Michael Flatley: The Lord of the Dance's Passion for His Art Runs Deep
Irish-American Dancer and choreographer Michael Flatley shows no signs of slowing down. Nearly 16 years after bursting onto the world stage with his groundbreaking show 'Riverdance,' Flatley soon followed up that initial success with a project that was uniquely his own. 'Lord of the Dance' is a show that Flatley says, despite many obstacles at the beginning, continues to be one of his greatest achievements over a long, successful and very lucrative performing career.
Since its premiere in 1996, 'Lord of the Dance' has grossed over $1 billion worldwide. Now, many years and several other successful shows later, Flatley has returned to his greatest stage triumph to present it to movie audiences for a one-week-only engagement surrounding St. Patrick's Day. 'Lord of the Dance 3D' film is a project that Flatley is very passionate about, because it represents a landmark moment in his career.
Passion for his career and his work are things that come quite naturally to this "entrepreneur of the dance." Flatley is used to wearing multiple hats as dancer, choreographer and overall creative force behind this film and each of the thousands of performances he has given over the years. He's a man whose love for what he does is clearly apparent -- and, indeed, this passion is a driving force throughout his life.
Q. Your love of dance began when you were 12. What is it about dancing that impressed you at such an early age?
A. I was only 11 when I went to my first dance class, and it's hard to know what you want to do at that age. There was something about this form of dance that I really liked. It was the rhythm patterns and the discipline that was involved that truly impressed me. As I began practicing more and improved, I enjoyed it more and began competing in dance competitions and won a few trophies and wanted to win a few more. That, of course, made me want to become even better at my craft.
From an early age, my father and mother helped me to be very disciplined and determined. I always followed what I wanted to do. I was a boxer, I played ice hockey and I played the flute as well -- but dance really took off for me because it was something I really enjoyed. I wish I could encourage more people to follow what their dream is. My dream was to have a huge stage show around dance that could compete with all the big rock 'n' roll groups around the world in the arenas. There were times when I put that dream to the side just to make a living; but I never forgot about it and I always went back to pursuing that dream. I think if you follow what's in your heart and you're willing to work for it, you can have anything.
Q. You grew up on the tough South Side of Chicago. How did growing up in that area influence the drive and determination you've had to create a successful career?
A. It was a tough neck of the woods; we faced challenges every day living there. My parents directed me toward something cultural because they wanted to prevent me from getting into fights. My father took us to boxing classes so we could learn how to defend ourselves. My parents were very determined people, and I'm sure their parents were very determined as well. My folks came to America in 1947 with nothing. We worked every day, seven days a week including holidays, to make money for ourselves until we got ahead a little bit.
My father is my hero, so for me to try hard at what I do ... it's in my blood.
Q. What is it you love most about performing on the stage?
A. There's no greater feeling in the world than flying across that stage by dancing. When you've done the work and spent eight months rehearsing and working out, doing the stomach crunches, doing the road work ... you've spent months and months designing the show and preparing it and marketing it, working with the press and working with music, the lighting and the dancers by molding them -- and finally, it comes to show time and you're ready. When you see me in the back of the stage before a show, and I'm like a loaded gun. When the lights go off and the audience swells, you can feel their energy and the drums go off and it's my turn to go onstage ... It doesn't get any better than that.
Q. How gratifying is your job as a choreographer for these shows?
A. The ideas kind of flow out of me because I invented this style of dance, so it's easy for me to go back and see what the next version of it would be. I have a great team of dancers that are hungry to try new things and hungry to be challenged. So, the combination of me being both dancer and choreographer is really a perfect combination for me. It's a sensational high.
Q. What do you find most rewarding about your career over the years?
A. When I first created 'Riverdance,' it was a big thrill to have my first shot at being seen by the world media. Then I created 'Lord of the Dance,' and it actually made it against all the odds. It was dream come true for me to perform at the Oscars in 1997 and at Madison Square Garden. All of those moments and more have been huge thrills for me.
Also, the people are wonderful. I've met some of the most wonderful people in the world through my work; my life is so rich and blessed with these great people around me. Whether they are new friends or old friends, whether they're just people I met for the first time or people I've met a thousand times, I love people and I love sharing my life with them through my work.
WATCH Flatley Dance
Q. 'Lord of the Dance' has been immensely successful since its debut in 1996. What do you think is behind its ongoing appeal?
A. I think our success is directly related to the hard work that we put into the show. We really try every night to give people far more than their money's worth, and we dance our hearts out and leave nothing on the stage. The dance troupe is truly tremendously gifted, talented and hard-working. Our audiences know that fact and can feel that energy, and it appeals to everybody. We've sold out arenas from Mexico to Moscow and from Tokyo to Texas and our demographic is 5 years old to 95 -- all races, all religions, all colors, all people. I believe we're appealing to audiences' hearts and their emotions with our dancing energy.
Q. This show has always been a labor of love for you. How important was it for you to faithfully bring it to the screen in this fashion?
A. This film truly has my heart in it. I've been approached for years to do film work, but I've always been apprehensive until the current advances in 3D technology. I wanted to try something new, cutting-edge and powerful, and I believe that the 3D aspect has added a lot to the performance. Our show is a family show, and our big goal is have people leaving with their toes tapping and their hearts singing.
Q. How satisfying was it for you to return to your roots for this film and also perform it in Dublin?
Dublin is where I created 'Riverdance' and 'Lord of the Dance' originally -- and for me, to return to where I started those shows when no one in the world ( at that time ) gave me a chance nor hope in the world for success ... to return 15 years later, after selling out shows around the world, it was a dream come true. So, for me to be onstage in Dublin with our sensational cast was remarkable.
Q. What were the challenges you faced in re-creating this show?
A. There's always challenges, but if you truly love what you do, then work really isn't work at all. I absolutely love creating things and changing them and updating them, and inventing new costumes and other things. Normally, I have a big Jumbo Tron screen at the back of the stage. This time, I had to break them into seven different screens for greater depth of field for the 3D cameras and effect. There were some technical challenges, but it was all worth it.
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