Learn about the history of Dance Ireland since its establishment by a group of like-minded dancers and choreographers in 1989 to the present day.

The Association of Professional Dancers in Ireland [APDI], was established in 1989 by a group of like-minded dancers and choreographers, concerned about funding issues and policy changes being implemented by the major funder for dance, the Arts Council at that time. 

Outlined below is a snapshot of our history, including an introductory note about dance in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s.  

Informed by a report, The Dancer and The Dance: Developing Dance Theatre in Ireland (1985) commissioned from Peter Brinson, the Arts Council implemented radical changes to how it funded dance and also to its priorities for dance development.

From the late 1980s onwards these changes included discontinuing funding relationships with established companies Irish National Ballet, Dublin City Ballet and Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre. At the same time, new priorities were identified including enhancing financial supports to other dance in education initiatives including Dancer in Residence Mary Nunan / Daghdha Dance Company in Limerick and Myriad Dance Company in Wexford; ICD at the Firkin Crane Cork; promoting a project funding approach for the creation of new choreography; offering enhanced bursaries and travel grants to individual dance practitioners and resourcing the Dance Council of Ireland’s work including an annual Choreographers and Composers Course, New Music / New Dance festivals, the National Youth Dance Company and Dance News Ireland.  

While the Arts Council discontinued relationships with national full-time companies, the knock on effect was the formation of project-based, choreographer-led companies including Dance Theatre of Ireland, Rex Levitates (now Liz Roche Company), Irish Modern Dance Theatre, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, CoisCeim Dance Theatre, among others.   


At this time, APDI became a lifeline for dancers and choreographers (previously employed by companies) by ensuring dancers had access to on-going morning classes and choreographers were supported in their choreographic endeavors.

APDI was initially administered under the umbrella of the Dance Council of Ireland and later incorporated as a not-for-profit company in 1992.

The incorporating members were: John Scott, Roy Galvin, Zelda Quilligan, Robert Connor, Fiona Quilligan, Jeffrey Fox, and Loretta Yurick.

The founding principles, informing the organisation’s aims and objectives have remained in place ever since, and are:

  • To provide support and practical resources for dancers and choreographers;
  • To support and nurture choreographic development;  
  • To work towards developing a sustainable dance sector in Ireland;
  • To lead, represent and advocate on behalf of the dance sector;
  • To enhance public awareness of and involvement in dance at all levels.


APDI played an important proactive role in supporting the professional dance community by providing access to morning classes which alternated between classical ballet and contemporary genres, not only providing valuable employment for dance teachers, but ensuring parity between ballet and contemporary dance practices, reflecting the founding principles and founding members’ interests. 

Up until the move to DanceHouse, APDI delivered its work using many spaces, most notably Digges Lane Dance Centre, De Valois Centre for the Performing Arts, YMCA Aungier Street, Archbishop Byrne Hall, Samuel Beckett Studio TCD, THEatre Space, Matt Talbot Hall, SS Michael and John’s. With office space equally difficult to secure for a small arts organisation, it was finally secured in a converted building in South Lots.

Over time the organisation developed its programme by growing its classes and workshops and introducing international guest teachers and new ideas, including Sandy Silva, Gail Corbin, Janet Panetta and artists from Les Carnets Bagouet (choreographer Dominic Bagouet’s foundation).  

During these years a key focus for the organisation was on developing the Irish Choreographers New Works Platform (ICNWP). For over 10 years, ICNWP supported choreographic development. Mentors included Rosemary Butcher, Christine Devaney, Finola Cronin and Jean Christophe Pare, and some of those who participated included Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Ríonach Ni Néill, Rebecca Reilly and Mairead Vaughan.

APDI also produced two dance festivals: DanceFest 1995 and DanceFest 1997, presenting national artists and companies including Adrienne Brown/New Balance, Fiona Quilligan/Rubato Ballet, Daghdha Dance Company and CoisCeim Dance Theatre alongside international guest artists like Russell Maliphant. 

From the early 1990s until 2011, the organisation produced, in print, a monthly newsletter.  The full print archive of these issues can be viewed in our Resource Room at DanceHouse, and PDF copies from 2007-2011 can be viewed in our Online Library here.

As the organisation's practical programme grew, so too did its advocacy voice, and over time the organisation has provided a platform for its membership to address issues of concern and a vehicle for change.

Building on the success of DanceFest, APDI lobbied for the establishment of an international dance festival, commissioning a feasibility study (funded by the Arts Council) to harness support and facilitated a well-attended focus group to develop ideas. Guest contributors included Val Bourne (Dance Umbrella), Nicky Millican (New Moves Across Europe) and Guy Cools. Through APDI’s championing, the inaugural International Dance Festival Ireland took place in 2002, becoming an annual event from 2008, when renamed Dublin Dance Festival.

APDI was instrumental in leading the campaign for the creation of a centre for dance, securing the support of the Arts Council, who allocated a capital award of £1,000,000 (€1,127,000) to the idea in 1997. With the imminent sale of the Digges Lane Dance Centre, it was widely accepted that Dublin needed a national dance centre to accommodate the growth in the sector and also possibly a home for a vocational dance school. For many years APDI was housed in Digges Lane and greatly benefited through office space and studio facilities – establishing a template for how the organisation could develop. This award is still the single largest capital award made by the Council, and led to the creation of the dance centre on Foley Street. 

A seminal moment in our history is Dancing on the Dáil, through a combined effort the board and members galvanised themselves on a rainy day and held a dance class (using barriers for barres) outside Dáil Eireann to highlight the absence of vocational dance training in Ireland and also the difficulties for dance students training abroad. This was echoed many years later, when in partnership with the National Campaign for the Arts, Dance Ireland led a ‘dance mob’ as part of the National Day of Arts Action in 2010. 


The Dance Centre at Liberty Corner, Foley Street

APDI in collaboration with Dublin City Council and the Arts Council progressed the idea of a purpose built dance centre for Dublin and contributed to steering groups, and research that finally identified the Foley Street site.

DanceHouse is the result of a joint venture involving Dublin City Council, the Arts Council, McCabe Builders Ltd, with ACCESS funding provided by the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht, and the Islands. This purpose-built six studio dance rehearsal venue is owned by Dublin City Council. Located in the heart of the north-east inner city, DanceHouse was designed by HKR Architects and is part of a complex comprising DCC’s arts office The Lab, apartments and retail units.

In response to a public tender process, APDI was awarded a licence to operate, on the condition that certain criteria were met. Throughout 2005 and into early 2006, the organisation, with the support and assistance of DCC Arts Officer Jack Gillian and the Arts Council, put in place measures to ensure its ability to satisfactorily meet the financial and operational management requirements. Led by APDI Chairperson Liz Roche and directors including Gaby Smith, Joe Melvin and John Scott, working with the managing director Yvonne O’Reilly a structure was created based on the commitment that APDI would with the dance centre promote excellence, equality, participation and innovation in dance.

The First 5 years in DanceHouse 2006 – 2011

With the support of the membership, APDI re-branded as Dance Ireland, at the same time assuming management of the centre on license from Dublin City Council.

Dance Ireland named the building DanceHouse and opened in December 2006.

Dance Ireland was awarded significant investment by the Arts Council to develop a management and governance structure to manage DanceHouse, fit-out the building (€400,000 capital award) and develop its programme.

Other capital investment was awarded by the Arts Council (€50,000 in 2007) and Department of Arts in 2008 and 2009 to ensure DanceHouse had access to the best equipment and infrastructure essential to maintaining a state-of-the-art dance facility.  

During this time, Dance Ireland introduced many new programme initiatives and began working more internationally at the same time consolidating an innovative combination operating model for DanceHouse, accommodating both professionals, evening class participants and a range of city-wide initiatives and the general public.

Other significant initiatives included the phasing in of international exchanges with Movement Research (NYC), La Pacifique/CDC (Grenoble), Dance House (Glasgow) and Dance4 (Nottingham). The consolidation of New Movements studio showings, informed by a residency programme set the focus for much of the developmental work undertaken by Dance Ireland during the early years in DanceHouse.  

In partnership with Dublin Dance Festival and Culture Ireland, we produced Re-Presenting Ireland which took place as part of DDF (2008 to 2015), presenting a range of works from Dance Theatre of Ireland, ponydance, John Scott, Liz Roche, Aoife McAtamney, Steve Batts, Catherine Young, Maria Nilsson Waller, Oona Doherty, Rob Heaslip/Laura Murphy, among many others for international presenters and festival audiences.

In tandem, we also worked nationally through partnerships with local authorities, festivals and dance residencies, on clinics, platforms and resourcing regular guest teaching weeks in Tralee, Cork and Belfast.

We published A Guide to Independent Choreographers & Dance Companies, in 2007, with an introductory essay by dance writer and critic Seona MacReamoinn. Leading up to out 2013 celebrations, we commissioned a series of five essays on a range of dance topics from Michael Seaver (2008), Jeffrey Gormly (2009), Mary Kate Connolly (2010), Christie Seaver (2011), and Dr. Orfhlaith Ní Bhriain (2012).

The Dance Counts surveys undertaken by Annette Nugent in 2008, 2010 and 2012, was an attempt to gather statistical information on our membership. This was the first time we had gathered empirical information to support our work.

Awarded a number of Choreographic Services Awards from the Arts Council we embarked on our most comprehensive programme of choreographic support and development, which complemented our programme. Using an Open Call process we awarded bursaries, equipment grants, residencies and offered mentorship opportunities led by international mentors including Peter Boneham (Canada) and Jonathan Burrows (UK) and supported over two years (2008/09; 2010/11) 24 artists including Cindy Cummings, Nick Bryson, Emma Martin, Elena Giannotti, Leonie McDonagh, Laura Murphy, Mary Wycherley in support of their practice.  

The Choreographic Services Awards, marked a significant milestone in the organisation’s development, with the focus shifting whole-time onto providing practical resources and ensuring DanceHouse fulfilled its remit. Filling a particular gap in the dance ecology by providing multi-faceted practical professional development supports.

Over this time, we became an active member of the European Dance House Network (EDN) and embarked on international projects Tour d’Europe des Choréographes and Emotional Bodies & Cities. 

In DanceHouse, audience and participation numbers grew steadily and we regularly welcomed over 25,000 visitors annually for a range of professional, participatory, Local Initiatives and special events.

Over these years, DanceHouse became a working home for all forms of dance, a hub hosting residencies, showings, special events and rehearsals from Ballet Ireland, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Irish Modern Dance Theatre, Colin Dunne and Jean Butler, among many others. Professional development workshops including The Next Stage, the Mentored Choreographic Lab (MCL) and multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary cross arts events like Why Text in Dance? and Dance and Architecture became regular features of the programme.

Performance highlights include Maya Lila installation performance by Joan Davis, with collaborators Henry Montes, Mary Nunan, Simon Whitehead and Nicholas Twilley; Sweet Love, a multi-generational performance piece for women led by International Associate Artist Janis Claxton and Happensdance interactive installation from Animated State Dance Theatre Company, created by choreographer Libby Seward and sound artist Mark Graham.  

For our growing audiences, we commissioned lens based artists Nora Beth Hogan (in collaboration with choreographer Niamh Condron), Maurice Gunning (who collaborated with our Associate Artists) and Jonathan Mitchell (who was resourced to create Still Life, 26 dance portraits).

A notable exhibition displayed throughout DanceHouse was A Thread of Years, curated by Dr. Victoria O’Brien a visual exhibition recounting the histories of five key ballet movements that operated in Dublin between 1927 and 1963, autumn 2010 to spring 2011.

2012 – 2016

Dance Ireland was awarded a second operating license from Dublin City Council, covering the period 2012 to 2016.

A major highlight was securing Charitable Status, which entailed a comprehensive review of the organisations memo and articles of association and was unanimously endorsed by the membership at an EGM in 2012.

To mark the organisation’s 21st anniversary (date of incorporation), we curated a year-long programme of special events, Dance Ireland 21: Still in Motion, which comprised of:

Made in Dublin (a season of live dance performances at DanceHouse and Project Arts Centre)
Minutes in Motion (12 short dance film commissions, premiered monthly online throughout the year)
Source (a commissioned photographic exhibition from Maurice Gunning, focusing on our Associate Artists for DanceHouse)
A curated Dance Talks series
Dance Ireland on Tour – a nationwide initiative. 
Dance Ireland Commission Award.

We used Dance Ireland 21 to launch our first foray into fundraising with the establishment of the Dance Ireland Commission Award. Over the year, we raised €17,000 cash. The Dance Ireland Commission Award, comprised the cash fund and partnership support from Dance Ireland, Dance Limerick, Firkin Crane and Project Arts Centre, total value over €27,000 - was awarded to choreographer Breandán de Gallaí. De Gallai was given the opportunity to develop his work over a 12month period through residencies and work-in-progress presentations in Limerick, Cork and DanceHouse before the premiere of Lïnger in January 2016 at Project Arts Centre.  


With a focus on growing our programme and supporting our representative role, we participated in international projects, modul-dance, Communicating Dance, and LÉIM.

Modul-dance was an innovative pan European project involving 22 dance partners from 16 European countries. We supported Fearghus Ó Conchúir, Liz Roche, Mary Wycherley, Aoife McAtamney, Emma Martin and Laura Murphy over the four years of the project. In addition, we hosted a number of modul-dance artists in residence in DanceHouse, introducing new artists and work practices to the national dance scene, including Claudia Dias and Alexandra Waierstall.  Under the umbrella of modul-dance, we also presented dance film screenings (DanceHouse and Meeting House Square), Think Tanks and a selection of performances as part of Made in Dublin season at Project Arts Centre.    

Through Communicating Dance, we supported choreographer Liv O’Donoghue and dance writer Rachel Donnelly to participate. Communicating Dance was a 2 year, Leonardo de Vinci Lifelong learning project, with partners from Croatia, Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Supported in Ireland by Léargas, one of the major outcomes has been DRAFF

Léim was a Culture Programme funded project, led by Dance Ireland in partnership with CSC Dance House, Bassano del Grappa (Italy), Mercat de les Flors Barcelona (Spain), Tanzhaus nrw Düsseldorf (Germany) and Dance House Lemesos (Cyprus), involving 10 participants, including dance managers Sheila Creevey and Eleanor Creighton. Focused on exoploring and creating a Tool Kit for independent dance and arts practitioners, Léim was also an opportunity for the presentation of new performance work, including Mind Your Step performance trail and symposium.  Curated by Italian participate Giulia Galvan, MYS featuring commissioned work from junk ensemble, Catherine Young, Fearghus O Conchuir and a new collective with Jessie Keenan, Robbie Blake and Ciara McKeown presented throughout the Dublin Docklands area.

A major step forward was the introduction of Associate Artists. Working with a diverse range of artists: Aoife McAtamney, Liv O’Donoghue and Maria Nilsson Waller (2013); Philip Connaughton and Emma Martin (2014); Catherine Young (2015); Patricia Crosbie (2016)  Liam Scanlon (2017), Luke Murphy (2018) and Áine Stapleton (2019) we have considerably enhanced the dance landscape in Ireland.

With the introduction, from late 2014 onwards of the Creation Studio, we are further able to support and enhance choreographic practice. Other programme innovations included Mentored Residency Support Awards, Friday New Works, Dance for Parkinson’s and Healthier Dance Days and new residential partnerships with Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig and Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris that have become part of the core programme.

We ended 2015, with a two-day atelier symposium Who Am I? An exploration of how artistic identity is maintained in a nomadic life. Curated by Dance Ireland, in partnership with Dublin Dance Festival and with the financial support of the European Dance House Network, the atelier featured keynotes from Guy Cools and Jenny Roche; presentations from cultural geographers Karen Till and Gerry Kearns; performances from Manuel Roque, Su-Feh Lee, lecture demonstration from Meagan O’Shea and contributions from Fearghus O Conchuir, Philip Connaughton, Alexandra Waierstall, Maria Nilsson Waller and Mary Brady.


Much of the focus for 2016 was on an Engagement Process with our members, involving members’ gatherings in March and September, survey, focus groups, stakeholder meetings and desk research.

Overseen by a Working Group, comprising board and executive, we also worked with independent arts consultants Susan Coughlan and Madeline Boughton throughout the year. The preliminary findings of the Engagement Process were discussed and disseminated at our first Dance Ireland conference, Perchance to Dream on 08 and 09 December.

As we enter a new refreshed phase in our development, it is anticipated we will incorporate recommendations arising from the Engagement Process into our programme in the years to come.