Musicals inspired a love of dance for pro from La Grange
Mari Jo Irbe
Hometown: La Grange
Training: Academy of Movement and Music in Oak Park, Jo’s Footwork Studio and Western Springs and Salt Creek School of Ballet in Westmont and Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre
Experience: 15 years featured with the River North Chicago Dance Company, Lyric Opera of Chicago, tours with the Joseph Holmes company and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
Updated: December 3, 2012 1:34AM
LA GRANGE — The joy of performing hasn’t waned for Mari Jo Irbe.
The professional dancer has loved to put on a show since her days in the Eurhythmics dance group decades ago at Lyons Township High School.
Irbe, who grew up in La Grange, said she counts among her mentors Terry Wethington, who began teaching dance at LT in 1985 when she was a freshman. The two later became colleagues, and Irbe regularly returns to her alma mater to assist with auditions and sometimes choreography.
After dancing professionally for 19 years, Irbe now shares her art through teaching at Loyola University, leading workshops and master classes, designing choreography and serving as rehearsal director for the River North Dance Company in Chicago, where she lives. She retired in 2007.
“Some people get injured and that’s the stopping point,” she said. “For me, it was a driving force. I still wanted to dance.”
Classical musicals inspired Irbe’s love of dance. She grew up watching Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and Cyd Charisse.
“I started dancing in the living room, and my mom signed me up for dance classes,” she said.
Although she started dancing relatively late compared to some girls, Irbe said she was in the right place at the right time in making the most of opportunities.
“I started as a tap dancer, then took modern classical and then I was in a jazz company,” she said. “My heart lies in jazz dancing, which has evolved in so many different ways from the Charleston in the ’20s to swing in the ’40s, the frug in the ’60s and beyond.”
Irbe said she enjoyed performing more as she got older, and only a difference in energy level, compared to dancers 10 to 20 years younger, nudged her off the stage.
“What I love about dance is the performance part, and that’s what I try to impart to my students, to still find the joy in it,” she said.
Irbe said her goal is to continue inspiring students and promoting dance.
“People enjoy dancing. They love to see it, and they love to dance,” she said. “Even just watching it, you feel that energy. It’s still a form of celebration and a joy people really need.”