Jean Butler

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Jean Butler
Born (1971-03-14) March 14, 1971 (age 47)
OccupationIrish dancer, choreographer, and actress
Years active1994-2010
Cuan Hanly (m. 2001)
Former groupsDonny Golden School of Irish Dance, Riverdance
DancesIrish stepdance

Jean Butler (born March 14, 1971), is an American stepdancer, choreographer, and actress. She is best known for originating the principal female role in the Irish dance theatrical production Riverdance.

Early life[edit]

Jean Butler was born in Mineola, New York. Her mother, Josephine, is from County Mayo in Ireland. She has a sister, Cara. She started ballet and tap classes at the age of four. She eventually quit both. She began Irish dance lessons at the age of six, which she quit promptly. "I hated it," she says. "They made me stand with my arms at my sides for two hours. So, I left. I was too young." She tried Irish dance again at age nine, this time with a different dance teacher, Donald Golden, whom she considers to be one of the most influential people in her life. About a year into Irish dance, she became very serious with it and quit the soccer and baseball teams. From a young age, she competed in regional, national and international championships.[1] Jean and her sister Cara won numerous national titles and regional titles, and placed well in international competitions. Butler attended Hofstra University and earned an Honours Degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Birmingham.


Butler has performed with Green Fields of America and Cherish the Ladies. She debuted with The Chieftains at Carnegie Hall at the age of seventeen, and toured with them on three continents. In England, Butler met Irish dancer Colin Dunne and they performed together in Mayo 5000 in 1993.[2]

Riverdance and Dancing on Dangerous Ground[edit]

In 1994, under the invitation of producer Moya Doherty, she performed in a seven-minute intermission piece at the Eurovision Song Contest 1994 entitled Riverdance. The piece was co-choreographed by Butler with Michael Flatley. The response was so explosive that it was extended into a full show, starring Butler and Flatley. The show toured throughout 1995. After Flatley abruptly left the show over creative control disputes in October 1995, Butler was joined by long-time friend Colin Dunne. The pair were the lead dancers at the famous Radio City Music Hall in New York City, New York that was filmed and put on DVD. After a long and extremely successful run with the show, Butler eventually left Riverdance in January 1997.[3]

In 1998, following Dunne's departure from Riverdance, Butler once again collaborated with her friend to create the show Dancing on Dangerous Ground, which was based on the ancient Irish legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne. It opened in London in 1999 to critical acclaim, and then in New York.[4]

In 1999, she was also presented with the Irish Post Award for "outstanding contribution to Irish Dance".[5] From 2003 to 2005, Butler was Artist In Residence at the University of Limerick's Irish World Music Centre.[4] In 2009, she received the "Outstanding Contribution to Arts & Culture Alumni Award" from the University of Limerick.[6]

Later career[edit]

She received a commission from the Irish Arts Council to create a solo work in 2004. In 2005 she released an instructional DVD, Irish Dance Masterclass With Jean Butler,[7] which her sister also participated in,[8] and completed a master's degree in Contemporary Dance Performance from the University of Limerick.

She premiered "Does She Take Sugar?" on 12 April 2007 at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.[9] With Colin Dunne and George Hook she is a judge on the Radio Telefís Éireann reality series Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels.[5]

She retired from active dancing in 2010.[10]

In January 2011, it was announced that she had designed and released her own jewellery line. The collection was launched at Showcase Ireland at the RDS later that month.


Butler has appeared in several films: The Brylcreem Boys, Goldfish Memory, The Revengers Tragedy and Old Friends.[11][12] She has also auditioned for large-budget Hollywood films such as, Meet Joe Black with Brad Pitt, and The Postman with Kevin Costner.

Personal life[edit]

In 2001 she married Irish designer Cuan Hanly.


  1. ^ Ilana Schweber. "Dangerous Dancing An Interview with Jean Butler". Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  2. ^ "Riverdance for Castlebar". Castlebar.News. Castlebar. 5 August 2008. Archived from the original on 16 September 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  3. ^ "Riverprancer; Jean Butler lifts the lid on life with Riverdance co-star Michael Flatley". Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  4. ^ a b Shane McGinley (June 2005). "Dancing on Dangerous Ground, Irish Dancer Jean Butler". Ballet-Dance Magazine. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  5. ^ a b "Celebrity Jigs 'n' Reels Judges". RTÉ Television. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  6. ^ "Ms Jean Butler 2009 Recipient of the Outstanding Contribution to Arts & Culture Alumni Award". University of Limerick. 2009. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  7. ^ "Irish Dance Masterclass DVD with Jean Butler". Archived from the original on 3 December 2012. Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  8. ^ "Jean Butler's Masterclass DVD, Jean Butler at the Celtic Cafe". Retrieved 6 April 2012.
  9. ^ "Jean Butler - How Sweet..." 21 April 2008. Retrieved 6 April 2012.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ Fincham, Kelly (May 17, 2010). "'Riverdance' star Jean Butler hangs up her Irish dancing shoes for soft pumps". IrishCentral. Retrieved April 17, 2018.
  11. ^ Jean Butler Interview
  12. ^ Jean Butler on IMBD

External links[edit]