Content & Social Media Coordinator, Jamila B. Khan.