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Around the world, the name Olive Hurley is synonymous with Irish dance teaching videos. There are others, of course, but Olive's are widely acknowledged as the best.

So I knew her name when asked to work on a feature about her for Celtic Cafe; what I could not know was that one more great Celtic Cafe adventure was about to begin for me, and I was about to meet not only an elegant and glamorous lady but also find a very special new personal friend.

From the usual beginnings, by email and telephone, to arrange an interview early this year, have come a number of wonderful get-togethers, visits to Olive's dance classes to watch potential stars emerging, and even an opportunity to visit the set of a film-shoot for her latest video! Now the proud owner of her Step by Step videos and CDs, I have now also acquired my first pair of ghillies and fumbled falteringly through my first jig!

Being one Irish person who missed out on learning Irish dancing as a child I'm not yet quite ready to apply for the back-line of one of the big shows (!) but even skipping out the basic one-two-three steps has proved the greatest fun - and exercise - and very worthwhile. If nothing else, understanding more of what those feet are doing when I watch the shows has added enormously to the pleasure of being a spectator.

The videos make good class substitutes too; Olive is a wonderful teacher and an excellent filmmaker as well.

Olive & ClassAttending Olive's classes and observing her at work has been a fascinating experience. I am not quite sure what I expected, but I know it was not what I saw. Perhaps memories of a stiff, formal ballet teacher barking instructions and clapping her hands without making any sense to my five-year-old brain coloured my expectations. Olive Hurley's classes certainly belong to a different world.

In a local hall I watched gatherings of bouncing, bright and cheerful youngsters, from about five up to mid-teens, totally relaxed both in each other's company and in Olive's, dancing enthusiastically either for her, or when it was another group's turn, for each other, practicing for the sheer joy of it.

Olive herself could not have been more different to the teacher-image in my memory, as she commanded complete attention from the children while still being their best friend, full of warmth, smiling and laughing with all of them, with even the occasional hug thrown in, quite spontaneously.

Her love of both the children and the dance is vibrant, and I would not be surprised if the atmosphere she creates is as much an attraction for many of the children, particularly the younger ones, as the dancing itself.

It reminds me of the feeling I and so many get when we meet Michael Flatley or his wonderful dancers; I got the same feeling from Dr. John Cullinane in my interview with him last year when he talked about the dancers he knew. (Ed. note: See Dr. John's feature by clicking here.) I am coming to the conclusion that there is something magical about the whole world of Irish dance.

So it gives me the greatest pleasure to invite Celtic Cafe visitors to meet another star of that world now: Olive Hurley.


In the beginning: join us as Olive talks about her start as a teacher (at the age of twelve), and her life up to the present time.

© Annie of Dublin, July 2001
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