Irish dancing brothers Michael and Matthew Gardiner have been keeping themselves in fine form throughout lockdown despite not being able to perform live shows.
The Galway-based brothers are amongst the world’s leading Irish dancers and like millions of other performers they have been unable to wow audiences at live events due to the covid pandemic.
However, the duo have not let the restrictions slow them down and have built up huge social media followings by posting videos of themselves dancing.
The Gardiners have amassed a whopping 11 million likes on TikTok and gained more than 320,000 followers on Instagram. It is fair to say, the Gardiner brothers are the top names in Irish dancing in 2021.
Now, after months of being confined to their homes, they are preparing to go on tour with Riverdance and perform to live crowds once again.
Raised in the US, Michael and Matthew have been Irish dancing since they were small children and have reached the top of their game with more than 50 major Irish dancing championships between them.
In a rare interview with the Irish Mirror, the brothers explained how they first came to love Irish dance.
Michael said: “Our parents were both musicians. They wanted us to have some of the Irish culture, they thought that was very important.
“So, they put our older sister Anna into the first dance class in Denver and slowly I came along and I said this is something that I’d be interested in.
“I didn’t have much of a choice. I was about three years old but I loved it as well. I went to school, I went to soccer or basketball, and then straight to Irish dancing.”
The brothers then went to study and train in Galway at the Hession School of Irish Dance, and they are still there working as coaches and choreographers.
Michael continued: “We couldn’t have been in a better school in the world. That sounds biased coming from us but we definitely think it was the best school in the world. We joined in 2006 and if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be the dancers we are today at all.”
“We choreograph all our own dances but we choreograph for the Hession school as well.
“It’s such a historic school and it’s an honour to be a part of the choreography team there.”
With the covid pandemic forcing the brothers off the stage and also out of the dance workshop they built up their online presence with numerous great videos showcasing their skills.
Matthew said: “We really wanted to do this for a while now and when the pandemic hit we kind of had that lost time.
“So we started to do it and the goal was to spread the Irish culture as much as possible and show that Irish dancing has become that kind of cool, versatile, art form and we kind of consider it a sport as well.”
“The two of us love all different styles of music. So part of the inspiration is the music, just trying to come up with new moves and trying to really push Irish dancing to its limits and then part of it as well is seeing other styles of dance from all over the world.
“Whether it’s shuffle dancing or flamingo dancing or hip-hop, whatever it is we take inspiration from all of it and try to incorporate it into our Irish dancing videos.”
The videos on the brothers social media pages are professionally edited with great soundtracks and footage of their routines.
However, they revealed that it is not always plain sailing when producing their online content.
The duo explained: “Honestly sometimes it could take a few days to pick the right music, the right part of the music, choreograph the dance, and get the video right.
“Sometimes you take a video and you go home and realise that the tripod wasn’t set up correctly, so you have to go back and do it again. But then other times it could take 30 minutes.
“We could just get real inspiration really quick and say right let’s just go get this video.”
As well as being world champions at their chosen profession, and becoming the top performers and choreographers in their profession, the brothers have always maintained the importance of education too.
Michael is a qualified architect, and Matthew has just completed his degree in civil engineering.
They think capturing the right balance between studying and dancing has helped them succeed in both aspects throughout their careers.
Michael says: “Well actually it’s funny, our best competing years came when we went to college because I think the onus was put on us to balance that lifestyle.
“But I have to say, and I think Matthew will agree, that the Irish dancing and the studies definitely helped each other.
“It really really kept us focused on both aspects.”
They each managed to win All Ireland and World Championship titles in Irish dance while also studying. The Gardiners admit it sometimes it was tricky to find enough hours in the day to get their dance training done.
“Well leading up to a competition, like the All Ireland or the World Championships, it would definitely be, an hour or two hours a day, every single day of the week.
“You’d have one rest day I’d say a week and you’d be competing every weekend so it is full on, you’re really pushing yourself to the limits.”
The pair have certainly won the hearts and minds of all who see their routines. It is also poignant how they now find themselves as the stars of Riverdance, years after first being inspired by Michael Flatley and his team onstage.
Michael said: “So Matthew and I auditioned for Riverdance in 2015 and the two of us have been lucky enough to perform all over the world.
“We were asked to choreograph and dance with Riverdance for the Pope when he came here in 2018 in Croke Park.”
Matthew added: “Growing up as two young boys in Denver, we used to have the old tape of Michael Flately and the original Riverdance cast.
“I was fortunate enough to dance on basically the same stage, so in the same exact venue, 25 years later.
“The original cast was all there watching us and they came up on stage with us at the end so that was just a dream, some true and absolutely amazing.”