#DancerDose – Michael Flatley
November 19th, 2019 by Elizabeth Radabaugh
Re-establishing a cultural phenomenon on a national and global level, Irish-American dancer Michael Flatley has become one of the most successful Celtic dancers in the world. Breaking records and boundaries, this world record holder has constantly made waves while motivating others to follow their roots and create something new.
A Traditional Upbringing
Flately was born on July 16, 1958 in Chicago, Illinois to two natively Irish parents. Flately’s father initially inspired his drive for the arts as Irish music was constantly blaring through the house. Along with that, Flately’s mother was also immersed in the arts as she often practiced step dancing around the house. With close familial ties to the traditional form of dance, Flately was a bit hesitant to go down the same road as his other family members due to a fear of failure and ultimately disrupting the strong family legacy.
Despite his fear, Flately ultimately decided to pursue dance training during his youth. Beginning in the late 1960s, Flately studied with Dennis G. Dennehy at the Dennehy School of Irish Dance in Chicago. After years of relentless training and understanding lessons from his family, Flately was crowned the first American to win a World Irish Dance title at Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, the Irish dancing championship. During the mid 1970s, Flately continued to perform across the competitive circle and won the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheryl concert flute competition. Along with this, Flately brought his fancy footwork to the world of boxing. He competed in the amateur boxing Chicago Golden Gloves tournament. Despite losing, his training in dance and his understanding of boxing would contribute to his success later on.
Moving Past Skepticism
In 1994, after pursuing professional work as a stockbroker, blackjack gambler, and a flautist, Flately decided to return to his roots after receiving an invitation to perform a 7-minute show for the interval act of the Eurovision Song Contest that was being held in Ireland. The performance was initially met with skepticism by critics due to Flately’s intent to make the traditional dance “sexy”. Following the performance, critics and audiences alike were beyond pleased with the outcome of the reinvented dance. With newfound worldwide acclaim, Flately pushed to turn the one time show into a full-length performance and tour. Flately entitled it Riverdance and choreographed multiple numbers while Moya Doherty joined on to produce. Due to personal issues with other professional members on board the project, Flately was ultimately fired from the cast and replaced with Colin Dunne.
Taking It To The Next Level
Not to be deterred by his rejection, Flately quickly decided to create his own show entitled Lord of the Dance. It premiered at the Point Theatre in Dublin and was followed by a second performance at the London Coliseum. The show was an epic success, leading Flately to earn nearly 36 million pounds, ranking him as one of the world’s highest earned entertainers. Following its success, Flately continued to create even more masterpieces like Feet of Flames which included a 4-tier hydraulic stage with a live band and over 100 dancers. Flately’s next show premiered in 2005 and explored the history of the Irish people and Irish emigration into the United States. The show featured a variety of styles that all contributed to the cultural telling of emotions through physical movement. The show also focused on prominent aspects of previous shows including Flately’s flute solos and line dancers in the finale.
Taking It To The Screen
Taking his performances to the next level, Flately and a troupe of male dancers began showcasing their talents on television. The group performed on Dancing With The Stars, emphasizing the strong cultural influences tied to the talented group. Along with performing, Flately was also a guest judge for the show and helped critique others’ performances while giving valuable input on choreography and overall production. Following a two-year stint on television, Flately returned to the stage to recreate Fleet of Flames for a newer audience. Along with this, he also headlined the Lord of the Dance show which included performances in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
After hundreds of performances resulting in incredible profit and prominence, Flately retired from the art of dance in May of 2015 following an injury to the vertebrae. Despite his retired status, Flately’s impact on dance continues to thrive throughout the dance community as other dancers are encouraged to embrace their roots. Inviting his Irish heritage to share the stage with him has led Flately to become one of the most successful folk and cultural artist of his time and his success encourages others to pursue their passions while sticking true to what makes an artist special and diverse.
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Casey Eggers is a writer for StarQuest. She loves coffee, music, and running long distance.