It comes as no surprise that, when I was offered the opportunity to interview James Keegan, currently appearing as “The Lord”in Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre, I seized it immediately.
Before being shown into a small room backstage, I witnessed the most incredible show, and whilst I’m not reviewing it, I would say, that in my mind, it would receive a resounding ★★★★★! After a brief introduction, I went straight into the interview with this charismatic, extremely talented performer.
When and how did you first discover Irish dancing?
“Both parents are Irish. They moved over in their late teens, and they wanted to keep the Irish culture alive. I’m one of five with four older siblings and the only boy, they all danced and played Irish instruments. The youngest of my sisters is seven years older than me and I would have been four and she eleven. Louise was heavily into the Irish dancing with all that goes with it, like the big dresses and travelling to competitions. That’s the normal age for children to get into it, between three and half and four, its the age when they can absorb and learn rhythm. I believe I was taken kicking and screaming initially, I don’t remember much about it. Then at five I entered my first competition, there were dance schools everywhere (Manchester) and so every weekend I went to “Feis” ( competitions). I started wining trophies and when a young lad starts seeing trophies he thinks I must be all right at this. Then we’d travel more and more and I continued winning. There are “majors” like in Tennis – American Nationals, British Nationals, Great Britain Nationals, the Irish Nationals and the World Championships. My first was the American Nationals which I won with maximum points, I started to win all the majors and then in 2000 when I was fourteen I won the “grand slam””
So when did you think you could make a profession from this?
“There was a never a profession to be had from Irish dancing unlike other forms of dance like ballet and tap. So the first time I suppose was when I was eight back in 1994 and the family was watching Eurovision Song Contest as we did every year but this year we knew there was going to be some Irish dancing in it. Then Michael Flatley comes onto the stage and we were like what is he doing he’s throwing his arms everywhere and it’s not really Irish dancing. You are supposed to keep you upper body straight and he’s not? Then more joined him on stage, all in a straight line doing everything at the same time. When it was over we were all like what was that, that was crazy. A couple of years later Michael created Lord of the Dance and I went to watch it, when it came to Manchester and thought this is what I do and there’s a show created about it and that’s when I started to dream. It was just a dream as I was still young about ten or eleven? Of course my parents said it won’t last but twenty years on it’s still here and known throughout the world. I actually met Michael at the stage door and I was reminded of this the other day, I tell this story often to little dancers I meet at the stage door. I say to them I never thought in a million years that this would happen and now I’m training daily with Michael. I played football as well and played for Manchester United Youth and Blackburn Rovers and at weekends I’d play football in the morning and then my mum would have the shower running and I’d get showered and go to a Feis in the afternoon. There was not always time for a shower, at that time kilts were still being worn and sometimes my mum had to clean the grass stains off my knees with a face cloth in the back of the car. I thought I may have to choose between the two but fortunately it didn’t come to that. I had a very busy childhood ”
When you are not playing the Lord do you play any other roles?
“Normally you would dance in the back line when you are not playing the Lord. There’s two people of each leading role, but at the moment I’m also dance master which means that I get the luxury of not performing on other performances. I do between five and six lead shows a week but the others I’m often watching out the front and taking notes so that we can always improve and keep it tight”
Photo credit Marotiri by Brian Doherty
Do your shoes need breaking in? Do you get through many shoes?
“Yes they need breaking in so blisters are a big thing for dancers when shoes are new. We go up on point and they need to have flexibility in them which takes time and they get very hot when we are doing the shows.”
Have you got a favourite pair of shoes or lucky pair of shoes?
“I always do but they wear out. It gets to a stage where they have so much tape on them that I think seriously I need to get rid of them now. Michael has a pair of lucky shoes, he was changing in here yesterday and here’s his” (Caroline at this point I have to say the fan girl which I had tried to keep in check did actually melt at this point at the thought of me holding Michael Flatley’s shoes!) “You can feel the weight of them in the heel Michael wears a pair of black and white shoes now but these are the one’s he practices in and makes dances up in and they are definitely his lucky pair. You can have them re-tipped, re-heeled and keep them going ”
How many pairs of shoes do you get through in a year?
“About two or three pairs because you can keep them going but eventually being leather they lose their tightness”
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
“I’m really lucky I’ve fulfilled most of my dreams. Like I said getting into this show and it still being around was my dream. Then to dance with Michael and that’s been blown out of the water, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve done that. Then it was dream to dance in my hometown and I achieved that but at that time we were doing theatre tours. In 2010 Michael did a comeback tour in arenas and we did Manchester Arena so that was another dream, where I danced behind Michael. I could go on all day I’ve been very lucky, I danced at the Palladium opened at the Dominion and then opened here at The Playhouse it’s just ridiculous and next month we go to Broadway. After that I’m sure Michael will come up something else. My sister Louise has a school back home and I help out with that when I’m home and I love teaching a new generation but I want to keep going doing this as long as I can because I love it”
Photo credit Marotiri by Brian Doherty
Are there any other forms of dancing you are trained in?
“Tap, modern and a tiny bit of ballet but it was all to help with the Irish dancing really. Most of us here are the same dabbled in other forms.”
Is it like one big family?
“Yes it is definitely, everyone gets on, but then everyone’s from a similar background. While we may not have hung out together we all know each other or its familiar faces that we’ve seen each other at the competitions. Some have Irish backgrounds and when we’re all living together it’s like family or best mates. There’s been relationships, people have got married to, it’s been going twenty years and you spend a lot of time together.”
Unfortunately after about twenty minutes James was needed on stage so I just sneaked in a couple of last minute questions
Is there a hierarchy within Irish dancing like in other forms of dancing such as ballet?
“Not as much not really it’s generally anyone whose up to the job and who has the experience.”
I always like to ask some random questions:
If you could go back in time to a specific time in history when would you go back to and why?
“I think I’d have liked to go back to when this was first being created back in the early 1990’s”
If you could have a super power what would it be?
“I’d like to time travel, I’m interested in history and what the future holds and so probably that?”
Who do you think is the most influential person in the world today and why?
“I think the pope is doing a good job at the moment – unfortunately I find that a difficult question to answer at the moment I’m not sure that anyone’s being that influential it’s a crazy world”
With that James was whisked away but I’m sure you’ll agree it makes for very interesting reading and shows someone who is grounded, with an unbelievable talent that is living his dream. I found him very inspiring to listen to and thank you James for being a delight to interview.
I would heartily recommend you see Lord of the Dance all the cast are absolutely sensational and as I said in my opinion would warrant ★★★★★ if I were reviewing it!
Photo credit Marotiri by Brian Doherty