“I can’t believe it,” Michael Flatley told The Irish World of celebrating 25 Years of Lord of the Dance.
It was 1996 that Flatley, having found fame starring in Riverdance, launched the dance show capable of playing in arenas and stadiums instead of traditional theatres.
The show will kick off a 25 city UK tour with a gala performance on St Patrick’s day at the Eventim Apollo in London.
“I’m over the moon. When I first had this dream to do the Irish dance thing, I believed it was going to go well, I believed things would take off for me.
“But I never dreamed that we could do this a quarter of a century.
“We were just talking about this a minute ago here: All the different Presidents that we’ve been through, and Prime Ministers and the wars and the pandemics and the different makes of cars- Mobile phones have come into existence.
“I mean, the change in the world has been incredible but we’re still standing and we’re still touring the world.
“And we’re proud to be bringing Irish culture to the four corners of the globe. And, and thankfully, we’ve survived.
“I’m very proud. We’re going through all this now because we’re preparing programmes.
“I’ve been doing interviews now for five days, and it makes you think back, what was important and what is important, and I am very proud of my dancers.
“The dancers today are supreme athletes. We refer to them as dance-letes. They are so fit, they’re so healthy and trained, low body fat, just supreme athletes.
“And I’m proud to say that I have employed hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Irish dancers, and many of them went on to marry and to start businesses together and many other things and even starting their own shows and moving on, having kids a lot of them.
“A lot of them that started with me, now they have dance schools and their students are now in Lord of the Dance.
“It’s been a remarkable journey.
“We have a troupe that just got back from Taiwan where they were 100 dancers on stage. You may have seen it, the socials and tens of thousands of people standing up there screaming for them.
“It’s a beautiful thing that Ireland has that power, and please God we’ll continue to spread that message.”
Proceeds from the opening performance are in aid of the charity, The Ireland Funds.
“I do a lot of work with the Ireland Funds, I’m so proud to be associated with them these last 20 years.
“They have done so much good work around the world. So proud to help them.
“It’ll be part of this special evening, and also the Forgotten Irish and Nora Higgins.
“So proud to work with Nora.
“And I love and adore those people.
“It’s a warm, wonderful feeling that we can all live as an Irish community, albeit away from home.”
The Irish World featured Neasden’s Joseph McGeown joining the cast of Lord of the Dance in Taiwan.
Many of Flatley’s dancers have come from local dancing schools.
“London is a great epicentre for us. I lived in London myself for nearly 25 years. One of the best cities in the world and everywhere you go, the Irish are in charge. It’s a nice feeling. Great place. I absolutely love it.”
Flatley led the London St. Patrick’s Parade back in 2014.
Remembering this, he says: “It’s a great honour.
“Anytime you get asked to do something like that, you can’t really put it into words.
“I’m proud of the fact that they think so much of me that they would ask me to do that and to be leading the Irish in London is a very, very proud moment for me.
“Recently this year, I got the honour of the freedom of the City of London which was another great, great honour considering I’ve spent so much time there, and love it so much there.
“So it’s a great, great thing. You know, I’m blessed. I’m truly blessed.
“I’ve had great times all over the world with St. Patrick’s Day.
“From Mexico to Moscow, from Tokyo to Texas, they all celebrate it and it’s a wonderful feeling anytime that you’re celebrating Irish things, Irish culture, Irish people. Ireland is such a special place.
“I like to go to all of the home games for the Irish rugby team and when they start singing at the beginning, when they do the anthems and Ireland’s Call, it just puts the hair standing on end.
“Nobody couldn’t be moved by something like that.
“It’s the most fantastic feeling in the world.”
Was he immersed in London’s Irish culture in his time here? “Yeah, a little bit.
“Certainly the Irish ambassadors- Dan Mulhall was a good friend of mine, and Adrian and doing the St. Patrick’s Day parade and those types of things.
“But I’ll tell you who I love is the London black taxi fellas.
“To me, they’re a legend, they’re a London icon and the black taxi is a staple of the English society.
“I support them. I won’t get into a competitor. I love those guys. They never have to check their phone. They never have to ask where they’re going. They’re so polite. In 25 years, I’ve never had a bad experience and I wish them all well.
“They come to the show a lot and they’re just great people.”
Since its premiere, Michael Flatley’s Lord Of The Dance has visited over 1000 venues worldwide and been seen by over 60 million people in 60 different countries on every continent, making it one of the most successful dance productions in the world.
For its 25th anniversary fans can expect new staging, new costumes and choreography plus cutting edge technology special effects lighting.
Lord of the Dance premiered at the iconic Hammersmith Apollo in 2014, to mark the milestone 25th anniversary since Michael Flatley became an international sensation Lord of the Dance will open at the Apollo in 2022.
Michael feels for dancers like those in his show that haven’t been able to do their thing for almost two years now.
“It’s been tough because they are in the prime of their careers. They’ve had two years stolen from them at their peak and we can’t add that on to the end.
“Dancers have a short working life.
“Rehearsals are fabulous. Taiwan was fabulous.
“Now we’re like a slingshot. They’re loaded and ready for opening night: Bang!
“Just can’t wait to release it. They’re all pumped. All excited. All of us are very excited.
“It was so difficult for them.
“We had a few retire. They were coming towards the end of their career which was sad.
“I wouldn’t have liked to see them go. But luckily, the two that I’m referring to are marrying two of the other people in the show so it has a happy ending anyhow, but still it’s sad.
“But you know what? We’re moving on. We’re moving forward. We have this sort of collective feeling that we don’t even talk about pandemics, or COVID.
“Now it’s all positive: ‘What’s next? What’s next?’
“It’s a three year world tour, the 25th anniversary tour, and we’ll take in a lot of countries and cities and places. Let’s get back to work.”
Growing up in Chicago, Flatley knew he had to dance and remembers the feelings of seeing it for the first time.
“I was only a little kid when my parents took me to hear Irish music and see Irish dance.
“All their friends were Irish. Everything around us was Irish at the time.
“I remember seeing some of the young lads dancing and the taps, the rhythms. Something just struck a chord with me right away and put its hook inside of me and then when I began dancing later on, I worked hard to get to the point where I could actually do that bit, the tapping and then it’s in your blood. It’s just in your blood.”
At the age of 17, he would become the first American to win a World Irish Dance title.
“That was great. Irish dancing was so far ahead in Ireland than it was in the States where we were from.
“So coming over, it was difficult the first time or two.
“But I’m a quick learner and I’m a hard worker, and I kept inventing this new style.
“And thankfully, I won the world championships because they recognized that this was the new direction to go in.
“And I thank God every day for that moment because I had worked so hard for it.”
It was during the interval of the 1994 Eurovision that the world got its first glimpse of Riverdance. It captured the imagination and would become a full show that is still touring the world.
“I waited my whole life for the opportunity and when I got the call to come over and create Riverdance, it was a special moment in my life.
“Finally, people around the world could see my signature and the new style of dance that I had created, which was just fabulous.
“I felt I was onto something.
“I felt that was a special night, there was something in the air.
“I felt like after 35 years, I finally had an opportunity to create my dream and it was all coming true that night.
“I remember being beside the stage. I felt like a loaded gun, ‘Let me go, let me go’.
“I couldn’t wait for the drums to start so that I could come flying on and it was a release. A big, big release. A great release.
“And it was a very proud moment for me, for Ireland.
“And of course, that led to a show which led me to me leaving to do my own show.
“I loved Riverdance but I always wanted to do more than theatres, I wanted to do arenas.
“I wanted to do these big outdoor shows.
“I felt that Ireland could compete with all the rock groups, that dance could do that.
“And thank God we’ve been able to achieve that.
“I think over all these years we’ve been so lucky.
“But we’ve worked hard and you know what, the harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Asked if he would be any less proud to see the show Riverdance continue to pull in crowds and tour the world in spite of not being involved with it directly for over 25 years or any acrimony when he left it, Flatley says: “I’m delighted it’s going on.
“Yeah, I’m very proud of my work and also proud of the fact that they’re also employing Irish people, Irish dancers.
“Giving people an opportunity to follow in those footsteps is very, very important.
“Anytime I hear of their success anywhere, I’m very proud
Long before Riverdance became a phenomenon, Flatley toured with The Chieftains.
He blesses himself when we mention the late band’s leader Paddy Moloney.
“Very, very sad. He’s a legend. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: There should be a monument to him someplace in Ireland.
“Paddy was just a pioneer, he paved the way for so many other musicians and bands and I still believe they’re the greatest band in the world, I’ll always believe that.
“I had the honour of touring on and off for ten years with them and sitting down in that semi-circle listening to Matt Molloy solo night after night, it was like getting a master’s degree as a flute player and I can’t even explain to you what an honour that was for me.”
Flatley will direct 40 of the world’s most outstanding young performers with new music by composer Gerard Fahy.
Now aged 63, Flatley took his final bow in 2016 but would he still like to be onstage if he could. Does he miss dancing? “I don’t think you can ever really stop missing it.
“I feel proud of the fact that we brought Irish culture around the world.
“At the back of the stage, we have steps that come down. It’s where I make my entrance at the end of the show.
“Coming down those steps, you’ve got 10 or 15,000 people standing up screaming for something that’s Irish.
“It’s an adrenaline rush that I can’t explain.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world having an army of dancers all tapping their feet several times a second in unison.
“And behind where they’re dancing, it’s as loud as the concorde, it’s just so ear shattering with the noise when they’re in full flight.
“It’s the most fabulous feeling in the world. I’ll miss that forever, but I’m really proud.
“The dancers get better every year, the shows get better every year and it’s an honour for us to represent Ireland.”
Asked if he still enjoys some recreational dancing just for fun, Flatley says: “I love dancing.
“I don’t dance on my own because I’ve got too many miles on me.
“I’ve got issues with my spinal column, my C1, C3 T1, my L5, my sacroiliac, torn right calf muscle, torn tendons in my right foot, two ruptured Achilles tendons, fractured ribs that are still not healing, shoulders that need replaced- The list goes on and on and on.
“But from time to time, once a week my wife and I will have a formal dinner and we’ll go out and we might have one little move to Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or something like that.”
But would he swap those injuries, aches and pain for anything? “Never, no chance. Absolutely no chance. It’s who I am. I’ve earned those injuries. I’ve earned that pain. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing. It doesn’t bother me.
“You know what? I’m blessed. I danced into my late 50s.
“I don’t know any other dancer that’s ever done that.
“My body has taken a severe beating but I’ve made peace with that.
“I followed my dream. I’m happy with those pains because it reminds me that I got up and I took my shot when it was available to me.
“This is a very proud time coming up to 25 years with a whole new team.
“It’s incredibly exciting and I’m very, very proud of it.
“When I started Lord of the Dance, nobody gave me any chance, zero chance.
“They said, ‘You’re not going to make it out of the first week, let alone the first year’.
“That was 25 years ago. We’re still standing. We’re still selling out.
“Thank you, God.”
The Lord of the Dance tour the UK from 17 March at London Eventim Apollo.
For more information, go to lordofthedance.com.
London Eventim Apollo Thurs 17 – Sat 19 March
Portsmouth Kings Theatre – Tue 22 – Sun 27 March
Eastbourne Congress Theatre – Tue 29 March – Sun 3 April
Northampton Derngate – Tue 5 – Sat 9 April
York Barbican – Mon 11 – Thu 14 April
Leicester de Montfort Hall – Fri 15 – Sun 17 April
Llandudno Venue Cymru – Tue 19 – Thu 21 April
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre – Fri 22 – Sun 24 April
Cardiff New Theatre – Mon 25 – Wed 27 April
Hull New Theatre – Tue 10 – Thu 12 May
Liverpool M&S Bank Arena – Fri 13 – Sun 15 May
Dunfermline Alhambra Theatre – Wed 18 – Sat 21 May
Sunderland Empire – Mon 23 – Wed 25 May
Glasgow SEC Armadillo – Sat 4 – Sun 5 June
Oxford New Theatre – Tue 7 – Sat 11 June
Sheffield City Hall – Mon 13 – Wed 15 June
Birmingham The Alexandra – Fri 17 – Sun 19 June
Guildford G Live – Tue 21 – Thu 23 June
Southend Cliffs Pavilion – Fri 24 – Sun 26 June
Truro Hall for Cornwall – Tue 28 Jun – Fri 1 July
Aberdeen His Majesty’s Theatre – Mon 4 – Thu 7 July
Glasgow SEC Armadillo – Fri 8 – Sat 9 July
Blackpool Opera House – Mon 11 – Wed 13 July
Manchester Palace Theatre – Thu 14 – Sun 17 July