CHICAGO – Michael Flatley is a fighter.
Before the Riverdance and Lord of the Dance creator became an international sensation for his Irish dancing, he spent much of his time growing up on Chicago’s South Side as a boxer. Among his accomplishments in the ring were winning the Chicago Golden Gloves middleweight title in the 1980s.
Now, the world-renowned star is battling “an aggressive form of cancer,” according to a post on his social media pages last week.
“He has undergone surgery and is in the care of an excellent team of doctors… We ask only for your prayers and well wishes,” the post read.
Prayers and well-wishes have poured in from South Siders since the announcement.
Leaders from Brother Rice High School said they are “praying for courage, comfort, healing and strength” for their famed alum, who graduated in 1977.
“Let hope fill his soul today and in the days ahead,” they said in a statement.
Flatley began learning Irish dance at South Side’s Dennehy School of Irish Dance under the tutelage of co-founders Dennis and Marge Dennehy, their daughter Kathleen Dennehy told Block Club.
The school, now located in Morgan Park, has been around more than 60 years.
Flatley became a world champion in the under-17 division in 1975, according to the school’s website.
“He was the first American to win the world championships with my parents as his teachers,” said Kathleen Dennehy, now the school director. “Chicago and the Dennehy Irish Dancers are very sad to hear the news of his cancer diagnosis, but know he’s a fighter and are confident he will win this battle.”
Even while achieving success in dancing on the world stage, Flatley has remained active in the boxing world, regularly attending large, professional title bouts, a Chicago Golden Gloves spokesperson said.
“He has often said that when he was a teenager, he had to choose between boxing and Irish dance. Clearly, he made the right choice,” a Golden Gloves spokesperson said. “We know he’ll use his champion’s heart to win his greatest fight.”
Listen to the Block Club Chicago podcast: