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Michael Flatley’s Riverdance set the ball rolling for Irish dancing shows 20 years ago and paved the way for Rhythm of the Dance’s modern twist. The show jigs into Kent this week.
Since Riverdance kicked Irish dancing onto the world stage in 1994 as part of the Eurovision Song Contest from Dublin, there have been many copycats.
What sets its most popular show, Rhythm of the Dance, apart is the modern spin put on the old moves. Its unique selling point is that it presents purely traditional Irish dance steps but in the most contemporary setting we’ve seen yet.
While Rhythm of the Dance – which comes to Dartford this week and to Tunbridge Wells later – is not a creation of Michael Flatley, the genre’s indisputable Lord of the Dance, he has certainly had an indirect hand in it.
The show’s dance captain, Martin McKay, was first inspired to dance as a child by watching the man himself in Riverdance and has since picked up tips at the master’s feet, quite literally.
“When I was seven my gran had Riverdance on video. I borrowed, it, watched it, and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” says Martin, 25, whose had never taken a dance lesson in his life at that point and isn’t even Irish – he was watching this in his own hometime of Glasgow.
“But it just so happened there was a dance class around the corner from my house. It was meant to be and off I went. Originally I was one of the slow beginners. It took me quite a while to get into the swing of things. I moved through the ranks quite slowly.
“Other people that I went to school with were overtaking me and then it all clicked. But I just loved to dance, simple as that.”
The big idol in young Martin’s eyes was Michael Flatley.
“It was the footwork, what Michael and the cast were doing with their feet, the speed of the dancing,” says Martin. “The costumes weren’t really something that drew me to it, but definitely the music. Since then he’s had such a big impact on dance all over the world, and it’s because of him Irish dancing is so popular.
“Michael set the wheels in motion and, even now, if it wasn’t for him and Riverdance then all us dancers wouldn’t be able to do this for a job.”
Martin climbed the Irish dancing circuit, becoming Scottish champion eight times and gaining medals at three world championships before joining Rhythm of the Dance cast in 2011.
He finally got the chance to work with his idol during a stint on Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance.
“He was there with us for two weeks, sorting the show and
in the audience. He sometimes did dance but he wasn’t in the show at the time.
“He said if you’ve got the dream and if it’s something you want to go for, you have to try and make it happen. It’s not going to just happen for you.”
Was Michael a hard taskmaster?
“Yeah, obviously because the show’s his baby and his creation, he wants it done the way he had it in his head and the way he created it,” says Martin.
Martin’s career takes him all around the world but for now he is glad to
be back on board Rhythm of the Dance, the show where it all started for him.
He says: “You get more of a feel for Ireland from our show because, as well as the dancing, we’ve got live music and singers.
“It’s a look at the different sides of Irish dancing, the different forms – each number kind of tells its own story of Ireland.”
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