irish Dancing

Doyenne of Australian Irish dancing community honoured

Jan Currie-Henderson has received an OAM for her 60 years of service to Irish dancing.

Jan Currie-Henderson has received an OAM for her 60 years of service to Irish dancing.

Celebrated Irish dance teacher and adjudicator Janice Currie-Henderson’s Order of Australia Medal (OAM) will be in good company alongside her multitude of prizes.

Ms Currie-Henderson, ‘Miss Jan’ to her devoted students, received a Queen’s Birthday Honour last week for services to Irish dancing, just two years after receiving a lifetime achievement Brigid Award for her contributions to the Irish-Australian community.  She was also honoured last year by An Coimisiún le Rincí Gaelacha (The Irish Dancing Commission), the sport’s peak body.

“I got such a shock when I got that letter,” she said.

“I don’t know who nominated me...I’ve asked, but the good fairy’s not speaking up to tell me!”

Ms Currie-Henderson, whose family hails from Offaly, Derry and Dublin, has lost count of how many young competition hopefuls she has guided through jigs and reels in her 60 years of teaching but knows the number must be in the thousands.  

Her own involvement with the tradition began at the age of five when her father saw an Irish dancing performance in the Brunswick Heads hotel owned by her grandparents.

“We came down to Sydney to live and there was Irish dancing in the school, Daddy enrolled us of course,” Ms Currie-Henderson said.

Jan Currie-Henderson at her recent Diamond Jubilee celebration with (from left) sons Craig, Andrew and Michael Henderson and husband Bob.

Jan Currie-Henderson at her recent Diamond Jubilee celebration with (from left) sons Craig, Andrew and Michael Henderson and husband Bob.

The eager prodigy would go on to become a national champion and knew by 17 that she wanted to share her skills with new generations.

In 1959, she set up the Currie-Henderson Academy of Irish Dancing. Ten years later, she became a founding member of the Australian Irish Dancing Association (AIDA).

She is a past president of the NSW division of the AIDA and continues to serve as its vice-president.

Her dedication has reaped rewards, with troupes of students from her academy winning over 100 national titles.

Fast-paced moves are the norm in Irish dancing, and Ms Currie-Henderson has watched the centuries-old tradition evolve into something quite different, especially since the emergence of Riverdance in

Today, costumes embroidered with Celtic motifs are enhanced with a healthy dose of glitter and crystals, but the sport has undergone more than a surface-level makeover.

“The basics of it are all the same but it’s more expressive now...we still have the rules in competitions but in the shows you can express yourself differently.

“It’s not always people of Irish descent, there’s dancers of many, many nationalities, they just love Irish dancing.” 

Ms Currie-Henderson will receive her OAM at Government House in September while her students prepare to take October’s Australian Championship by storm.