Riverdance began tapping into the love of all things Ireland in 1995, touring the world with a style of dance well-known in the Emerald Isle but more unknown in the States.
In the last 25 years, Riverdance has become as recognizable as its former leader Michael Flatley who rode his popularity to an even grander self-designation, Lord of the Dance. Although the son of Irish immigrants, Flatley was raised in Chicago, but he went on to inspire many Irish dancers since he burst on the scene decades ago.
NO Flatline after Flatley
After the departure of the popular dancer, Riverdance hasn’t missed a beat. Without Flatley, the show has continued for more than 20 years.
Among its lead dancers now is Patrick O’Mahony, a native of Ballylongford in County Kerry. Although this isn’t necessarily typical, O’Mahony began dancing at a very tender age and hasn’t stopped since.
“I started walking when I was nine months old and began dancing at one year and six months,” O’Mahony said in a phone interviewwith Whatzup as the cast traveled between shows. “It’s not very common to start that young, with most people beginning at three or four. But my aunt used to dance, and I used to go watch her with my Mom and Nana. My aunt started noticing that I would toss my head to the sound of the music.”
Although he said he doesn’t remember those early forays into Irish step dancing, he never felt pushed into it.
“I was never forced to dance,” he said. “I liked to go to dance class. I was so young when I started that it was just part of me and who I am.”
His youth slightly predates the explosive popularity of Riverdance. When the show burst onto the scene, it made his life a lot easier in many ways.
“I used to get bullied a lot in school,” O’Mahony said. “I had to prove that dance wasn’t just for girls. Before Riverdance got popular, we used to wear kilts when we danced which only made it worse for the teasing. But then Michael Flatley came along, and he was wearing pants and shirts. He made it cool to be a dancer.”
O’Mahony got a glimpse into the brilliance of Riverdance before many others, seeing it on television before it became a touring phenomenon the following year.
“I will always remember seeing it for the first time in 1994 and watching it on Eurovision with my Grandma on her TV. After that, all I ever wanted was to be one of those dancers. I never expected in a million years that I’d be here now.”
Never stop practicing
That dream came true for him in 2012. But despite more than seven years with the show, O’Mahony and his dance mates can never phone in a performance.
“We never stop practicing,” he said. “I know the show inside and out, but we’re always brushing up on the little things. Of course we have to stay in shape, but we also have to make sure our bodies are always doing the same things. I’m also a personal trainer, so I’m in the gym as much as I can be, or if I can’t get to a gym, I find other ways of working out.”
The touring schedule is rigorous with Riverdance on the road in the United States from early January until the end of June. Then it’s back to Europe with a long stint in Dublin.
“We spend a lot of time on our tour bus,” O’Mahony said. “Like now we’re in the middle of a five-hour ride, but it’s all part of our routine. For someone who works nine-to-five, it may seem like a hectic schedule, but we have all gotten used to it.”
Timeless and classy
Himself a long-time fan of the show, O’Mahony understands the continued popularity of Riverdance and promises some special treats for this anniversary production.
“The only way to describe Riverdance is timeless,” he said. “It never gets cheesy and always retains its classiness. The music is amazing, and for the 25th anniversary it’s all been remastered. We also have a new stage set which is very modern but is still very traditional at the same time. I don’t know how they did it, but it’s just great.”
The eternal appeal of Riverdance is what keeps both the dancers and audience members coming back for more, year after year after year.
“People come back to see the show over and over and over, and the interaction with the crowd is so great,” O’Mahony said. “People are on their feet before we’ve even finished. Being part of this has been everything I expected and more. They treat us very well and keep us in lovely hotels, nice buses, great food. When I first watched it with my Grandma in 1994, I didn’t know what tour life was like, but it’s been everything I could have ever imagined.”
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