The Irish-dancing brothers taking up TikTok
Irish dancing might not come to mind when you think of the word “influencer,” but two American-born Galway brothers are likely to change that narrative.
The Gardiner Brothers, Michael and Matthew, have 188,000 followers on Instagram and more than 530,000 followers on TikTok, thanks to their Irish dance routines that focus on contemporary and traditional music. Together, the Riverdancers have over 50 major championship titles, including five world championships, and made Irish dance history in 2015 by winning world titles in the same year.
The brothers live in Clarinbridge, Co Galway, after moving from Denver, Colorado in 2006. “Our mother Marianne was a semi-professional musician in Denver,” Michael says of Zoom. “She played the violin in a band called The Chancers and played instruments all her life. Music is probably more of a hobby for Dad. Their plan was to stay in the US for two years, but in the end they stayed for 20 years. “
The brothers followed their older sister into the dance. “My sister started first, and when I was around four years old I started looking my head in the door,” says Michael. “Even as a small child, I remember being very entertained by the rhythms. It was just so attractive to make those noises with your feet and jump around the room to that beautiful music. I responded to it at a young age. “
“For me it was a part of life from a young age – I went to school, then to soccer practice and then to dancing,” says Matthew with a shrug. “I just thought it was normal. In hindsight, it probably helped that there was a pretty big boys class in Denver. “
The same applied to the renowned Hession School of Irish Dance on their return to Ireland. You now teach and choreograph for the school: “In our opinion, they are the best in the world. Without them we wouldn’t be who we are as dancers. “
Likewise, the brothers credit their families for helping them achieve their goals. “The whole family has been emotionally involved throughout our competitive career,” says Matthew. “Irish dancing is an amateur sport, so if you want to compete at the highest level, you’ll have to pay for your own classes, flights, accommodations, etc.”
“It’s like any sport,” Michael repeats. “When you are up you make a lot of sacrifices and we owe a lot to our parents. We never wanted anything. If we had to go to Montreal for the World Cup, the whole family would be flying to Montreal. “
The brothers often refer to Irish dance as a “sport”. “It’s not that we don’t consider Irish dance an art form because it obviously is,” says Michael. “We consider it a sport because it is extremely athletic, but also because of the hours of training you did for a world championship. You train every day, you compete every weekend, you have to take care of yourself mentally and physically … I think we always considered it a sport because like soccer training it was just another training session. ”
Both brothers were performing on the Riverdance 25th Anniversary Show tour when the coronavirus crisis hit last spring – Matthew at the 3Arena in Dublin and Michael at Radio City Music Hall in New York. “Riverdance almost defined Irish culture around the world and really put it on the map. As little boys who grew up in Denver, who would have thought that I would perform in the same venue as the original Riverdance cast? “Says Matthew.
The void in touring meant the brothers had more time to spare – they set up their TikTok account and quickly garnered over half a million followers on the platform, which is known for its short, voice-over videos. “We decided to show what we can do with our own talent, but also to promote Irish culture and show how versatile and modern Irish dance has become,” says Matthew.
“At first we did it for our own entertainment and to keep fit, then people would ask us what we were going to do next and suggest songs,” says Michael. “It’s also important to keep an eye on the trends,” says Matthew of the latest trends. “With something like the Sea Shanty, people want to see that at this particular time.”
Do you have critics for the music you dance to? “We love traditional music, but it’s fun to show that Irish dancing doesn’t have to be traditional music – it can be Eminem or Tiësto,” says Michael. “There’s the dance we create and the song we play – it’s very subjective – some fans may like it and others don’t, so the point is to keep confusing it.”
The past year has been a steep learning curve when it comes to grabbing the attention of fans online and they have learned a lot about lighting, camera angles, and posting to followers in different time zones. “We posted a video for In Sight by Benedict Morris in early 2021. We multiplied ourselves in the video and had various moving shots, stills, dance layers … we realized that it was a culmination of everything we learned about last year. “
Last winter they supported Pieta House to promote the charity’s virtual run. “We did 10,000 pushups in a month. It was our attempt to encourage people to exercise – it’s so important to take care of our physical and mental health. “
It seems that both of them set high standards for themselves, not just in terms of their dance, but also in terms of their education and personal life. Michael is a qualified architect and Matthew is currently in his senior year of civil engineering at NUI Galway. “Our parents are always rooted in us to do our best,” they say. “It might not make you the best, but it’s about doing your best and we apply that to all aspects of our lives – from dancing to our friendships to our studies.”
While the brothers are just getting used to their newfound status as social media influencers, they have acted as national ambassadors for Culture Night 2020 and recently signed a contract with Andrea Roche’s AR Talent Agency that is considered a premiere for Irish dancers. You already worked with the fast food chain McDonald’s. “Not Supermac as Galway boys?” I ask with false disbelief. “We’re just waiting for the call,” they grin.
Instagram: @ Gardinerbrothers
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