For the first time ever,  select Irish dancers will take part in a new freestyle competition at Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne (the World Irish Dancing Championships) created and sponsored by global Irish dancing superstar Michael Flatley.

"I'm proud to be launching my first Freestyle Dance Award this year at the World Championships in Montreal," Flatley said in a statement on March 30 ahead of the 2023 World Irish Dancing Championships, which step off on Sunday, April 2.

"I'm excited to watch these incredibly talented dancers perform.

"They have worked so hard and are pushing the boundaries of Irish Dance, which was my dream when I created 'Riverdance' and 'Lord of the Dance' over 25 years ago.

"We've come so far since then. These dancers are the future, and we must nurture their talent."

Michael Flatley, in association with CLRG, is delighted to announce the first ever Freestyle Dance Award at the 2023...

Posted by Michael Flatley on Thursday, January 5, 2023

Flatley was the first American to ever win a World Irish Dancing Championship title within An Coimisiún Le Rincí Gaelacha (CLRG, the oldest and largest competitive Irish dance organization in the world) and is largely credited with helping launch Irish dance into the mainstream. Earlier this year, the 64-year-old revealed he was "on the mend" after undergoing surgery for an "aggressive" form of cancer.

Flatley's “Freestyle” competition is described as "a way to stimulate creativity and expression in Irish dance, without restrictions of arm movements, music, and theatrics."

Irish dancers born in 2005 or earlier and who participated in their 2022 primary regional qualifier were invited to submit an initial entry via video submission. Each entry was reviewed by an independent panel after which an independent selection process took place.

Successful entrants will now perform their 90-second routine on stage at the World Irish Dancing Championships. Each performance will be marked against four categories - choreography/creativity; musicality; dance performance and style; overall impact.

The competition will be adjudicated by a panel of seven judges, marking each performance out of a total of 100 marks, 25 marks per category.

One award will be presented in both the male and female category.

The new solo competition is scheduled to take place on Sunday, April 9, the final day of the 2023 World Irish Dancing Championships.

CLRG said on March 30 that the "Freestyle" competitors were chosen by a select committee from "Lord of the Dance" and CLRG members, with applications flooding in from the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, USA, and Mexico.

A CLRG spokesperson said: “Interest from dancers in the new freestyle competition that has been created by the iconic Michael Flatley has been unprecedented.

"The category opens up the floor to greater creativity and inventiveness.

"Michael is widely regarded as one of the most innovative forces in Irish dancing and we would like to extend our thanks for his ongoing support.”

James Keegan, creative director of "Lord of the Dance," said: "There is so much excitement about Michael Flatley's Freestyle Award.

"We've been inundated with entries from around the world for this event.

"Spectators in Montreal are in for a treat or people at home can also catch the competition on FEIStv.” 

CLRG says that over 2,500 Irish dancers from more than 23 countries will take the stage at Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne, the highest level of competition within the organization. Organizers are predicting some 10,000 spectators during the weeklong event that's being  hosted at Palais des Congrès de Montréal (Montreal Convention Centre.)

The 2023 World Irish Dancing Championships are set to take place as CLRG continues to grapple with its so-called 'feis fixing' scandal that erupted last October. Flatley has said CLRG "has all my support.