Michael Flatley

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Michael Flatley
Michael Flatley cropped.jpg
Flatley on stage, 2009
Michael Ryan Flatley[1][failed verification]

(1958-07-16) July 16, 1958 (age 63)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.[2]
OccupationIrish dancer
Years active1969–2016 (dancing)
1971–present (music)
Known forRiverdance (1994–2016)
Lord of the Dance (1996–2016)
Feet of Flames (1998–2001)
Celtic Tiger Live (2004–2007)
  • Beata Dziąba
    (m. 1986; div. 1997)
  • Niamh O'Brien
    (m. 2006)

Michael Ryan Flatley (born July 16, 1958) is an Irish-American dancer. He became known for Irish dance shows Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames, and Celtic Tiger Live. Flatley's shows have played to more than 60 million people in 60 countries and have grossed more than $1 billion.[3]

Flatley is credited with reinventing traditional Irish dance by incorporating new rhythms, syncopation, and upper body movements, which were previously absent from the dance, as well as including influences from tap and contemporary dance. He formerly held the Guinness World Records for tap dancing 35 times per second and his feet were at one time insured for $57.6 million. Flatley retired in 2016 due to constant spinal, knee, foot, and rib pain.[4]

Early life[edit]

Flatley is a native of South Side, Chicago. He is of Irish ancestry. His parents were both born in Ireland, Michael from County Sligo and Elizabeth (Eilish) (née Ryan) from County Carlow, but immigrated to the United States in 1947, 11 years before Michael's birth. They met at an Irish dance in Detroit.[2] Michael Sr. was a plumber who inspired his son by playing Irish music and Eilish was a gifted step dancer. His grandmother, Hannah Ryan, was a champion dancer.[5] Michael is the second of five children. He has three sisters, Anne-Marie, Eliza and Thomasina, as well as a brother, Patrick.[6]

When Flatley was 11 years old in the late 1960s, he was taught dance by Dennis G. Dennehy at the Dennehy School of Irish Dance in Chicago.[7] Flatley went to Brother Rice High School, an all-boys Catholic private school on Chicago's Southwest Side.

In 1975, at age 17, Flatley was the first American to win a World Irish Dance title at Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, the Irish dancing championships.[8]

In 1975 and 1976, Flatley won twice in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil concert flute competitions.[9]

In the 1970s, Flatley competed in the amateur boxing Chicago Golden Gloves tournament in the 126 pound novice division and won the middleweight division of the Chicago Golden Gloves Boxing Championship. He recorded five knock-out victories. Flatley stated that he continued to flirt with the idea of becoming a professional into the early 1980s, but ultimately stayed with a career in dance.[10] He later became a philanthropic donor to the Golden Gloves organization.[11]


Early career[edit]

After graduating high school, Flatley worked in various fields.[12] From 1978 to 1979, Flatley toured with Green Fields of America.[13] In the 1980s, he toured with The Chieftains, though he was turned down when he requested to become a full-time member of the band.[12]


After attracting the attention of Ireland's president, Mary Robinson, and dance-show producers, Flatley was invited to help create an intermission show for the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. He performed a 7-minute show titled "Riverdance" for the interval act of the contest, which was held in Ireland.[14][15] After receiving worldwide acclaim, Flatley pushed to turn the show into a full-length production, which became Riverdance. The show was produced by Moya Doherty, with principal choreography by Flatley and lead performances by Flatley and Jean Butler.[16][14]

In September 1995, after the show sold out, Flatley left Riverdance to pursue what would eventually become Lord of the Dance. Flatley had been in a dispute with the producers over his salary and royalty fees. He was fired the night before the show was set to begin its second run in London[17] and replaced with Colin Dunne.[18] He also reportedly did not work well with Butler,[19][12] though on the split, Flatley said, "I just wanted control over the work that I had created myself. That's all. I don't think that that's too much to ask. I felt like I built it and they took it, and that's the end of it... and it hurt."[20]

Lord of the Dance and Feet of Flames[edit]

A large display outside a theatre
A Lord of the Dance performance in Bucharest, 2018

Immediately after the Riverdance split, Flatley decided to create his own show, Lord of the Dance, which was capable of playing in arenas and stadiums aside from traditional theaters. It premiered in June 1996 at the Point Theatre (now 3Arena) in Dublin then made its U.K. premiere at the London Coliseum.[21] The music for the show was composed by Ronan Hardiman. In 1997, Flatley earned £36 million, ranking him 25th among the world's highest earning entertainers.[12]

In 1998, Flatley created an expanded version of the show called Feet of Flames which served as its one-off performance and his final performance in Lord of the Dance. It was performed outdoors in the Rotten Row/Route of Kings[22] area of Hyde Park, London on a gigantic 4-tier hydraulic stage, with a live band, and over 100 dancers performing on all four levels of the stage during the finale. Ronan Hardiman's music from the original Lord of the Dance was used again along with new compositions, also by Hardiman himself.[23] The show featured six new numbers; one of which is Flatley's solo.

Following the success of the 1998 Hyde Park show, Flatley produced another version of Feet of Flames in 1999, which included half of the original show and half new material. Titled Feet of Flames: The Victory World Tour, the show was performed a single-level stage and toured Europe in 2000 and the U.S. in 2001.[4]

Celtic Tiger[edit]

Flatley's next show, Celtic Tiger Live, opened in July 2005. The show explores the history of the Irish people and Irish emigration to the U.S., fusing a wide range of dance styles, including jazz. The show also includes popular elements from his previous shows, such as Flatley's flute solos and the line of dancers in the finale.[24]

Flatley wrote "I will be a dancer until the day I die" in the program book of the show.[25]

On November 15, 2006, prior to the fall and winter tours of the show, Flatley was admitted to a private London hospital with a viral infection.[26] He was discharged two weeks later and cancelled the said tour.[27]

Television performances (2007–2009)[edit]

Flately dancing
A Lord of the Dance performance in 2008

In November 2007, Flatley and a troupe of male dancers performed on Dancing with the Stars in the U.S.[28] In October 2008, he appeared as a guest judge on an episode of the show, filling in for Len Goodman. He performed the solo "Capone" from Celtic Tiger on the show. Flatley was also the host of Superstars of Dance, an NBC series that ran for 5 episodes in early 2009. He also performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, during the 1997 Academy Awards ceremony, and was interviewed on Piers Morgan's Life Stories in 2011.[29][30][31]

Return to the stage (2009–2010)[edit]

In December 2009, Flatley returned to the stage for a limited run of the "Hyde Park" version of Feet of Flames in Taiwan. The run of shows had to be extended to meet the demand for tickets.[32]

In 2010, he returned to headline the Lord of the Dance show, with performances in arenas in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.[33] However, unlike the original show, the stage for the 2010 Return Tour was redesigned; it featured new sets, new costumes, state-of-the-art lighting, pyrotechnics, and projections.

Lord of the Dance 3D, the 3D film of the return tour, debuted in theaters worldwide in 2011.[34][35] The 3D film was later released on DVD and Blu-ray under the title, Michael Flatley Returns as Lord of the Dance, and shows performances from the O2 Arenas of London, Dublin, and Berlin.[34]

Flute album (2011)[edit]

In 2011, Flatley released On A Different Note, a flute album.[36] The 25 tracks include airs and tunes he has played in his shows, other traditional tunes, and new compositions.[37]

A Night to Remember, Dangerous Games[edit]

On May 18, 2014, Flatley recorded a one-off 60 minute ITV Music Specials episode titled Michael Flatley: A Night to Remember celebrating his long career. The show aired on June 1, 2014, and was presented by Christine Bleakley.[38]

Also in the same year, Flatley created a revised spin-off of Lord of the Dance, entitled Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games, which featured a similar storyline with new numbers, as well as new music by Gerard Fahy, who previously served as a bandleader and musical director in Flatley's shows.[39]

Injuries, farewell tour, and retirement[edit]

In May 2015, Flatley revealed that much of his vertebral column was irreparably damaged and that he had a damaged left knee, a torn right calf/triceps surae muscle, two ruptured Achilles tendons, a fractured rib, and a recurring broken bone in his foot.[40] That year, a caricature of him was hung in the Sardi's restaurant on Broadway.[41]

In November 2015, Flatley's show Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games premiered at the Lyric Theatre, a Broadway theatre. Due to his injuries, Flatley was only able to perform in the final two numbers of the performance. After shows in New York, Flatley went on a final tour in the United States.[42] What was then thought to be Flatley's last show was in Las Vegas on St. Patrick's Day 2016.[4]

Trump inauguration[edit]

In January 2017, Flatley introduced his troupe for a performance at the inauguration of Donald Trump. Flatley called it "a great honour".[43]


In 2018, Flatley wrote, directed, financed, and starred in Blackbird, a spy fiction movie set in Barbados, Ireland and the UK.[44] The film co-stars Patrick Bergin and Eric Roberts. Blackbird was scheduled to receive its world premiere in a private showing at the Raindance Film Festival in London, where Flatley was also a member of the Festival Jury.[45] As of November 2018, the filmmakers are yet to announce a date for the film's general release, though pre-production work has already begun on Flatley's second film, titled Dreamdance, set in Hollywood at the outbreak of World War II.[46]


Starting in the early 2010s, Flatley has used his choreographer dance moves to create artwork with his feet, by dancing upon paint splattered canvas. A series of paintings he created in the mid-2010s was based upon the Great Irish Famine. As of 2015, Flatley was second only to Jack Butler Yeats in terms of the auction price of paintings by Irish painters.[47][48][49][50]

Business career[edit]

Around this time he also founded the food and beverage company Castlehyde, named for his residential estate.[51] His net worth was reportedly €301 million in 2019.[52]

Awards and achievements[edit]

In 1988, Flatley received a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest folk-related honor awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts.[53]

In December 2001, Flatley became the first recipient of the Irish Dancing Commission Fellowship award (an honorary degree in Irish dance) and was also made a Fellow of the American Irish Dance Teachers' Association.[54] In 2003 Flatley received a special award from Prince Rainier of Monaco for his charity work,[55] and in March 2003 Irish America magazine named Flatley Irish American of the Year. In 2004, Flatley received an honorary doctorate degree from University College Dublin, and that same year received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor in New York.[56][54] In 2016 he received an honorary degree from the University of Limerick.[57]

In 2007, the Freedom of the City of Cork was conferred on Flatley at a ceremony in Cork's City Hall.[58] In 2008, he was conferred with the Freedom of the Borough of Sligo at a ceremony in Sligo City Hall.[32] Also in 2008, The Variety Club of Ireland presented Flatley with their Entertainer of the Decade Award.[59]

In 2011, he was inducted into Irish America magazine's Irish America Hall of Fame.[3]

On October 24, 2013, Flatley received the Lifetime Achievement Award at The Irish Post Awards on Park Lane.[60] In 2015, a section of 42nd Street and Broadway in New York City was name "Flatley Way" for the artist. The honour corresponded with his opening of his show Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games at the nearby Lyric Theatre.[61] In July 2021, Michael received the award for Best Actor at the Monaco Streaming Film Festival for his role in Blackbird. He also received the Freedom of the City of London honour from London, UK, which names a number of specific actions those who receive the honor can take that others cannot—such as the ability to "drive a herd of sheep over London Bridge".[62]


Coat of arms of Michael Flatley
Flatley was granted arms by Ireland's Chief Herald.[1]
From an ancient Irish crown or a stag's head argent attired of the first.
Party per fess dancettée or and azure a pile wavy counterchanged.
Pede libero tellurem pulsar
This horizontal, three-pointed, partition of the field of the shield is heraldically called dancetée while the pile wavy resembles a river, therefore alluding to his dancing career.

Personal life[edit]

In 2001, Flatley purchased Castlehyde, the house originally owned by Douglas Hyde, the first president of Ireland, near Fermoy in north-east Cork, then in a derelict condition, for €3 million. Flatley spent €27 million renovating the mansion and another €20 million furnishing it with artwork and antiques. In 2015, Flatley purchased a mansion in Belgravia, just off Eaton Square, for €28 million and listed Castlehyde for sale for €20 million.[63]

In addition to Castlehyde and his London mansion, Flatley owns valuable properties in the Caribbean, New York, Beverly Hills, and Villefranche-sur-Mer. He has invested a significant portion of his wealth in Berkshire Hathaway.[64]

In 2003, courts ruled that Flatley was extorted and defamed by real estate agent Tyna Marie Robertson, who falsely accused Flatley of sexual assault[65] Robertson was ordered to pay $11 million compensation.[66]

In 2006, Flatley released Lord of the Dance: My Story, his autobiography.

In April 2006, Flatley spoke about his facial skin cancer.[67]

In June 2006, Flatley began dating dancer Niamh O'Brien, who danced in several of his shows. They were married in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Fermoy, County Cork, on October 14, 2006, with a reception at Castlehyde.[68][69] He and his wife have a son, Michael St. James, born in 2007.

In 2010, Flatley dedicated the Garden of Memory and Music in Culfadda, County Sligo, the village his father left to seek a new life in America. The ceremony included a speech and an impromptu performance of one of his father's favorite tunes.[70]

Also in 2010, Flatley participated in the fundraising JP McManus Pro-Am in Adare, County Limerick, Ireland.[71]


Flatley has raised over €1 million for his charitable foundation by selling paintings made using his feet.[72] He has hosted annual Christmas fundraisers for vulnerable children at his estate, and in 2020 he created the "Flatley'sTapForTen challenge" in order to raise money for people found homeless due to the COVID-19 pandemic, benefiting the charities Depaul in Ireland and Centrepoint in the UK.[55] He is also a supporter of the Irish Fund for Great Britain that provides social support for Irish citizens living in the UK.[73] He has also spent time as an advocate for cancer research. In 2021, Flatley was named an Ambassador of Culture for Co Saolfada, a cancer research advocacy program.[74] Flatley himself was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2003 and has since recovered.[75] Flatley has also advocated an anti-war sentiment - in 2003 he performed the anti-war piece Warlord before an audience of national leaders meeting in St. Petersburgh. In 2022 he began fundraising for the humanitarian effort during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, providing revenue from his company's dance performances to the cause.[76]

Public image[edit]

Flatley has been parodied in several US television series, including Friends, where the character of Chandler Bing expresses his fear of Flatley due to the speed of his feet. He also appeared on The Simpsons in a 2005 episode entitled "The Father, the Son, and the Holy Guest Star", in which Marge dreams of a group of Flatley look-alikes welcoming her into Catholic heaven.[77]


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External links[edit]