Michael Flatley’s last dance in Dublin last weekend brings to a close an incredibly brilliant career.
The fact that he did so as an Irish American, and someone who was an outsider to the Irish establishment, makes his feat even all the more extraordinary.
He and Riverdance creators Moya Doherty and John McColgan did not eventually see eye to eye, but between them they liberated the most primal of all the Irish arts.
It is hard to remember what Irish dance was like before Flatley. It was a carefully choreographed routine designed to remove any suggestion of sexy or suggestive, caught in a time warp from an era where human sexuality was considered the most dangerous threat in Irish society by the elders who ran it.
Then came Flatley and his original partner, Jean Butler, who flaunted their moves, used their upper bodies and rewrote the script forever on what Irish dancing was.
It was no coincidence that one was a Chicago native, and the other from Long Island. Their distance from the old ways was a vital part of their attraction, as was their brash American capture of an ancient Irish ritual.
It was Flatley who went on to perfect the form, in the process becoming a true Irish legend of the most recent generation.
Flatley’s ego and public attitude was as outsized as such a transforming figure needed to be. He showed up dancing at the Oscars one year and he spawned a million imitators, but nobody could ever serious challenge him. He was – is -- the Nureyev of Irish dance.
Of course there were operatic moments, such as the split with the original Riverdance founders, and the vast -- some said over-glittered – Lord of the Dance show he created afterwards.
But always, overriding all, there was the talent and the genius of his Irish dance interpretation.
It’s somewhat sad to note that we missed Flatley’s best years. He was already in his early thirties when Riverdance hit with such power in April 1994. Imagine what he was like at 21!
Of course all great dancers reach that point where despite a willing heart, the physical body can no longer take the strain.
Michael Flatley is now at that point, and the farewells to the stage have begun.
It is rare that one can witness the greatest of all time in any endeavor, but undoubtedly that was what Flatley represented.
Today his monument is the thousands of Irish dancing schools scattered across the globe, where a new generation inspired by him comes to what has become the very signature note of Irish culture.
From Japan to Rio de Janeiro there are now Irish dancing devotees, and Flatley can take full credit for achieving all that.
It is time to recognize him as he departs the Irish stage for the last time. He has had an amazing career that will have the impact of lasting for generations.
Well done Michael!