MA Irish Traditional Dance Performance

The Master of Arts in Irish Traditional Dance Performance is a one-year *, full-time, taught postgraduate programme. It is unique in that it is the only programme of its type at any university in the world. The programme provides advanced training in Irish traditional dance performance practices within a variety of historical, theoretical and dance performance contexts. Through engagement with master tutors and lecturers, students explore aspects of repertoire, style, and choreography for a reflexive, critically aware, and embodied understanding of Irish dance performance practices. In addition, students examine contemporary dance choreographic techniques within the context of western theatrical dance; and body awareness studies.

Solo and ensemble work, both original and traditional, allow for the artistic development of students while adhering and honouring the artistic integrity, history, and identity of Irish dance. With performance at its core students are encouraged to engage in critical debate within academic modules to equip them with the necessary academic and performance skills required for further performance and research. The programme provides an artistically secure environment for students to develop their own voices through the medium of Irish dance.

Through its elective system, the programme facilitates dialogue with other MA programmes at the academy, including the MA in Ethnochoreology, the MA in Ethnomusicology, the MA in Contemporary Dance Performance, the MA in Irish Tradiitonal Music Performance. In addition students on the MA in Irish traditional dance performance programme are offered the opportunity to learn dance research methods and techniques to develop their critical awareness and appreciation of dance studies in general. In addition, Labanotation, the universal movement documentation tool is included within the study of dance methods.

Master tutors on the MA in Irish Traditional Dance Performance to date have included: Peter Badejo, Olive Beecher, Ira Bernstein, Roisin Cahalan, Maire Clerkin, Michael Cooney, Carmel Doherty, Marie Duffy-Messenger, Colin Dunne, Breandán de Gallaíi, Carol Leavy-Joyce, Jonathan Kelleher, Tara Little, Ruth Long, Roisin Ni Mhainnin, Katarina Mojzisova, Peggy McTeggart, Victoria O’Brien, Paraic O hOibicin, Seamus O Mealoid, Anthony Nolan, Cian Nolan, Lee Payne, Michael Ryan, Sandy Silva, Jimmy Smith and Tarik Winston.

* Students may be permitted to extend their study over a second full-time year subject to a available places, the agreement of the course director and the head of the Irish World Academy.

Aims and Objectives

  • To provide a learning environment for advanced performance in Irish traditional dance practices.
  • To explore aspects of repertoire, style, and choreography through engagement with a diverse range of master tutors.
  • To facilitate interactivity through the elective system with other related and available areas of study.
  • To honour the artistic integrity, history and identity of Irish traditional dance within an academic and performance orientated context.
  • To engage in critical debate with academic modules.
  • To acquire the academic and performance skills required for further research or performance.
  • To find one’s own individual voice through the medium of Irish dance performance practice.
  • To equip students with a qualification in Irish traditional dance performance.


Programme of Study

The course is a one year *, full-time, taught programme. It consists of six three- credit modules (4 core modules and 2 elective modules) of lectures, seminars, tutorials and practicals; these are divided equally between two fifteen-week semesters.

The core modules address theoretical and practical aspects within the field of Irish and western dance performance studies.

The elective modules are self-directed programmes of study which allow students to specialise further in an area of their programme specialisation or to select a project based on expertise available in the other areas of study available at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance including:

  • Dance Performance (Irish Traditional Dance or Contemporary Dance Performance)
  • Ethnochoreology
  • Ethnomusicology
  • Irish Traditional Music
  • Classical String Performance
  • Chant
  • Ritual Studies
  • Music Education

In addition a substantial final presentation is submitted at the end of the programme.

Applicants wishing to discuss the programme may contact the Course Director

Semester 1

DA5101: Repertoire and Style in Irish Traditional Dance Performance 1

This module will introduce students to the repertoire of Irish Traditional Dance within a variety of historical, theoretical, and dance performance contexts; performance/lectures based on repertoire and style will be taught and academically contextualised; the development of different dance genres including the development of performance practices and contexts, structures, kinetic vocabulary, aesthetics, gender issues, the body; relevant literature and audio-visual dance material. In addition, students are encouraged to participate in relevant dance workshops.

DA5111: Dance Practicum 1

Intensive tutorials with master dance teachers. Students will design and rehearse a performance programme under the supervision of the course director.

MD5501: IWAMD Autumn Elective

This module offers students the opportunity to pursue self-directed learning of an academic or performance-based project, under the guidance of the course director and an elective supervisor. The student may wish to use the elective to pursue more specialised study in his/her area of specialisation, or to access the other areas of expertise available at the academy. These currently include Ethnochoreology, Ethnomusicology, Irish Traditional Dance Performance, Contemporary Dance Performance, Irish Traditional Music Performance, Chant Performance, Classical String Performance, Music Therapy, Music Education, Music Technology, Ritual Studies, Community Music and other specialist research interests of faculty and doctoral researchers at the academy.

Spring Semester:

DA5102: Repertoire and Style in Irish Traditional Dance Performance 2

This module is a continuation and development of Repertoire and Style in Irish Traditional Dance Performance 1.

DA5112 Dance Practicum 2

This module allows the student further intensive training with master teachers. Students may develop further their conceptual choreographic ideas from Practicum 1, and as in Practicum 1, students are required to design and rehearse a performance programme under the supervision of the course director.

MD5512: Irish World Academy of Music and Dance Spring Elective

This module offers the opportunities presented under IWAMD Autumn Elective.

MD5522: Final Presentation

The final presentation involves the final submission – academic, performance or combination of both, offered by the student as the culmination of his/her work during the course of the programme. The presentation is designed in consultation with the course director and is weighted at nine credits.


Entrance Requirements:

A primary Degree with first or second class honours


an approved equivalent qualification


an equivalent capability based on prior professional performing experience.

An interview will be required in all cases as well as an audition. Candidates may be required to submit additional audio-visual and/or written material.



Postgraduate Admissions Office
Graduate School
Foundation Building
University of Limerick

Tel: +353 61 234377
Fax: +353 61 233287


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Click here for a list of scholarships available to prospective Irish World Academy of Music and Dance students.



“The MA in Irish Traditional Dance Performance programme at UL, under the directorship of Dr Catherine Foley, changed me as dancer both physically and mentally. It allowed me to become the professional dancer and choreographer I knew I was destined to be. Through my experiences in the program and the people I met I was able to launch my professional career and take my life in a direction I never could have imagined. Since successfully completing the MA in Irish Traditional dance, I have toured consistently for five years with Riverdance the show, dancing on four continents. I have recently earned my TCRG as a certified Irish dance teacher. I have also taught workshops in Brazil and dance classes in New York City”.

Nicole McKeever, MA

“The MA programme in Irish Traditional Dance Performance completely changed the course of my career path: Irish dance for me became something that was not only done at feiseanna, but could also be studied critically in academia. The combination of master classes and workshops along with coursework in dance history and ethnochoreology opened my mind to new ways of thinking about dance. I was encouraged to step out of my comfort zone of competitive Irish step dance to explore unfamiliar styles of dance, such as Brazilian capoeira and West African dance. I learned that I could combine my love of dance and movement with my academic research goals and desire to teach in a university setting.

I am currently a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park in Performance Studies, and my doctoral research addresses the development of Irish dance as a percussive dance in the United States. My plan after completing my doctorate is to find a position as a professor of dance or performance studies. I credit the MA programme and my wonderful mentors at the University of Limerick’s Irish World Academy of Music & Dance with giving me the means and the courage to allow my passion for Irish dance to guide my academic career goals.”

Kathleen Spanos, MA

“The MA in Irish traditional dance performance is an intense, challenging, highly practical and incredibly rewarding experience. It challenged me academically and practically to find my own artistic voice in a supportive environment. Throughout the year, I extended my knowledge of dance repertoire and style and gained a much deeper sense of personal creativity and body awareness. I also developed critical and analytical skills in research, reflection and evaluation, which enabled me to broaden my understanding of my profession and of the Irish traditional dance form, in its historical and contemporary context. Numerous choreographic and performance opportunities taught me to work effectively and creatively as an individual and in collaboration with others in a variety of contexts. Undoubtedly, the MA changed my outlook and attitude towards myself and has helped me to become a confident, versatile and technically stronger performer and self-managing artist.

Having graduated from the MA in Irish Traditional Dance Performance, I have been able to work and collaborate with a whole host of exciting people in a diverse range of contexts including composers, aerial artists, TV producers, dance researchers and academics, an Irish rap artist, visual artists, performing artists, musicians, singers, theater directors, actors and film-makers. I have also enjoyed the great pleasure of returning to teach on the MA programme which has afforded me the opportunity to not only choreograph but to also give something of what I have learnt back to the current students. Working as a freelance performing artist I have performed with a number of professional companies, most notably Eirú Dance Company. Straight after completing my third semester of the MA in 2011, I traveled to the United States to perform in Eirú’s production, Noctú, off-Broadway in New York. Throughout this run I was privileged to be asked to perform the role of principal female, a role which my experience in the MA proved invaluable. Similarly, in 2012, I became dance researcher for the fourth series of TG4’s ‘An Jig Gig’ which I was able to fulfill due to the knowledge and contacts I had acquired throughout my year of the MA. Most recently, I decided to utilise the dance film and editing skills I had gained during my MA to extend my artistic horizons. I applied for and successfully received a film commission for ‘Minutes in Motion’, which forms part of Dance Ireland’s 2013 anniversary celebrations”.

Ashlene McFadden

“The MA in Traditional Dance Performance is a must for Irish dancers who like to think outside the box. The Irish World Academy at the University of Limerick is a safe, nurturing, creative space for emerging dance makers from an Irish traditional dance background. During my time on the course I was encouraged to find my own identity as a dancer whilst applying the fundamental techniques of ethnographic research and dance making to my choreographic process. This program also provided beneficial resources to collaborate and network with people from different areas of the performing arts. Dr Catherine Foley has developed a great way to bring traditional dance forward into an academic setting using her vast experience and expertise in the field of dance and ethnochoreology. I would strongly recommend this course to any person looking to further their career in dance.

Since completing the MA I have gone on to work with Dance Theatre of Ireland and Soul Steps NYC on the creation and performances of Every Little Step, The Rhythm of Hope. This production premiered in New York City at the Joyce SOHO in 2011 as part of Imagine Ireland, a year of Irish Arts and Culture abroad. I have also collaborated on a new production Pulses of Tradition with fellow allumni Brian Morrissey, who completed his MA in Traditional Music Performance at the Irish World Academy. This stage show showcases Irish music, song and dance in both traditional and contemporary capacities and is now a part of the summer concert series at Triskel Arts Centre, Cork City.”

Andrew Vickers, M.A.




Applicants wishing to discuss detailed elements of the programme may contact the course director:

Dr. Orfhlaith Ni Bhriain
Course Director, MA Irish Traditional Dance Performance

Room No: IW1.14
Irish World Academy of Music and Dance,
University of Limerick,
Phone: + 353-61-202470

For further details, information and brochures about the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance:

Irish World Academy of Music and Dance,
University of Limerick,
Phone: + 353 61 202590

For queries to the University of Limerick Postgraduate Admissions Office:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Graduate School
Foundation Building
University of Limerick

Tel: +353 61 234377
Fax: +353 61 233287