Irish dancer Michael Flatley may be the first Lord of the Dance, but he’s not the only one.
Thanks to a successful touring company that continues to circle the globe after Flatley’s retirement in 2016, there are several and, yes, says James Keegan, “you have to be careful you’re not impersonating him. I like to think I’ve made it my own.”
A 15-year veteran with the company, Keegan joined shortly after he got out of college. “I got training off of Michael and things spiraled.” After 10 months with the company, he was asked to dance the lead role. “It was a bit crazy…everything was happening so fast,” he says.
Keegan was the youngest dancer to become Lord of the Dance. Since then, he has opened the show on London’s West End and Broadway.
Currently headlining a version called “Dangerous Games,” Keegan says the Lord of the Dance production has morphed over the years. “Michael kept some of the old pieces – things he became famous for – and updated the storyline. Now, there are dancing robots. Technology has made this a bigger, brighter version of the original.”
Flatley still stays involved, tweaking the show’s look and choreography and dropping in from time to time to see how dancers are doing.
“His attention to detail is just incredible,” Keegan says. “You get to see a bit of his thought process when you work with him. He doesn’t just do a move for the sake of a move. He’s thinking every step of the way, ‘What is the journey the audience is on?’
“He’s a nice guy, too. Very inspirational, just as you’d think he’d be. He demands the best out of everybody.”
To keep up, Keegan says, he and the other dancers get to the gym during the day to make sure they’re getting a full workout. “We don’t do any extra cardio because a two-hour show of high-intensity dance is enough.”
They watch what they eat, too, and, occasionally will have the “odd” pizza or burger on a day off. “It’s all within balance,” Keegan says. “You get out of your body what you put in. Eat clean. It’s like running an engine.”
While an Irish dance career usually doesn’t last decades, Keegan believes it’s possible to stay in “as long as I’m fit and healthy.” Flatley, of course, is his role model.
Yes, it’s hard work. It’s difficult and demanding. “But on the flip side, there are so many amazing times I’ve had. We meet friends along the way who make everything worthwhile.”
The show doesn’t get routine, either, because audiences around the world respond differently. “If you ever feel like you’re not excited about performing, you take a night off,” Keegan says. “In my 15 years, I’ve never said that. Once that show starts and you get the response from the first number, the adrenaline is pumping.”
A signature “lord” move – when he points to the line of dancers and it sounds like a firing squad – never gets old, Keegan says. “It’s so powerful.”
At the end of the night, “we do feel exhausted. But, no matter how many times you do the show, when there’s a full audience you feed off it and you feel just great. When you come off stage, the adrenaline is so high, you feel like you could go back out there and do it again.”