Michael Flatley

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Michael Flatley
Michael Flatley1.jpg
Michael Ryan Flatley[citation needed]

(1958-07-16) July 16, 1958 (age 62)
Detroit, Michigan[citation needed]
Years active1969–2016 (dancing)
1971–present (music)
Known forIrish dancer, actor, occasional broadcast presenter, writer, flautist, choreographer
Riverdance (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, choreographer, and musician. He became internationally 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.[1]

Flatley is credited with reinventing traditional Irish dance by incorporating new rhythms, syncopation, and upper body movements, which were previously absent from the dance. He is in 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.[2]

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. 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.[3] Michael is the second of five children. He has three sisters, Anne-Marie, Eliza and Thomasina, as well as a brother, Patrick.[4]

Beginning in the late 1960s, when Flatley was 11 years old, he was taught dance by Dennis G. Dennehy at the Dennehy School of Irish Dance in Chicago.[5] 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.[6]

In 1975 and 1976, Flatley won twice in the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil concert flute competitions.[7]

Also in 1975, Flatley competed in the amateur boxing Chicago Golden Gloves tournament in the 126 pound novice division; however, he lost to Kenneth Reed on February 25.[8]


Early career[edit]

After graduating high school, Flatley worked as a stockbroker, a blackjack gambler, and a flautist.[9] From 1978 to 1979, Flatley toured with Green Fields of America.[10] In the 1980s, he toured with The Chieftains but the relationship soured when Flatley wanted to become a full-time member of the band.[9] Flatley appeared in a segment of a 1991 episode of the game show To Tell the Truth talking about being (at the time) the world’s fastest tap dancer.


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. Flatley, alongside co-choreographer and fellow Chieftains performer Jean Butler and vocal ensemble Anúna, performed a 7-minute show for the interval act of the contest, which was held in Ireland.[11][12] 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 Butler.[13] [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 open in London and replaced with Colin Dunne.[15] He also did not work well with Butler, who later said that, although he was "extremely charming", she wasn't attracted to him and he was put off by that.[16][9] 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."[17]

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.[18] 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.[9]

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 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.[19] 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.[2]

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.[20]

Flatley wrote "I will be a dancer until the day I die" in the program book of the show.[21]

On November 15, 2006, Flatley was admitted to a private London hospital with a viral infection.[22] All the fall and winter tours of Celtic Tiger Live were cancelled. He was discharged two weeks later.[23]

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.[24] 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.

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.[25]

In 2010, he returned to headline the Lord of the Dance show, with performances in arenas in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.[26] 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.[27] [28] 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.[27]

Flute album (2011)[edit]

In 2011, Flatley released On A Different Note, a flute album.[29] The 25 tracks include airs and tunes he has played in his shows, other traditional tunes, and new compositions.[30]

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.[31]

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. However, it still features some traces of Ronan Hardiman's composition.[citation needed]

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.[32]

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.[33] Flatley's last show was in Las Vegas on St. Patrick's Day 2016.[2]

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".[34]


In 2018, Flatley wrote, directed, financed, and starred in Blackbird, a spy fiction movie set in Barbados, Ireland and the UK.[35] 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.[36] 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.[37]

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.[38]

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.[39] 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.[40][39]

In 2007, the Freedom of the City of Cork was conferred on Flatley at a ceremony in Cork's City Hall.[41] In 2008, he was conferred with the Freedom of the Borough of Sligo at a ceremony in Sligo City Hall.[25] Also in 2008, The Variety Club of Ireland presented Flatley with their Entertainer of the Decade Award.[42]

In 2011, he was inducted into Irish America magazine's Irish America Hall of Fame.[1]

On October 24, 2013, Flatley received the Lifetime Achievement Award at The Irish Post Awards on Park Lane.[43]


In 2015, Flatley was granted arms by Ireland's Chief Herald.[44]

Coat of arms of Michael Ryan Flatley
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


This horizontal, three-pointed, partition of the field of the

shield is heraldically called dancetée while the pile wavy resembles a river, therefore aluding 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.[45]

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.[46]

In 2003, Flatley was falsely accused of rape by real estate agent Tyna Marie Robertson. Flatley maintained that the sex was consensual, and in the subsequent court case, Robertson was ordered to pay $11 million compensation to Flatley for defamation and extortion.[47]

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

In April 2006, Flatley spoke about his facial skin cancer.[48]

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.[49][50] 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.[51]

Also in 2010, Flatley participated in the fundraising JP McManus Pro-Am in Adare, County Limerick, Ireland.[52]

Flatley has raised over €1 million for his charitable foundation by selling paintings made using his feet.[53]


  1. ^ a b McGoldrick, Debbie (April 2011). "Michael Flatley: Irish America Hall of Fame". Irish America.
  2. ^ a b c "Lord of the Dance Michael Flatley in his farewell performance". Irish Central. March 18, 2016.
  3. ^ O'Donnell, Maureen (June 24, 2016). "Michael Flatley Sr., father to 'Lord of the Dance,' founded suburban plumbing business". Chicago Sun Times.
  4. ^ Slater, Sarah (March 14, 2015). "Michael Flatley left devastated after death of his beloved father". The Mirror.
  5. ^ Giangrasse Kates, Joan (January 20, 2013). "Dennis G. Dennehy, 1939–2013". Chicago Tribune.
  6. ^ Dougherty, Tara (June 2009). "The World of Irish Dance". Irish America.
  7. ^ Flatley, Michael; Thompson, Douglas (2006). Lord of the Dance: My Story. London: Pan Macmillan. pp. 1–8. ISBN 9780330445405.
  8. ^ "1975 Sectional Results". BoxRec.
  9. ^ a b c d "Lord of dance appears to fall flat on his ego". Irish Times. October 21, 1998.
  10. ^ Moloney, Mick (March 16, 2018). "How One Impromptu Jam Session Spawned a Sweeping Irish-American Music Revival". Smithsonian.
  11. ^ "Riverdance Scenes". Riverdance The Original and Best. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  12. ^ "Michael Flatley | American dancer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved April 24, 2020.
  13. ^ "Riverdance: The Show - IMDB". IMDB. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  14. ^ "Riverdance Scenes". Riverdance The Original and Best. Retrieved March 23, 2020.
  15. ^ Hartigan, Patti (May 27, 1997). "Lord of 'Lord of the Dance' gives his side of the story". Baltimore Sun.
  16. ^ Warren, Jane (August 23, 2014). "What became of the Riverdance Queen? Jean Butler explains why she left the limelight". Daily Express.
  17. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1hZkbPNCD8
  18. ^ "Lord of the Dance: MICHAEL FLATLEY".
  19. ^ "Feet Of Flames".
  20. ^ Fricker, Karen (May 2, 2006). "Review: 'Celtic Tiger'". Variety.
  21. ^ "He's a whirlwind on stage but the Lord of the Dance is human after all". Sunday Independent (Ireland). November 19, 2006.
  22. ^ Castle, Tim (November 16, 2006). ""Celtic" dancer Flatley in hospital, cancels tour". Reuters.
  23. ^ "Lord of the Dance star Flatley leaves hospital". London Evening Standard. November 18, 2006.
  24. ^ "Former 'Riverdance' star Michael Flatley to perform on 'Dancing With the Stars'". The Orange County Register. November 16, 2007.
  25. ^ a b "Michael Flatley Smashes Box Office Records in Taiwan" (Press release). Business Wire. December 21, 2009.
  26. ^ Ng, David (April 22, 2010). "Michael Flatley returning to 'Lord of the Dance'". Los Angeles Times.
  27. ^ a b "Lord of the Dance in 3D". IMDb.
  28. ^ Cox, Gordon (December 8, 2010). "'Lord' dances to screens in 3D". Variety.
  29. ^ Harty, Patricia (December 2015). "What Are You Like? Michael Flatley: The Last Dance". Irish America.
  30. ^ "Flatley's first flute CD released". United Press International. March 14, 2011.
  31. ^ "Michael Flatley: A Night to Remember". entertainment.ie. June 1, 2014.
  32. ^ McGrory, Linda (July 6, 2015). "Cancer spurred Michael Flatley to take stock of life". Irish Examiner.
  33. ^ "Review: Michael Flatley's New Show Has Unicorns, Rainbows Too". The New York Times. November 15, 2015.(subscription required)
  34. ^ https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/its-a-great-honour-michael-flatley-responds-to-trump-inauguration-invitation-35382606.html
  35. ^ Heritage, Stuart (July 6, 2018). "Michael Flatley's self-financed spy thriller: what you need to know". The Guardian.
  36. ^ "Michael Flatley's Blackbird Premieres in London".
  37. ^ Shea, Julian (October 15, 2018). "Flatley flies in new direction". China Daily.
  38. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 1988". www.arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. n.d. Archived from the original on July 30, 2020. Retrieved December 6, 2020.
  39. ^ a b Watson, William E.; Halus Jr., Eugene J. (2015). Irish Americans: The History and Culture of a People. ABC-CLIO. p. 306. ISBN 9781610694674.
  40. ^ Downes, John (November 3, 2004). "Michael Flatley and Charlie Bird among those honoured by UCD". The Irish Times.
  41. ^ Kelleher, Olivia (June 4, 2007). "Freedom of Cork city conferred on Michael Flatley". The Irish Times.
  42. ^ "Variety Club puts best foot forward with Flatley gong". independent.ie. March 14, 2008.
  43. ^ "Michael Flatley shines at Irish Post Business Awards". The Irish Post. November 6, 2013.
  44. ^ nli. "Heraldry In Ireland 1943–2018". www.nli.ie. Retrieved November 30, 2018.
  45. ^ Riegel, Ralph (December 13, 2017). "No sale: Michael Flatley changes tack as beloved Castlehyde mansion remains for sale after two years". independent.ie.
  46. ^ "Business Profiles: Michael Flatley". independent.ie.
  47. ^ "Flatley wins $11m over rape claim". BBC News. December 8, 2007.
  48. ^ Shaikh, Thair (November 16, 2006). "'Riverdance' star Flatley seriously ill in hospital". The Independent.
  49. ^ Riegel, Ralph (September 29, 2006). "Lavish wedding day for dance lord Flatley". Irish Independent.
  50. ^ "Lady and Lord of the dance get married". Irish Examiner. October 14, 2006.
  51. ^ "Garden of Music opened by Flatley". The Sligo Champion. June 23, 2010.
  52. ^ "Golfing Stars shine bright at Adare Manor". April 20, 2018.
  53. ^ Parsons, Michael (August 4, 2015). "Michael Flatley's paintings generate sales of €1 million". The Irish Times.

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