Michael Flatley (born July 16, 1958 in Detroit) is an Irish-American step dancer whose parents were from County Mayo and County Carlow. As a very young child he moved to Chicago, the city he considers his home town. He began dancing lessons at the age of 11. His teacher told him he would not be able to compete professionally as he would have had to start dancing at an earlier age. He went on to become the first non-European to win the All-Ireland World Championship for traditional dance in 1975. He also trained as a boxer and won the Golden Gloves Championship in 1975. His first teachers were his mother and his grandmother Hannah Ryan, an Irish dancing champion. After leaving Brother Rice High School, he opened a dance school.
His first professional break came when he joined The Chieftains for tours in the 1980s. He created the initial choreography for Riverdance and, with fellow lead dancer Jean Butler, led the show to great success as the interval act in the Eurovision Song Contest on April 30, 1994, and starred in the full-length show that was developed from the original seven-minute interval act. After leaving the show Michael Flatley began his own show, Lord of the Dance, which went platinum in three countries: the USA, Australia and the United Kingdom. Colin Dunne remained with Riverdance, taking Flatley's role as lead male dancer. In 1998, Flatley put together a dance production called Feet of Flames, a version of which toured Europe and the US in 2000 and 2001.
Flatley received the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Fellowship in 1988 and was named one of National Geographic Society's Living Treasures in 1991 for mastery of a traditional art form, the youngest person at that time ever to receive this accolade. In May of 1989, Flatley set a Guinness Book world record for tapping speed at 28 taps per second; when this record was broken, he set another record in February of 1998, by achieving 35 foot taps per second. The current holder of the Guinness World Record for tapping speed is James Devine, at 38 taps per second.
Flatley's newest Irish dance show is Celtic Tiger, which opened in July 2005. The show explores the history of the Irish people and Irish immigration to the US.