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Irish performer is the dark 'Lord of the Dance'

Courtesy photo
"Lord of the Dance" stomps its way into the Clay Center Wednesday.
Courtesy photo
Tom Cunningham, who plays dark lord Don Dorcha in "Lord of the Dance," says the dancing itself keeps the troupe in shape. "When you're doing this six times a week, you can't get any fitter," he says.
WANT TO GO?"Lord of the Dance"WHERE: The Clay CenterWHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 20TICKETS: $37 and $61INFO: 304-561-3570 or www.theclaycenter.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The blizzard that pushed through the Northeast last weekend caused lots of cancellations, including one very rare one: "Lord of the Dance."The touring troupe, which brings its world-renowned Irish music and dance spectacle to the Clay Center Wednesday night, was forced to divert from a performance hall in Connecticut."We started this tour off in Canada and were working our way down," said dancer Tom Cunningham, calling from Chattanooga, Tenn.. "We were in New Jersey when the weather hit. We were supposed to travel up to Connecticut, but that was impossible, so we came down to Tennessee a day early."Cunningham, who performs as Don Dorcha, the evil dark lord, and the other dancers got an extra day to rest, relax and recharge their batteries. "It was kind of a blessing in disguise," Cunningham acknowledged. "We don't ever want to see any cancellations. We all love doing the show, but it was good to give the legs an extra day of rest.""Besides," he added, "everybody likes the odd snow day."Created by international dance star Michael Flatley, "Lord of the Dance" is a particularly punishing exercise for performers. It's not uncommon for dancers to jump into barrels of ice water after shows to soothe their legs.Cunningham has been with the show for more than 15 years."I started way back in the beginning with Michael Flatley," he said.
Cunningham got into Irish dance when he was 5, growing up in Carrickmacross in County Monaghan, Ireland. Cunningham said his mother used to drag him to lessons at the local parish hall.
"To be honest, I was none to pleased about it," he said. "I wanted to be out kicking a football and playing with my buddies."Cunningham said Irish dance is still very big in Ireland, still very much part of the culture. Of course, not every boy or girl is good at it.Cunningham was very good at it. He won major Irish dance awards, including several Ulster, British and North American championships, as well as runner-up spots in the All-Ireland and World championships.When he turned 18, Cunningham joined "Lord of the Dance" and has been touring the world ever since.He said his mother still ribs him about being reluctant to take those first dance lessons when he was a kid. She tells him, "Now aren't you glad I dragged you down to those Irish dance classes?""It's a bit of a running joke when I get home," he said.
Not that he sees a lot of home. Tours seem to come one after the other, but it's good to be working. Cunningham is ever mindful that a touring dancer is just another kind of professional athlete. There are only so many good years, only so many years any of them can keep up the pace before the wear and tear takes its inevitable toll.However, Cunningham said he's doing fine thanks to a little luck (no serious injuries) and because of the dance itself."It keeps us fit," he said. "When you're doing this six times a week, you can't get any fitter. That high level of exercise, you just can't replicate it anywhere else."And there's no getting bored with the show. It's always challenging, and lately, it's sort of new. A few years ago, Flatley brought all the dancers for the two touring shows together to revise and update dances, costumes, sets and lights."I almost had to learn to dance in a new way to compliment the music," Cunningham said.That's not a complaint. Cunningham seemed genuinely pleased to get to be able to do what he does night after night."We all love it," he said.Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.
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