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Michael Flatley going out ‘while I’m on top’ with farewell to ‘Dance’

Michael Flatley is in the midst of his U.S. farewell tour. | PHOTO BY BRIAN DOHERTY

For the past two decades, Michael Flatley has let his feet do the talking, so to speak.

The Chicago-born and -raised Irishman (his parents immigrated to Chicago’s far southwest side in 1947) has spent 20 years on the road, putting his indelible stamp on Irish stepdancing, elevating it to a spectacle — if not a bedazzled art form — with such productions as “Riverdance,” “Lord of the Dance,” “Feet of Flames,” “Celtic Tiger” and now his latest, and last, production, “Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games.”

Last, because at 57, Flatley is hanging up his famous silver-heeled tap shoes, walking away from the glitter and sweat and the unmistakable chorus of synchronized click-clacks of dozens of dancers’ feet hitting the boards in unison, and maybe even more so, the physical demands that have sidelined dancers half his age. There have been the broken shoulders, a spinal column he describes as “a mess,” endless torn muscles, broken bones in his right foot.

Michael Flatley’s ‘Lord of the Dance — Dangerous Games’

When: 7:30 p.m. March 2

Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State

Tickets: $29.50-$149.50

Info: ticketmaster.com

“Think of all the bragging I can do when I retire,” Flatley says with a slight Irish accent, describing the laundry list of wear and tear he has endured physically from the dance form he put on the theatrical map. Now his headlining days are drawing to a close via a farewell world tour arriving March 2 at the Chicago Theatre.

“I’ve done thousands of performances,” he says, almost in a whisper. “I remember in 1997 I did 300 shows in one year. I shudder to think how many I’ve done since and how many pairs of shoes I’ve gone through [it’s reported at one time it was nearly 100 pairs a year]. … I’ve been dancing my whole life. I’ve spent the past 20 years pretty much on the road. So it wasn’t difficult to make the decision to retire from performing [he says he will continue to produce shows]. I’ve been working toward this for quite some time now. I have five or six of the greatest dancers in the world in the lead role in ‘Lord of the Dance’ [which he still owns] touring the world right now. They will be headlining these shows for the next 20 years.”

Michael Flatley in “Lord of the Dance” in 1997. | FILE PHOTO
Michael Flatley in “Lord of the Dance” in 1997. | FILE PHOTO

Flatley’s brand of fancy footwork (he dances the last two numbers in “Dangerous Games”) has been described as electrifying; in his prime, his 28-taps-a-second dancing feet were unmatched by anyone on the planet (it landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records for “fastest feet in the world”). After touring with the legendary Irish/folk band the Chieftains (dancing while they played) in the early 1990s, he moved on to his true artistic passion as one of the stars of “Riverdance” in 1994. Jettisoned from the show’s cast for conflicts over creative control, in 1996 he launched “Lord of the Dance,” his own Celtic-inspired dance spectacle with himself as the central figure. The world fell in love with the blond-haired, blue-eyed showman who could rock an arena with the click of his heels.

“It was my dream for as long as I can remember to build these big dance shows and showcase this type of dance, using the body and facial expressions to express the passion of the dance,” Flatley continues. “I accelerated the footwork and syncopated the foot patter. … I changed it in such a way that the average person could understand it. I dressed it for the world stage so it would become popular for nationalities around the globe. I think that is my greatest legacy.”

“Dangerous Games” is perhaps Flatley’s most ambitious production, boasting everything from world-champion acrobats and dancing robots to 3-D holograms and, yes, plenty of Irish stepdancing. And for all the excitement, the end of the road is bittersweet for Flatley, who closes out his farewell tour on St. Patrick’s Day at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

“What will I miss the most? I suppose it’s hard to imagine not coming down the stairs at the end of [‘Dangerous Games’] with 2,000 people screaming from the audience,” Flatley says with a chuckle. “The adrenaline rush of being on stage. I’m so blessed to have spent all these years in the business of making people happy. I feel like I accomplished what I set out to do: make this kind of dance cool so that young people will want to do it. I wanted dance to be the central act, not just the people in the background. I wanted everyone to look up to the dancers on that stage.

“Most of all, I want to go out while I’m on top,” says Flatley, who makes his home in London with his second wife and 8-year-old son. “Chicago [where, incidentally, a 17-year-old Flatley won the Chicago Golden Gloves amateur boxing championship] is the highlight of this tour for me. I can’t wait to come home.”

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NOTE: Michael Flatley is also celebrating the publication of “The Michael Flatley Opus — Lord of the Dance,” a 450-page luxury book detailing his life and career via everything from photographs and interviews to costume swatches and portraits and more.

Posted on Feb. 28, 2016.