Blink and you might miss Mrs Ryan, of Mount Waverley, who on March 27 will accept an Order of Australia (OAM) medal at Government House, ‘‘for service to Irish dancing’’.
She runs the O’Shea-Ryan Academy of Irish Dance, but it’s a travelling school.
She is like an evangelist of dance, making an an incredible dash, of up to 3000km, across Victoria each week.
By train, bus and plane, she spends up to six days a week heading to towns from Mildura to Echuca and Wodonga.
Her daughter and fellow teacher, also called Geraldine Ryan, drives her to towns closer to home such as Kilmore and Warragul.
Mrs Ryan snr says Irish dancing teachers are scarce in country Victoria, and some students can’t afford to travel a long way.
Once a sport for those with Irish roots, her dance students now have Chinese, Dutch or Pakistani background, and they’re all welcome.
Her dancers perform at Victorian festivals from Portarlington to Beechworth, and each year, Mrs Ryan brings a group to overseas folk festivals — 33 countries so far from Nepal, to Iceland and Greece.
About five years ago, the dancers were invited to a festival for indigenous cultures in Alaska. Mrs Ryan doesn’t know why, ‘‘but it was wonderful’’.
Her schedule would be exhausting for someone half her age. But she loves it.
‘‘I’ve always loved travel. I’ve always had a bit of gypsy in me.’’
‘‘It keeps me out of mischief. People often say, ‘don’t you get tired’? And I say, ‘of course I get tired’.
“But I have a good sleep and I’m right again.”
Fortunately I sleep very well, and I’ve learned to sleep on trains and buses.’’
Mrs Ryan, nee O’Shea, started Irish dancing at aged five at the now-demolished St Patrick’s Hall in Bourke Street. During World War II, she performed there for visiting sailors.
She started teaching at age 12, after an elderly Irish man taught her dances that weren’t known in Melbourne.
Later, having started her own dance school, she taught at different suburban parish halls for each day of the week.
She once worked full time as a legal secretary while teaching six Irish dancing classes a week and raising three children.
Last year Mrs Ryan fell and suffered two spinal fractures and says says she is lucky to be walking again. Being ‘‘very stubborn’’ also helped.
Teaching keeps her young. ‘‘You get a great thrill out of the little ones who might be struggling along and can’t get one foot in front of the other, and then suddenly, they’re able to do it, to master a little piece of a dance.
‘‘It comes natural to some, and others have to work at it, and when it really clicks in, you get a lot of pleasure out of it.’’
Carolyn Webb is a reporter for The Age.