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CNN Larry King Live

Michael Flatley Discusses How He Became 'Lord of the Dance'

Aired June 18, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, meet the man with the world's fastest dancing feet! Find out why they are ensured for $40 million. The phenomenal Michael Flatley, "Lord of the Dance," is here for the hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Back by popular demand, as they say in showbiz, a return visit with one of my favorite people, Michael Flatley -- described as the world's greatest Irish dancer, certified by the Guinness book of records as the World's Fastest Dancer.

His new show, by the way, is feet of flames, one of the largest live shows ever staged. We -- was -- were you a fast dancer, naturally? .


KING: Can you teach fast dancing?

FLATLEY: You can't, no you can't. I mean, you can work at it, you can practice it, but ever since I was just a little boy, all the Irish guys used to call me the "Chairman of the Boards," because, I was so quick with my feet, even as a young guy.

KING: Did you run track?

FLATLEY: Yeah, I was pretty good at school, but that interfered with dancing. It interfered with, you know, boxing and other things, so I decided not to take the chance.

KING: There's a lot to talk about. Would you describe what your kind of dancing is? It isn't tap, it certainly isn't ballet. What is it?

FLATLEY: No, it is not, and it is difficult to describe. It's something you really need to see, Larry. People have asked me before, telling me about the show, and it is almost a crazy question, because there is so much in it, it would take forever to talk about it. It is something I created myself. I've taken Irish dancing, as it was for hundreds of years...

KING: The Jig.

FLATLEY: Basically, yeah, and incorporated some arm movements and just put the passion into it, and I mean, I think Irish people have so much passion, and love and sorrow and joy and laughter and all of these things -- it didn't make sense that they danced with their arms by their sides, and I certainly didn't feel comfortable, so I tried to change it myself.

KING: So this is a -- this is the Flatley form of dancing.

FLATLEY: I like to think so.

KING: There's no -- we couldn't see films from 50 years ago of people doing this?

FLATLEY: No, you certainly couldn't. You wouldn't find anybody else using arm movements like me.

KING: OK, what about the steps?

FLATLEY: Yeah, the steps, I mean, we all grew up as Irish dancers learning basic dance steps in Irish dancing, but what I do is much more -- accelerated form of Irish dance steps, much more intricate. I think all of the dance steps themselves that I have created are brand-new, and I have incorporated those into those old steps as well and tried to change it as much as I could.

KING: Where did you grow up?

FLATLEY: Mostly in Chicago, but also in Ireland. My family, my mother and father, were both from Ireland, Sligo and (UNINTELLIGIBLE), respectively.

KING: How would a boy from Chicago have that brogue?

FLATLEY: Spending all that time in Ireland, I guess.

KING: Went back-and-forth.

FLATLEY: Sure, we did. Plus, as my whole family spoke that way, so we grew up kind of speaking that way, and I have been there now for the last eight years. So...

KING: And you have had phenomenal success, and naturally, with success, comes critics. Some have said that you -- they don't like the fact that you are not traditional enough.


KING: That you sort of modernize what is historic. How do you respond?

FLATLEY: Well, I don't think I really need to respond to them. But, it is my opinion that if a hundred years from now, somebody looked back and wanted to know what this art form looked like at the turn of the century, isn't it important that we have done something with it for good or for bad. One way or the other, that we have left our mark on it somehow. I think I have been very respectful to the art form as it were. And there is still room for both.

But surely we wouldn't have brought it to the world stage if we didn't dress it properly.

KING: When did you know you would be dancer? Young?

FLATLEY: Yeah, I mean, when I was competing in Irish dance competition, I knew that would happen.

KING: Was that Ireland or the United States?

FLATLEY: Both. Both. But, it wasn't until I hit Carnegie Hall with the Chieftains, that one night I got a standing ovation, I ran back to my dressing room, and I just looked in the mirror and said it doesn't get any better than this. This is for me. I'm not going back.

KING: When did this boom happen? This "Lord of the Dance" boom.

FLATLEY: Well, it took off.

KING: The '90s?

FLATLEY: Yeah, it took off right in the mid-'90s. 1996 is really when we hit.

KING: Where was it? Was it an event? Was it one concert?

FLATLEY: Yeah, I mean, it mainly kicked off with "Riverdance" in 1994. That was the big launching pad for Europe certainly.

KING: "Riverdance" was your conception. How was it named?

FLATLEY: Don't really know. It was, you know, they called me in to put the show together and they had a name for it already.

KING: Riverdance?

FLATLEY: Because it was on the -- at the Point Theater in Dublin, right in front of the Liffey River. So however they came up with that, I'm not sure but it took off, I mean, just like a gulf stream.

KING: All over.

FLATLEY: All over the world, and, you know, the beginning was so hard, because when I want to do "Lord of the Dance" and created that, everybody told me no, you can't do it. You can only play in little theaters. This is a dance show, don't try to play more than 1200 seats.

KING: "Riverdance played in small, like Broadway type.

FLATLEY: Yes, absolutely, but my dream was to do arenas. I wanted to get out and compete with the rock bands and all of the other...

KING: You wanted to do Radio City, Madison Square Garden. FLATLEY: Yeah, The Garden, that was my dream. Yeah, absolutely. And, we were lucky enough thank God, we went on and we did arenas. Then they told me you couldn't use big screens, and, I added big screens and it went up so much that we sold out everywhere, and, you know, last year I did "Feet of Flames," the new show across Europe. We did 80,000 people in Berlin, 120,000 in Budapest and they told me I could never do football stadiums.

KING: More of the phenomena of Michael Flatley, right after this, don't go away.


KING: We are back with Michael Flatley, described as the world's greatest Irish dancer. The Guinness book says the world's fastest. How do they clock you?

FLATLEY: Well, it wasn't easy, we were playing at Wembley arena, and we...

KING: Big stadium.

FLATLEY: ...huge, and we ended up -- we broke the world record there because I did 19 shows in a row there. And so the promoters and the producers there. They all said, would you break your tap dance record? And that way we'll have a shot at this. So they came out with all their electronics...

KING: They do an actual testing.


KING: They don't just stand and do it, blind eye.

FLATLEY: Computers and everything, 11 people there. They all had to count on the screen unanimously how many taps it was.

KING: Do you remember how many it was?

FLATLEY: 35. 35 taps in a second.

KING: See, that is impossible.

FLATLEY: Nothing is impossible. Nothing is impossible.

KING: You did 35 taps in one second.


KING: OK, Michael, it sounds impossible.

FLATLEY: Yeah, a lot of things do. It sounds impossible that an Irish dancer could be selling out all these shows all over the world, but we are doing it.

KING: Do you like, by the way -- classic American tap? FLATLEY: Yes.

KING: Sammy Davis Jr used to do?

FLATLEY: Beautiful. Gregory Hines. He's absolutely fabulous, I love that.

KING: Now what happened between you and "Riverdance" What -- it was a start as a routine and now broke up and there was lawsuits.


KING: Tell me the story.

FLATLEY: Oh, it is in the past now, that was pretty simple.

KING: There still is a "Riverdance."

FLATLEY: Oh, yeah there is, and long may it continue please God.

KING: You want it to continue?

FLATLEY: Oh, sure, it is in my heart, like one of my kids, was the first big thing that I got to create so, but...

KING: You left it or it left you?

FLATLEY: A little bit of both really, but, the bottom line is we settled our differences. And we are all -- we have all done better because of it I think, they got to travel the world with their generic show, and do the things that they wanted to do, and I got to do a bigger show, which is what I have always wanted to do.

KING: Now I was in Vegas recently, and I saw your name there. Do you Vegas regularly?

FLATLEY: We've got a permanent show in Las Vegas at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino, going into our fourth year.

KING: How often?

FLATLEY: Well, I don't dance in a show, it's one of my shows. I have other...

KING: Has your name on it.

FLATLEY: Sure, it's my show. Why wouldn't it?

KING: You pick the people who do it?

FLATLEY: Yes, yeah. We have another show in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a second show there. We're looking at putting one in Paris and one in Berlin this year if everything goes well.

KING: How did you get to ensure your legs? FLATLEY: Well, funnily enough, the promoters were the ones that demanded that in the beginning because, if I stopped, you know, the whole thing stops. So, they wanted to make sure that we covered for loss of income and one thing led to another, we met with Lloyds and they also suggested, I ensure myself for loss of income.

KING: You have $40 million and your legs are ensured. Right?


KING: And that would go to the company and the backers and the people who help promote this, right?

FLATLEY: No, that comes to me.

KING: That goes to you. But they also had to be covered to, right?

FLATLEY: Yes, of course, and the whole tour is covered. Everything is covered.

KING: You ever had a leg injury?

FLATLEY: Yeah, yeah, oh, when I first started out, just after I started my own show, after leaving "Riverdance," I had to back my show in order to start it, so I'm the one who funded everything. And I put every last penny into it.

We were on road -- I remember we were getting ready -- we were in Manchester, and we were getting ready to go on to Coliseum four days later, and I hadn't reached break even yet. You know what that is like. And, I tore my calf muscle on the opening number. There was no room to warm up, that show. And I tore my calf muscle, and we had all these physiotherapists come in from everywhere and they all said the same thing, a year, at least a year, before you can dance on this again. Don't even walk on it for a few months.

I had four days, four days, to prepare for the Coliseum. If I would have missed that opening, I wouldn't be here today.

KING: You danced with a torn calf muscle?

FLATLEY: Not only did I dance, we did four weeks, sold out, 7 shows a week, and I haven't missed a night since.

KING: We'll be right back with the incredible Michael Flatley. Don't go away.


KING: We are back with Michael Flatley, the world's greatest Irish dancer, he stars in "Feet of Flames," touring the world. And he has spots in other places, as well. Flatley has become an institution in this art form.

Back to the calf muscle. How, if the doctors said it, that not even walk on it, you are going to be out a year, what? Were they wrong or what did you do? How did you dance with a torn calf muscle?

FLATLEY: Well, I have to say again, nothing is impossible. And, it frustrates me every time I hear people tell me it is impossible. I know that it is more possible because of that. And I had a great physiotherapist at the time, Derry (ph), that was working with me and focusing my mind on the muscle and on healing the muscle. We strapped it with endless amounts of stuff from my thigh to my ankles.

KING: Every night.

FLATLEY: And I had to shoot it.

KING: And shooting -- was there pain while dancing?

FLATLEY: Sure, of course, but that is part of what it is I do. And that is part of getting through it.

KING: But what you do is also fun for you?


KING: Could that have been fun?

FLATLEY: Well in a strange sort of way -- it builds character, it proved to me that nothing could stop me, "Riverdance" couldn't stop me, that the problem with leg couldn't stop me, the fact we couldn't get the arenas I wanted at the time couldn't stop me, the fact that everybody told me I could never do arenas at the time couldn't stop me.

And the most important thing is that you believe in yourself and you keep on going.

KING: Where do you think that gumption came from?

FLATLEY: I don't know.

KING: Father? That kind of guy?

FLATLEY: Definitely my parents, my mother.

KING: What did your dad do?

FLATLEY: He's in construction, but he is a self-made man. He worked his whole life as hard as he could. I mean, we were a seven day a week family. The Flatleys worked on holidays, they definitely did. And the sons were right there with the father.

KING: You were one of those Irish kids out of Chicago in the Richard Daley tradition.

FLATLEY: I love that guy and I love his son as well. Richard Daley, that city is terrific. I can't say enough good things about it.

KING: Are you happy that apparently there is some sort of tranquility in Ireland now?

FLATLEY: Yes, sure.

KING: Have you ever worked in Northern Ireland?

FLATLEY: Yes, I did a fantastic show in Belfast in Stormont Castle, what a fantastic night that was.

KING: Did you have any fear?

FLATLEY: No, I'm amongst my own people there. They are all Irish. North and South, they are still Irish.

KING: They are still Irish.


KING: Catholics and Protestants, still Irish.

FLATLEY: Absolutely.

KING: You drew them both, I'll bet.

FLATLEY: Yes, side-by-side, a beautiful night, there was no trouble whatsoever, and an incredible response. We got some on my new videotape, and I'm very, very proud and honored to have done that.

KING: How many nights a week do you work?

FLATLEY: Right now...

KING: A year, rather.

FLATLEY: It fluctuates, depending on, you mean live?

KING: Yes, where you go out and perform.

FLATLEY: I worked oh, most of last year on the stage, between -- we did all over Europe, everything.

KING: Two, three in a week?

FLATLEY: Oh, no. I mean, when I was touring, I would do six or seven. This is the easiest tour I have.

KING: Where are you now?

FLATLEY: I'm going to Atlanta next, then Chicago, into the Garden, has been my dream -- at the end of the month, and then, Los Angeles, Staples Center, Dallas, keep moving all the time.

KING: Madison Square Garden.

FLATLEY: Can you believe it? Can you believe that?

KING: The arena. FLATLEY: Absolutely.

KING: And that will be "Feet of Flames." right?


KING: How many in the troupe?

FLATLEY: 50 dancers on this troupe. There was about 25 with "Lord of the Dance," so it's a much bigger show, and, I know -- the set is very extravagant, it's hugely expensive. But it's so worth it when you see it.

To me, it is painting a picture I always wanted to paint, you know, it is hard to bring that sort of thing on the road night after night -- get it in 8 hours out in 4 hours -- but it is worth it when you see the show. The end product is worth it. And I'll be very proud to take that into New York.

KING: You choreograph?


KING: You do all the choreography?


KING: You hire all the dancers?

FLATLEY: Yes, yes. I don't hire them all personally anymore, and I have a wonderful woman that works beside me, who is my right arm, named Marie Duffy from Ireland, the greatest dance person I have ever met, knows more about Irish dancing than anyone in the world. I just adore her.

KING: Is there any slow Irish dancing? Because every time I have ever seen it, they are moving.

FLATLEY: Well...

KING: Are there are ballet types?

FLATLEY: Yes, there are, and while we're on the subject -- I may have arguably the finest female Irish dancing partner in the world in Bernadette Flynn.

KING: She dances with you?

FLATLEY: Yes, she does, and she is like dancing with an angel, absolutely.

KING: We'll be right back with Michael Flatley. Don't go away.


KING: Audiences go crazy for Michael Flatley, standing ovations, critics are sometimes tough. But like one critic in Toronto said, watching this man, he could well be "the love child of an elicit union between Tom Jones and Liberace.

Another review in the British paper said, "the eagle has landed." Would you -- you are entitled to your ego, aren't you?

FLATLEY: Sure, isn't everybody?

KING: Why not?

FLATLEY: Absolutely.

KING: As Jackie Gleason said, ego means confidence.

FLATLEY: Yes, it does. And I think he was right there.

KING: So, when you go on stage every night, you know you are going to do good.

FLATLEY: Sure, absolutely, I worked my whole life to be the best at what I do. Of course. You know, it is my chance to share it with the world. It is my opportunity, and nothing will ever change the feeling you have from me, standing behind the big gates, when the lights change to red and doors open, the drums start, I can feel my heart going, and I know it is my turn.

KING: Why did you think it would work in outdoor stadiums? And big places as opposed to the classical kind of British or American theater -- 1200, 2000 seats?

FLATLEY: I just knew it would. I just knew it would. And funnily enough, the bigger we got, the more people got excited.

KING: You think the people that dance would want to see the steps.

FLATLEY: Well, they see them on big screens.

KING: You've got big screens. Sure.

FLATLEY: Sure, of course, yeah. It has become an event, people dance in the aisles, join the encores, I have noticed when we did the theaters, it was very reserved audience. When we did the arenas, we started getting four, five, six encores, people went crazy.

KING: Do you carry a large orchestra with you?

FLATLEY: No, 8-piece live band.

KING: Only 8 pieces.


KING: 50 dancers and 8 pieces!

FLATLEY: That is all we he could afford. KING: So the dancers outperform -- the dancing is louder than the band!

FLATLEY: Sometimes, yeah. Absolutely. I think you'll be well impressed with the band. We have a powerful band and two beautiful rock'n'roll violin players that are just like from heaven.

KING: You sent me a pair of those shoes, that you can't wear walking down the street. They are not like tap -- what -- how would you describe the shoes you wear?

FLATLEY: My shoes are custom made and they have special...

KING: Things on the bottom.

FLATLEY: Yeah, they have special taps that were uniquely designed and special aluminum heels, also designed specifically for me. I dance better in a higher heel, than I do in the normal tap shoes. I can't dance in low shoes. I need to be higher.

I do for some reason, I dance faster, a lot quicker heel work, using those, but I love those shoes.

KING: I guess it's happened to every dancer -- have you fallen?

FLATLEY: I fell once, oh, going back in early 20s, I was dancing...

KING: Only once?

FLATLEY: Yeah, I was in Greece. Dancing in Athens. And I went down once and then I fell a second time when I was in Liverpool, believe it or not, twice in the exact same spot two shows in a row. For whatever reason, I must have lost my concentration, but it hasn't happened since.

KING: Only twice in your life? What do you, get up keep right on dancing?

FLATLEY: Absolutely.

KING: That is what skaters tell me, you just get up.

FLATLEY: Just get up and get on with it. Yeah.

KING: So that is -- so you don't even think about falling.

FLATLEY: You can't. I mean, part of the reason I love the live business and the live show is that you are flying on the edge, anything can happen, any time. Every show I have ever done has been different in some way or other -- I have messed up a step, I have changed a step, I put in a kick, took the kick out. Something is different every single night and I love that. Absolutely love it.

KING: That's like a jazz variation. No -- the jazz artist never plays the number the same way twice. FLATLEY: Improvise. You've got to continually grow. If we stagnate, we die.

KING: How many costume changes?

FLATLEY: About 12, I think altogether, 12, 11 or 12 somewhere in there.

KING: And how often -- how long is the show?

FLATLEY: Two hours.

KING: How long of those two hours are you on stage?

FLATLEY: A lot. A lot, I don't know exactly how many minutes, but I'm out there especially toward the end, I have got -- a big dual with the bad guy that leads into...

KING: There is like a story?

FLATLEY: Sure, and there is a big finale with all of the dance troupe onstage and music by Hardiman that is just to die for.

Then I have to do my "Feet of Flames" solo which is my favorite dance of all. It is the one dance in the world when I'm totally on my own I have no music, behind me I have no other dancers, there is no one else on stage.

KING: That is the close?

FLATLEY: That is near the end, right before the encore.

KING: You say you have a dual. Sword dual?

FLATLEY: No, dancing.

KING: Ahh, I can do better than you can.

FLATLEY: Basically.

KING: Michael Flatley is the guest. We will ask about "Feet of Flames," the use of fire, right after this.



KING: We're back with the incredible Michael Flatley and there's lots of other things to talk about. But feet of flames still -- I guess we see you dancing in fire.

FLATLEY: Well, that's pretty close, yeah.

KING: What do you do?

FLATLEY: Well, basically what happens in my solo is that I dance so fast that the stage explodes.

KING: So there's some sort of igniting process that takes place.

FLATLEY: Yeah, my feet.


KING: Do you ever get frightened with what you can do?

FLATLEY: Yeah, sometimes. Yeah. I wish -- I wish I would have had this opportunity when I was 21.

KING: How old are you?

FLATLEY: I'm 42.

KING: Do you mean you wish you would have been doing this at 21?


KING: Touring.

FLATLEY: Yeah, yeah.

KING: Because you're obviously in better -- I mean, obviously your reflexes are better when you're 21 than when you're 41.

FLATLEY: Yeah, but...

KING: How long can you keep doing this?

FLATLEY: Oh, I don't know. Another 30, 40 years tops.

KING: Do you think you can dance until...


KING: No, logically...

FLATLEY: No, really, I mean...

KING: It's an athlete, right?

FLATLEY: Oh, sure. Larry, if this were in soccer match, I'd be in -- I'd be in overtime now.

KING: So we're not going to see you past 50 doing that.

FLATLEY: Oh, not at all, no. This will definitely be my last world tour. And the only thing I can say my body physically now is peaked. I feel stronger now in many ways than I ever have in my life. My ankles have become like rubber bands now and I can do things with my feet I couldn't do when I was 21.

KING: A lot of testosterone in what you do, too, right?

FLATLEY: Sure, yeah.

KING: I mean, this is a very sensual in a way?

FLATLEY: Yeah. Your whole body is in it, and you have to have that masculine energy with what I do. It's what lights up the entire stage, and what brings energy to the show as a whole is that masculine-feminine energy that constantly comes together and creates something special.

KING: Is this equally appreciated, male and female?

FLATLEY: Yes, it is.

KING: Young and old?

FLATLEY: Yes. Every race, every nationality, every religion. We have no boundaries.

KING: You cut across that?


KING: You've also been fodder for the tabloids, have you not? Once you get famous in Britain, where they...


KING: What do they talk about? Your love life, everything around you.

FLATLEY: No matter where I go to dinner, no matter which car I drive, no matter what house I go to, it's always something.

KING: How do you handle it?

FLATLEY: I don't pay too much attention to it. You know, my -- my -- they ask me what do you think when you read that, and my standard answer is the only thing I read is fan mail and bank statements anymore.

KING: Most performers are not entrepreneurs. They like performing but they couldn't run a business.


KING: You seem to like the business end, too.

FLATLEY: Well, you have to, Larry. I mean, any man who doesn't watch his business is a fool, particularly...

KING: You could hire people to do all that and just dance.

FLATLEY: Oh, now really. I mean, you could, but at the end of the day I'm the man who has to make those decisions. I mean, I remember numbers like a computer and I have to. It's very important that you watch all of the aspects of whatever business that you're in. You have to. You have to watch it day and night.

KING: The music is traditional music, new music? Where does the music come from?

FLATLEY: It's both. It comes from Ronan Hardiman. He's a composer. He does most of the music for my show, and he's a very special man, gifted in the -- in the extreme. And we work together on the music. I tell him what I'm looking, how many bars, what flavor, what tempo that I'm looking for. I give him the feel of the dance and then he writes the music and brings it back to me.

KING: Do you dance to any what we have to come to learn as standard Irish fair? You know, "MacNamara's Band"?

FLATLEY: Yeah, no.

KING (singing): Oh, me name is MacNamara, I'm the leader of the band...

FLATLEY: I'm the leader of the band.

KING (singing): ... and though we're few in number we're the...

(normal voice): Do you dance to that or you would be -- this would be not those kinds of numbers?

FLATLEY: You could. I mean, you could. But it would be like Gregory Hines coming out and dancing to "Tea for Two." I don't think...

KING: How about "Green Alligators and Long-Necked Geese"?



FLATLEY: You've got a great memory.

KING: What was that to?

FLATLEY: The Irish Rovers.

KING: The Rovers. They were -- I love...

FLATLEY: "The Unicorn." They were great.

KING: Nobody's ever seen a unicorn.

FLATLEY: Oh, you never know.

KING: You never know. With Flatley, who can tell? It might be in the next show.

We'll be right back with more of Michael Flatley, touring with "Feet of Flames." Don't go away.




KING: We are back with the incredible Michael Flatley. His legs are insured for $40 million. He now tours and he's touring all over, "The Feet of Flames." This will be his last big tour. He's 42 years old. This is not easy.

He's described as the world's greatest Irish dancer, certainly the best-known Irish dancer in the world, and his new show, "Feet of Flames," debuted -- it's touring now -- debuted three years ago at Hyde Park in London.

How did you set that up?

FLATLEY: Yeah, it was a huge undertaking. Nobody believed we could stage a show in Hyde Park, and my good friend, Martin Flitton, who handles some of my business affairs -- we were walking in Hyde Park one day. And I walk there a lot to do some thinking.

And he said, "Do you suppose we could ever do a show here in Hyde Park?" And I said, well, you know, "Martin, if you could get the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), if you could get the go-ahead from the people, I would build the show that would do it." And we did. And it was an enormous success. We did a video that went to No. 1 overnight, and then I decided to do back and tour with them about a year later, and it has really taken off, Larry.

KING: Now, in the show, you use large screens.


KING: You say it takes quite a bit to assemble and disassemble when it's traveling, right?


KING: You must have like a crane company moving this stuff, right?


KING: Big sets?

FLATLEY: Enormous. It's probably the biggest touring set in the world. We've got nine semi trucks on the road, there is five buses and a Gulfstream and enormous amounts of cable and trucking people. There is 50 dancers, about 60 -- 65, 70 people on stage, and at least 70 or 80 backstage.

KING: Really?


KING: You are in the Gulfstream jet, I would presume.


KING: Can you do a night-to-night? Can you close in one city and open another next night?

FLATLEY: We will close in the Garden on the 29 and open in the Meadowlands the next day.

KING: Now, since you are the choreographer, as well as the leader of the troupe, you know how well everybody else is doing.

FLATLEY: Oh, yes, definitely.

KING: How?

FLATLEY: Well, I can hear it.

KING: Really?

FLATLEY: Don't forget, I built the steps. When I'm backstage, even in my change room, I can see that big screen. Nobody can get away with anything. But luckily enough, I have, as I said, the finest dance master in the world, Marie Duffy, my right hand person, and you couldn't ask -- she is like a sister to me, couldn't ask for a better person. She watches everything and she drills the dancers for me now, and she helps me enormously.

KING: Where is the band, in front of you?

FLATLEY: No, they are up on the sides, right beside me, so I could see them. We got a new band number on the show. That's...


KING: ... band by itself?

FLATLEY: Oh, it's fantastic, it's a show stopper. It's fantastic.

KING: No one is dancing, the band just plays?

FLATLEY: Just the band, yeah. And I play the flute with them, and...

KING: You play the flute?

FLATLEY: Yeah. You have to come and see the show.

KING: I'm coming! Where did you learn that?

FLATLEY: I learned since I was a little boy, started about the same time I started dancing, and I have been playing all my life, and I never had a chance to incorporate it into the show until now, until it was appropriate. Now, it fits perfectly. With this show, it's a perfect match. KING: Do your parents -- both still living?

FLATLEY: Yes, they are.

KING: Have they gotten to see you work a lot?

FLATLEY: Yeah, they have. I mean, they love it.

KING: What's it like for the construction worker from Chicago to watch your son on stage before 50,000 people?

FLATLEY: Well, I hope he is proud. I think he is. I mean, I must say that most of what I do in life I do for them, and I can never thank them enough for what they given me the opportunities they gave me in life.

KING: They encouraged you?

FLATLEY: Yes, they did, and my parents are both hardworking people, and we never went without anything we wanted, and they worked so hard.

KING: Michael Flatley is the guest. We will be right back.


KING: We are back with Michael Flatley. What is the story about the one empty seat every night?

FLATLEY: Yeah, that's -- I think you are the first one that asked me that. My grandmother was very, very special to me, and my career took off just after she passed away, but we used to have long conversations about following your dream, and I always told her that although I was a construction worker, that I knew someday that I could do something special, and I felt I belonged on the stage.

She encouraged me, and shortly after she passed away, I got a chance to dance at the Hollywood Bowl with the Chieftains, and life has never been the same. So I leave an empty seat every night in every city of the world for her.

KING: That's really nice.

FLATLEY: It's respectful, I think.

KING: Your father's mother or your mother's?

FLATLEY: My mother's.

KING: Tell me about this you losing 10 pounds a night, you burn more than -- what -- 4,000 calories in a performance?

FLATLEY: Yeah, that's down to Lloyd's when I do my physical, which I have to do every year. They determine how much weight I lose and what I need do and how much I should eat and drink and that sort of things. I suppose I tend to lose a lot of weight. KING: How long do your shoes last?

FLATLEY: Not very long, Larry. I bring 20 pairs on tour with me, and I'll have another 20 ready to come up if I need to. I will go through probably two, maybe three pairs a week, depending on a number of shows that I'm doing.

KING: Are there ever nights when it doesn't click? In other words, when you feel -- I have gone backstage with some great actors -- I remember going backstage with Dustin Hoffman when he was doing "Death of a Salesman." I loved it, and he said: "We were off tonight, we were off, just a beat off."

FLATLEY: Yeah, you can feel it. If you are feeling...


KING: The audience may not know it.

FLATLEY: No, they can't.

KING: But you know it.

FLATLEY: Yes, that's right. It's what's in your head at the time. It's the state of mind that you are in. It's watching -- the greatest running back in history was Walter Payton, in my opinion...


KING: ... go ahead -- he wasn't bad. Sweetness was OK.

FLATLEY: He certainly was.

KING: And a great guy.

FLATLEY: Oh yeah, class. But he would be able to tell. No one else could tell that he was off, but it depends what's on your mind. If there is something that's on your mind, if you have love problems or some other things in your life at the time, you tend not to be 100 percent. Concentration is the key. If your concentration is there, your work will be there.

KING: Are you tough to work for?

FLATLEY: I don't think so. I think I'm fair. I am a hard worker, but I don't ask anyone to do what I wouldn't do myself. I think it's important that you lead by example.

KING: Does a good dancer know -- I mean, you may not be great, but could you do any kind of dancing? Are you a good ballroom dancer?

FLATLEY: No. Terrible.

KING: You're kidding me.

FLATLEY: I wouldn't be able to dance any other kind of dancing. I can do some American tap easily.

KING: But you couldn't do what Fred Astair did?

FLATLEY: No, not at all. I wouldn't pretend to be in his class, no. He was one of a kind. But no, I don't know anything about any other form of dance, Larry, only my own. I created this myself, and that's why I know so much about it.

KING: So, it -- so we can explain it again, and we'll be showing -- showing clips of it, of course, as well. It's tap but more than tap?

FLATLEY: My dancing?

KING: Yes.

FLATLEY: It's -- I don't have a word for it. Yes, it's percussive, but it's not tap. Ours is a discipline when we cross our feet when we make sounds. It's not about how many sounds you can make, it's about how you make the sound, and doing it within those guidelines. It's a discipline.

KING: And is the sound always aware of the musical number?


KING: Even when it's percussive, when the band isn't playing?

FLATLEY: Yes, there are a cappella numbers that I do that are my favorite numbers. The heels become the bass drums.

KING: Really?

FLATLEY: The toes become the snare. Your left foot can do the tom, and you know, each thing has its own rhythm, and its own sound, and its own texture, and its own feeling, back lines and front lines work on different levels in order to bring that up to music level.

KING: Back with our remaining moments with the incredible Michael Flatley. We will be right back.


KING: Back with our remaining moments with the incredible Michael Flatley. We'll be right back.



ANNOUNCER: Not everything can be as good as the original.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I smell a phony.

ANNOUNCER: But Diet Dr Pepper is.


KING: Don't forget, tomorrow night Jon Stewart is our special guest -- a lot of laughs.

Is true, Michael, that in Ireland, they think of you as an American, and in America, they think of you as Irish?

FLATLEY: Absolutely.

KING: From Ireland.

FLATLEY: Yes, some people tell me you can't win, but maybe the truth is you can't lose.

KING: You've got both countries.

FLATLEY: That's right, yeah.

KING: Unlike Philip Noland (ph), the man with no country.

FLATLEY: Exactly.

KING: You're a man with two countries.

FLATLEY: That's the truth.

KING: Now, you dance at the Academy Awards.


KING: What was the idea of that, since there was no dance from a movie...

FLATLEY: There wasn't. No, Gil Cates, who's a wonderful, wonderful man...

KING: Great guy.

FLATLEY: ... is the man who asked me to dance there. And it had been my dream for a long time to perform at the Academy Awards, and he really, really wanted me to perform, and it was his idea to do something with the -- put it in somewhere where he could fit it, just to give us an opportunity.

KING: So did they work it with a movie theme.

FLATLEY: Yeah, they had the whole editing suite of all the movies behind us from generations, and what a buzz that was.

KING: Now, are you doing a movie?

FLATLEY: Yeah, I'm working on it right. Gold Crest is our distributor. We'll be filming it while I'm on tour.

KING: Called "Dream Dancer," is that right? FLATLEY: Well, that's the working title, yes. And we're going into full production in August 14, the Shepperton Film Studios in London.

KING: The famous Shepperton.


KING: What's the idea of it?

FLATLEY: Well, it's a love story. You know, I don't know if I'm going to like it, Larry. We'll see. Movies...

KING: Stop and go, you know.

FLATLEY: You know, you just never know. I mean, I love doing it live, and I might love it. It might be fantastic, but...

KING: It ain't live.

FLATLEY: No, it ain't. And I love real things. I just love everything real.

KING: So you like it 8:00, the man says go...

FLATLEY: Ring the bell.

KING: Going on stage.

FLATLEY: Let's go.

KING: Are you ever nervous?

FLATLEY: No. No, I love what I do.

KING: Since you're also the entrepreneur, are you counting the house as well?

FLATLEY: No, I have people that do that.

KING: To peek through and say how many out there tonight?

FLATLEY: You know, it used to be like that, but I can honestly say we're -- and thank God, we're well past that now. It's not about the money. That sounds so old, but it's not. It's not about that at all. I mean, like somebody great once said, "Man seeks either wealth or wisdom and having found one, he seldom seeks the other."

KING: What's the enjoyment of doing it? A young person who wants to be a dancer, he's got a lot of alternatives, he's got good movement. What's the enjoyment he or she gets out of this kind of dancing?

FLATLEY: Well, it's a feeling of accomplishment. I believe it's probably one of, if not the most, difficult dance form in the world. And to be able to execute something properly that was done hundreds of years ago, but a new version of that, in front of all those people -- it doesn't get any better than that. I've got -- I mean, our new set has three levels, hydraulic levels, so you have a wall of dancers dancing as fast as they can, hitting the floor maybe 15 times a second at exactly the same time. And it sounds like the Concorde taking off.

KING: When you get up, and when the public gets up and starts dancing in the aisles, that must be a kick.

FLATLEY: It's fantastic. I mean, that's it, isn't it? Isn't that what it's all about?

KING: Because you've created an emotional outburst.

FLATLEY: It's what it is. It reaches in and touches people someplace that they're not aware they're being touched, and they let go, for the first time. My show isn't built just for kings and queens. It's from the people that come from Cleveland and the people that come from Cork, and the people that come from miles and miles, and hope this is going to be the best night of life.

KING: It's the commoners' dance.

FLATLEY: Yes, absolutely. It certainly is.

KING: You're a good man, Michael Flatley.

FLATLEY: It's good to see an old friend.

KING: Thank you. Michael Flatley, what a talent. His new show is "Feet of Flames." They've been touring for three years. This will be his last big tour, if it comes to a city near you. We hope you catch it. Madison Square Garden, the end of this month.

Jon Stewart tomorrow night. Stay tuned for "CNN TONIGHT," next. Thanks for joining us. For Michael Flatley, yours truly, Larry King, good night.