The dance artist Kieran Jordan returned recently from a week at the Willie Clancy summer school, a legendary Irish music and dance festival in Milltown Malaby in Co. Clare. It was a trip for herself, her husband Vincent Crotty, and 25 of her dance students that she had been planning for more than a year. But as recently as late June she was not certain she could ever take that trip.
It was a 12 months ago, in July 2017, that Kieran came down with flu-like symptoms. After a couple of days, a doctor tested her, but there was no conclusive evidence of any particular problem. But her health did not improve, and for eight months she struggled with the symptoms: debilitating fatigue and body aches, night sweats, insomnia, low blood sugar counts, and all sorts of bothersome symptoms. In April this year, after seeing eight doctors and therapists, she was diagnosed with Lyme Disease, and she began an aggressive campaign of antibiotic and other medicines.
Even worse, she learned that the treatments were not covered by her insurance, and her friends established a GoFundMe site (gofundme.com/kieran-jordan039s-healing-fund) to help cover the costs. In two months, some 400 people have donated $34,400, funds that go directly to recouping out-of-pocket medical costs and most income, and for ongoing expenses like non-covered doctors’ visits, lab tests, and treatment therapies.
Before she fell ill last July, Kieran had made plans to bring her students to the Willie Clancy festival, saying she wanted them to “experience the magic of that week.”
In addition to the Kieran Jordan Dance group, she and her dance partner, Kevin Doyle, were invited to teach and perform again this year. “And then last July, I got sick,” she said in June, “and am in treatment for Lyme disease… and having a really bumpy ride. I think and hope that I am on the right track, but the medications have been harsh for me, and healing is slow. The daily regimen is demanding. My diet is very restricted. My sleep is still messed up, and my energy and mood are often low.”
But despite the low energy and continuing physical struggles, she did indeed make the trip, and when she came back in mid-July, Kieran posted a note of thanks. She wrote:
“This trip to Ireland was life-changing at a time when I badly needed it. It was challenging and daunting — to feel symptomatic while traveling, to acknowledge my limitations, and to stay on my schedule of medications and herbs and the restricted diet. I questioned my decision to go, and maybe others did too.
“There were many things I was NOT able to do … things that I love … and am so used to doing at a festival week like this. Staying out late, dancing in sessions, listening to music in crowded pubs, dancing the sets at the céilís, attending lectures and concerts, running around to meet up with friends, having a Guinness or a glass of wine, and eating my Irish favorites, like toasted ham-and-cheese sandwiches or fish and chips.
“But I WAS able to be there — to teach the workshops and perform in the concerts I was hired to do, and to attend not one, but three, gatherings of dancers with the Dan Furey Irish dance group and my group of students, Kieran Jordan Dance.
“Speaking of my group from Boston, I was really so proud of them. They lapped it all up where I couldn’t! They took all varieties of morning classes (music, step dancing, set dancing, sean-nós). They pushed on to take Irish language classes or my workshops in the afternoon. They danced at céilís in all the various venues. They toured around to hit all the major sites of Clare, too. And they hosted what was supposed to be an informal “super low-key group dinner,” which turned into a mega potluck and one of our grand Dan Furey step dance sessions with about 40 people. They also performed with me, and with their other classes, in the big Thursday night dance recital. I think it’s safe to say that they also made friends and memories to last a lifetime.
“In fact, we all did. For me, the “minding myself” meant that I WAS able to walk on the beach or swim in the sea every day. In my “doing less,” I was able to have quiet, quality chats with people who I might normally just see in passing as we run from one gig to the next. I was able to drive around with Vincent almost every evening for landscape photography and plein air painting. And what landscapes we had —with sunshine and glorious light for almost the entire trip.
“In my teaching, and performing, I was able to reconnect to my passion within a very happy community of international dancers and musicians. But beyond that, I was able to reconnect to my abilities. And reclaim some of my confidence. And restore some of my faith that a feeling strength and USEFULNESS and even a little bit of sass is still within me. And I am able to return to Boston knowing that Vincent, my dancers, and myself all bring home inspiration and new hopes for the next season, and indeed the next trip to Ireland.
“It’s been a full year now of being sick with Lyme and co-infections. I will see my Lyme N.P. next week. Treatment is trial and error, and so individual, so I really don’t know what to expect. I am paying close attention to my symptoms, and keeping logs of everything every day. Trying to not obsess over the future, how this affects my work, or what course this illness will take for me in the long run. Easier said than done. But as I swam in the cold but invigorating ocean in Clare, I symbolically left the last 12 months behind me. I let go of the “nightmare,” received the healing gifts of the sea, and started over. At our dance gatherings and the other events, I received more hugs than ever before in my life, and plenty of wisdom, too.
“I would not have had the courage or motivation to make this trip without Vincent, Kevin Doyle, Aidan Vaughan, Michael Tubridy, all the members of his group, all the members of my group … and so many other friends and supporters.
“Thank you for reading my updates and for the ongoing encouragement and support.”