Though born in America, Dona Brown’s family, heritage, and heart are in County Cork, Ireland. Her great grandmother, who was still teaching Irish dance at 95 years of age, set a life course for Dona by teaching her to do a jig when she was about five years old. From then on she practiced traditional Irish dance and studied Irish culture. Dona moved from Chicago to Las Vegas around 1980. In the mid-1990s, the popularity of Irish dance occasioned by shows such as Riverdance resulted in an increased demand for her art form. She often dances to live bagpipe music and, in addition to performing, she teaches dance and choreographs her own productions. The difference between Dona Brown’s dance productions and Riverdance, in her words, is that she “does the real Irish dances—the folk and traditional dances,” and she “dances to traditional music.”
Most of Dona’s dances are traditional Irish “performance” dances, as opposed to social dances. She performs versions of Irish step-dancing that developed centuries ago along with traditional Irish music. This style of dancing includes rapid foot movements, a rigid upper body position and the arms held close the sides, with little or no movement. Two different types of shoes are worn during Irish dance. The reels and jigs Dona performs are done in “soft shoe” (soft shoes similar to ballet slippers). Dona also knows “hard shoe” (heeled shoes, like the ones used for tap dancing) dances.
Dona also plays the violin, saxophone, and the bodhran (a traditional Irish hand drum). When she teaches dance steps, she likes to intersperse the movement practice with stories about the culture, language, history, and beauty of the land of Ireland. Her dance costumes, many of which are hand embroidered, each tell a story as well. Her knowledge is extensive. She can teach a seminar or workshop on the origins and politics of Irish dance, how the steps formed and changed over time, and the cultural influences—both outside and within Ireland—on traditional Irish dancing. During her presentations the music, costumes, dances, and stories are woven together in a performance that makes Ireland come alive for the audience.