About Our School
Southern Academy of Irish Dance was established in the summer of 2013. However it is not a new school. Southern Academy is a wonderful blend of two of the most successful schools in the Southern United States – The Kristin Butke School established in 2002 and O’Brien Irish Dance Academy, Tennessee established in 2009. Directors Aoibheann O'Brien Barbera from O'Brien Irish Dance Academy, Kristin Butke Zagorski and Jennifer Marshall from Kristin Butke School all have unique backgrounds and training from Ireland, England, and America which give our school diversity and experience in all areas of dance including team and solo competition, exercise, and sharing the love of the tradition and culture of Irish dance. We each share the passion of teaching, and we are committed to the education and success of every student. Our lives have been influenced by many great teachers and dancers, and we are excited to pass on our knowledge to our dancers.
Jennifer Marshall, ADCRG
Jennifer was born in London, England and raised in Kent. She trained under Olivia Lawlor, James Murphy and Tony Tyrell. Jennifer studied under all three teachers until 2005. Throughout her competitive career she placed 5th at the British Nationals and first qualified for the World Championships at the age of 14, placing every year as a solo competitor.
From the age of 19 to 22 she performed with Free Mac Guinness band with her sister Patricia who has also been dancing since 1997. They became known as the 'Kerry Colleens' and performed at charity events, private events and corporate functions.
At the age of 22 Jennifer passed her TCRG exam in Dublin, Ireland and moved to Nashville. Her knowledge of Irish dance is diverse and she instructs students with a highly competitive European style of teaching. For over 10 years, she has created choreography for both Irish dance performances and competitions in England and United States. Her passion for Irish dance brought her to the United States to work diligently with students of all ages and abilities.
To continue to assist dancers at the highest level Jennifer became a Licensed Massage Therapist in 2015. She focuses her therapy on active individuals and has worked on professional athletes and with dancers to improve their performance and keep them active.
In May 2017, Jenny passed her ADCRG exam and is now a certified adjudicator.
Aoibheann O'Brien Barbera, ADCRG
Aoibheann, who is a certified TCRG (Irish dance teacher) was born and raised in Co. Meath, Ireland. When she was just three years old, she started taking Irish dancing lessons in Dublin city with the Inis Ealga school of Irish Dance. When she was 10 years old she began to study under the world famous Marie Duffy School of Irish Dance. In her competitive career she has won numerous Leinster (regional), All Ireland and World Championship medals for both solo and team dancing.
In 1994, when she was just sixteen years old, she became an original cast member of Riverdance The Show as one of its youngest members. She performed to sold out audiences in London’s famous Apollo Theatre, Dublin’s Point Depot Theatre, New York’s Radio City Music Hall just to name a few.
In 1999, she was cast for the international phenomenon Michael Flatley’s Feet of Flames. She toured all over the world to sold out arenas and stadiums to crowds up to 110,000 people, including Madison Square Garden (New York) , Budapest Stadium (Hungary), and Stormont Castle (Belfast, Ireland). She has also performed in prestigious events including The Royal Command performance for Prince Charles, in the Royal Albert hall in London, The Ryder Cup Golf Tournament in Birmingham and many more.
In 2001 she moved to Las Vegas, Nevada to join the cast of Lord of the Dance in The Venetian Resort and Casino. She married Jay Barbera in 2004 and they moved to Tennessee where they still live with their two children today.
Aoibheann attended Dublin City University (DCU) where she received the national certificate in exercise and fitness. She loves sharing her experiences and the culture of Ireland with her students and loves teaching Irish dancing to both young and old.
In December 2017 Aoibheann passed her ADCRG exam and is now a certified Irish dance adjudicator.
Kristin Butke Zagorski, ADCRG
Kristin Butke Zagorski was born in Akron, Ohio and began Irish dancing at the age of four. She trained under two-time world champion Tim O’Hare. While competing, Kristin achieved seven Midwest Regional titles, ranging from Under 8 to Over 21 and was the 2001 North American Senior Ladies Champion. Kristin placed 4th at the World Championships in 1993 and 1994 and took the bronze medal in 1997. After taking off five years to dance professionally, Kristin returned to the competitive scene in 2002 at the age of 25 to capture the bronze medal again at the World Championships and the silver medal at the All-Ireland Championships.
Kristin’s professional experience begin in 1997 when she toured with Lord of the Dance as a chorus member, then as the principle dancer in the role of Morrighan in Las Vegas and danced opposite Michael Flatley in the role of Cleopatra in Feet of Flames. In August 2003, she performed as Grainne in the Celtic rock musical Celtic Fusion. Kristin has also performed with the Chieftains, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. She has also toured and performed with the world-renowned all-female band Cherish the Ladies.
Upon passing her TCRG (certified Irish Dance teacher) in the fall of 2002, Kristin began teaching in Nashville, Tennessee. Kristin has trained four teachers who successfully passed the TCRG exam. In January of 2007, Kristin passed her ADCRG (certified judge). Kristin is married to Steve Zagorski and they live in Virginia with their two sons and daughter.