Chris Naish is one of the world’s leading Irish dancers and choreographers. He spent years working as part of the Lord of the Dance and Riverdance teams, and has since gone on to set up his own projects and groups such as Sneaky Steppers and Fusion Fighters.
We spoke to Chris to find out a little more about his passion for Irish dance. He told us what it’s been like growing from a nervous youngster making his first performance next to Michael Flatley to creating his own Irish dance company and using his experience to help other Irish dancers realise their dream.
When and how did you first get into Irish dancing?
Well my mother was a champion Irish dancer when she was younger, so when she saw Irish dance classes advertised at the local community centre she put my sister in for classes with her friend’s daughter. The teacher kept asking every week if the ‘little boy’ wanted to join. My mum was a little hesitant about it at first, but she finally gave in once the teacher offered to give some free classes (I was 4 years old!).
Was it always a dream to do Irish dancing professionally?
No not at all, at 11 years old I was of course aware when Riverdance first came out, but I still had a tricky few years ahead of me debating whether or not I would continue dancing. Age 11+ in secondary school was a tricky few years and I was always debating whether or not to stop dancing. Once I hit 16 though I began studying at a Performing Art College, this was where I really started to grow more confident and feel a buzz about potentially being able to dance professionally as a career and take it as far as I wanted.
What was your first major performance and how did it go? How did you feel before, during and after it?
My first major performance was with Lord of the Dance in Bournemouth, UK. I remember being both very nervous and excited before the show, the training seemed to happen so fast and before we knew it we were on stage. It was such a different type of adrenaline from anything I had experienced in smaller shows and the feeling afterwards was mainly a massive sense of relief. My whole family had traveled down from Bristol to watch the show and I remember thinking how grateful I was to them for supporting me for so many years, that feeling of making them proud was probably one of the best moments of my life so far.
How was your experience in Lord of the Dance? Is there a stand-out venue or performance you remember as your favorite? What sort of influence did Michael Flatley have on you?
Lord of the Dance was my first big production I was involved with so the opening year especially was a pretty incredible experience. I made some life long friends and experienced some incredible things, at the age of 20 everything seemed that much more exciting. One of the main things I always remember was ticking off all 50 States of America by the time I was 21. I also spent 5 years with Riverdance and a year with Celtic Woman so in those 10 years there were a lot of stand out venues, off the top of my head I would say the Kremlin Palace in Moscow and Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado.
How did you find it when you began working on projects of your own? Did you find it easy creating your own choreography and teaching the routines to other dancers?
I began working on my own projects in 2010 while still working as a dancer on tour with Riverdance. It was the ‘Farewell Tour’ at the time so we all thought we were going to be out of jobs. There was a small group of ambitious and like-minded artists on that particular tour, who were very passionate about wanting to challenge how Irish dance could be presented and how it was perceived by the public. We started off by making a few YouTube clips under the name of ‘Sneaky Steppers’ where we would spontaneously pop up and dance in public places all over the world. I wouldn’t say it was easy but I did find out a lot about myself when pushing myself to create my own choreography and putting together my own project.
Sneaky Steppers Tesco ambush
What is the proudest moment of your career?
There have been so many pinnacle moments in my career that have been really special for different reasons. Some because I have felt especially proud to present my own work to massive crowds at places like Trafalgar Square, others because my family are there with me to share a special moment and sometimes the best feeling comes when doing something that is benefiting someone else through our charity campaigns for example. I guess the proudest moment so far could be sitting down with my Mum and watching a BBC Documentary on the creation of our first piece ‘Fusion Orchestra’. Or recently returning to the ‘World Irish Dance Championships’ 14 years later, this time as guest performers in the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow.
What advice can you offer people wishing to learn Irish dancing?
My advice to anyone wanting to start Irish dance would be to go for it. I would recommend doing a bit of research to find a good teacher and of course it depends if you want to do it just for fun or join the ultra competitive Feis circuit. Either way I definitely recommend it to anyone, it keeps you in good health both physically and mentally and from my experience you meet the most incredible people. If you are from an Intermediate to Advanced Level ‘Fusion Fighters’ are hosting their first eve Summer Festival/Dance Camp in Limerick this Summer.
What are your plans for the future for you and Fusion Fighters?
After a lot of hard work things are finally coming together and I have managed to put in place performance crews in both UK and Ireland for corporate events and festivals. We are currently working on our larger full scale show which is one of the main reasons we are hosting our own week long Festival/Dance Camp in Limerick this summer. We will also be showcasing our work here as part of the student showcase at the Millennium Theatre on August 13th, we hope to be able to recruit some dancers from the festival to join us then for our full scale project later on this year and tentatively planned to tour in 2017.
Is there any venue that you have not yet performed in that you would one day love to?
One very prestigious venue I’ve never performed in is Radio City, NYC. It seems to have eluded me which is quite frustrating because I lived in New York for three years.
Were you surprised by the rapid rise of Fusion Fighters? Has it grown into something more than you had expected?
We have established ourselves in both the UK/IRE and USA where we regularly conduct workshops, charity campaigns, video projects and performances. My work is still anchored with Irish traditions but I also like to explore a broad spectrum of percussive dance styles and present them in different and unique ways. I want it to appeal and relate to today’s generation of Irish dancers and so I like to include a modern feel through various experimental music collaborations and the inclusion of technology.
Although just starting off as a dance crew, it has grown to become a platform and community for Irish dancers and musicians from all over the world to get involved. We regularly feature videos of Irish dancers, usually to modern music or videos with element of fusion. We ask dancers from all over the world to use the hashtag #FFVideoFeature to get noticed by one of our team.
We posted our first video feature last summer and we had no idea it would become so popular (now with 6+ million views). It’s been a fantastic way to promote a different side of Irish dance to the public they don’t normally see and it’s been great to know it’s something that people really want to see more of.