When unknown group Riverdance exploded onto the world stage at 1994's Eurovision

17 November 2020, 15:42 | Updated: 17 November 2020, 16:54

Irish dance champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley were recruited to choreograph and showcase Ireland's talents to the world and put on a show as the Ireland's interval act at Eurovision 1994.
Irish dance champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley were recruited to choreograph and showcase Ireland's talents to the world and put on a show as the Ireland's interval act at Eurovision 1994. Picture: Riverdance

Michael Flatley and his team of dancers became overnight sensations on the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994 when they performed a flawless seven minute Irish dance in front of a TV audience of millions.

It's hard to deny that Riverdance wasn't one of the biggest - if not the biggest - cultural sensation of the '90s.

The Irish dance troupe would go on to become one of the most famous and successful stage acts in the world, visiting over 450 venues worldwide and performing for over 250 million people, yet in the early '90s you'd be hard pushed to find anyone who had any interest in Irish dancing at all.

See more: QUIZ: Take on the ultimate Eurovision trivia test!

So how did an unknown niche group of dancers capture the public's imagination and take the world by storm? It all began in Dublin on the night of April 30, 1994 during the interval act of a little singing contest called Eurovision.

Turning the traditional Irish Step Dance on its head, stiff upper bodies and no arm movements were replaced by Flatley's elaborate, passionate dance moves as he battled a 'dance off' with the four drummers on stage.
Turning the traditional Irish Step Dance on its head, stiff upper bodies and no arm movements were replaced by Flatley's elaborate, passionate dance moves as he battled a 'dance off' with the four drummers on stage. Picture: Riverdance
So how did an unknown niche group of dancers capture the public's imagination and take the world by storm? It all began in Dublin on the night of April 30, 1994 during the interval act of a little singing contest called Eurovision.
How did an unknown niche group of dancers capture the public's imagination and take the world by storm? It all began in Dublin on the night of April 30, 1994 during the interval act of a little singing contest called Eurovision. Picture: Riverdance
Jean Butler (pictured) and Michael Flatley choreographed and performed the famous dance.
Jean Butler (pictured) and Michael Flatley choreographed and performed the famous dance. Picture: Riverdance

Irish dance champions Jean Butler and Michael Flatley were recruited to choreograph and showcase Ireland's talents to the world and put on a show as the country's interval act.

See more: The 15 best Eurovision songs of all time, ranked in order of cheesy greatness

But what is normally a staid and traditional dance was transformed by the pair, and thanks to the vision of husband and wife production team John McColgan and Moya Doherty ad music by Bill Whelan, the seven minute performance exploded onto the world stage and has become widely regarded as the best interval act in Eurovision's 64-year history.

See more: Bucks Fizz perform 'Making Your Mind Up' in brilliant video reunion

In front of an audience of 300 million people, vocal ensemble Anúna opened the seven minute show with a haunting soundtrack lead by soloist Kate McMahon.

Jean then joined him once more for a highly charged dance between the pair - the likes no traditional Irish dancers had ever seen - before an army of dancers join ranks for the stunning crescendo.
Jean then joined him once more for a highly charged dance between the pair - the likes no traditional Irish dancers had ever seen - before an army of dancers join ranks for the stunning crescendo. Picture: Riverdance
The stage filling with black-clad dancers in formation, the group perform a flawless Irish dance in perfect step, bringing the incredible performance to a rousing ending.
The stage filling with black-clad dancers in formation, the group perform a flawless Irish dance in perfect step, bringing the incredible performance to a rousing ending. Picture: Riverdance

Jean Butler then appeared, and throwing off a large cloak performs an elegant Irish dance, transfixing viewers as she travelled across the stage showcasing movements with ballet and flamenco influences, before the explosive entrance of the one and only Michael Flatley.

See more: QUIZ: Can you identify the flags of these Eurovision nations?

Turning the traditional Irish Step Dance on its head, stiff upper bodies and no arm movements were replaced by Flatley's elaborate, passionate dance moves as he battled a 'dance off' with the four drummers on stage.

Jean then joined him once more for a highly charged dance between the pair - the likes no traditional Irish dancers had ever seen - before an army of dancers join ranks for the stunning crescendo.

See more: Eurovision winning songs: Past winners and hit songs list in full

The stage filling with black-clad dancers in formation, the group perform a flawless Irish dance in perfect step, bringing the incredible performance to a rousing ending.

Michael Flatley, 62, is now one of the most famous male dancers in the world, earning the nickname 'Lord Of The Dance' and an estimated fortune of $350 million.
Michael Flatley, 62, is now one of the most famous male dancers in the world, earning the nickname 'Lord Of The Dance' and an estimated fortune of $350 million. Picture: Getty

4,000 people were on their feet in the studio audience, and no doubt thousands more at home, and it's clear to see the presenters and viewers alike knew they'd just witnessed something special.

The rest, as they say, is not only theatrical history but chart history too: 'Riverdance' was released as a single straight after Eurovision debuted at No. 1 in Ireland, staying there for 18 weeks.

See more: 8 singers you totally forgot did Eurovision

'Riverdance' is still the second highest-selling single of all time in Ireland, behind only Elton John's 1997 'Candle In The Wind' and when it was released in the UK went straight to the top of the charts and is still the all-time best-selling music video in the history of the UK chart.