As a talented teenager, James Keegan’s life could have gone one of two ways – football or dancing.
But breaking his leg threw everything into jeopardy. However he is now a lead in the Lord of The Dance company, which brings its new show, Dangerous Games, to Portsmouth next week.
James was winning international Irish dance competitions and had been for trials with Manchester United when disaster struck.
James recalls: ‘It was a massive shock because I’d never not been active since as long as I could remember. I was told it would heal fine and it did, but it was coming back afterwards, I tried to jump back in as if nothing had happened, and I ended up with shin splints.
‘It’s one of those injuries where there’s nothing visually wrong with you, I even had football coaches and dancing teachers who didn’t really understand it as I could play football for 15 minutes absolutely fine and then I could hardly walk because the pain set in.
‘I wasn’t really understanding it. It was a real struggle mentally as well, I struggled quite a while after that. I was thinking ‘‘is this it, the end of both dreams?’’ I always hoped, or was quietly confident I would succeed in one or the other, but now I was thinking they were both gone and it was a worrying time.’
The reaction back from the crowd every night, it is like scoring a goal for your football teamJames Keegan
But as he got back to winning ways with his dancing he was spotted by Marie Duffy Pask, head choreographer of the Lords who works closely with the show’s creator Michael Flatley.
‘She saw I was winning and I was coming of an age where I could be a professional dancer. I was still in my last year of school, but she said come along anyway because it will be good experience. I got offered a place about a month later for that summer – I finished school and went straight into it.’
Rising through the ranks, 14 years on James is now one of the leads.
‘It goes quickly. But I love it, and the transition was so quick from people looking out for me and being mentored, to being the one teaching the younger ones and passing on the tips.’
The son of Irish parents who had moved to Manchester before he was born, James had been going to Irish dance classes since he was four.
‘They danced and they wanted to keep some Irish culture in the family. My sisters danced and played some music, but I guess you could say I was thrown into the class by the back of my pants to get me out of the way for a couple of hours. Luckily I took to it. I do remember kicking and screaming for a while though, but it went from there. I won a couple of trophies and I stuck to it.’
And with the football and dancing he remembers his childhood as being ‘pretty hectic,’ fitting in all the training, competitions and matches.‘I look back now, and think how did I do it? But when you’re a kid, you can’t get enough.’
Although the risk of injury means James can’t play football for now, he has no regrets. ‘This is the best job ever – touring with 30 of my mates, doing something I love. The reaction back from the crowd every night, it is like scoring a goal for your football team, the feeling you’d get, but you get that every single night.’
LORD OF THE DANCE: DANGEROUS GAMES