Justin Boros knows he’s an unlikely Irish dancer.
He knows that if you passed him on the street, you’d probably take him for a football player. He knows he doesn’t look sprightly.
At 6-foot-4, the strapping Ohio native is the image of his Italian and Greek ancestors: dark eyes, dark hair, dark eyebrows and an olive complexion.
The 28-year-old resembles more of a young Sylvester Stallone than he does Michael Flatley, the blond American-Irish “Lord of the Dance” sensation with whom Boros danced for two-and-a-half years.
“People look at me like, ‘You’re an Irish dancer?’” Boros laughs. “And it’s like, ‘Yeah, I can move my feet!’”
And that he can. When Boros taps his feet, his legs swing like rag-doll limbs on a marionette puppet. The sound of his shoes striking the floor is thunderous. The rhythm is pulsating.
“Irish dancing has sold more tickets than any rock ’n’ roll concert, even U2,” Boros says. “When you get 24 people on stage hitting 35 taps in a second, something magical happens.”
Boros is seated in a narrow hallway at the Irish Dance Academy of Sarasota, where in an hour he’ll join Irish dance teacher Gillian McCormack-Aeppli and five of her female students in a number he’s choreographing for his new Irish dance troupe — “Rhythm in the Night.”
He has a lot riding on this troupe.
After seven years of conceptualizing and re-conceptualizing “Rhythm in the Night,” Boros’ day has finally arrived.
The dance venture, which compelled Boros to get both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, has undergone a transformation since Boros drew up his first business plan five years ago.
Irish dance concerts are no longer the arena-packing stage spectacles they once were.
“Riverdance” is on its farewell tour, and Flatley, who, at 52, staged his “Lord of the Dance” comeback tour this summer, is no longer the hottest ticket in town.
“It’s not as popular as it once was,” says Boros, who grew up at the height of the industry’s popularity. “But people still love it.”
Boros ordered his first pair of hard shoes off the Internet when he was 16 years old. The purchase was unusual for a teenage boy, much less a teenage boy who was also a starter on his high school basketball team.
Boros’ curiosity for the dance grew out of watching a CNN segment on Flatley, who shook up the Irish dance world in 1995 when he left his post as principal choreographer of “Riverdance” to start his own blockbuster Irish dance production.
“He was just really inspirational,” Boros says of Flatley. “I wouldn’t have had the courage to start my troupe without him.”
Boros taught himself how to dance on a 4-by-8-foot piece of plywood in his parents’ basement. A perfectionist, he would stay up until 5 a.m., softly tapping to the glow and static hum of “Lord of the Dance” on VHS.
Soon he quit the basketball team.
“You can imagine what my friends said,” Boros says. “But it’s like what Michael Flatley always said: ‘The more negativity you get, the more you know you’re getting closer to your goal.’”
He landed his first gig at 17 when he auditioned for the “Best of Michael Flatley’s ‘Lord of the Dance’” at Walt Disney World’s Epcot. At 18, he was hired for the production’s full-length tour.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” Boros says. “We’d do these meet-and-greets after the shows and it was nuts. I don’t want to say we had groupies, because they were older people, but they definitely followed us from city to city.”
Boros scaled down “Rhythm in the Night” to focus on filling smaller venues and creating more intimate shows.
A downtown Sarasota resident, he says he wants to keep the troupe based in Sarasota. His main goal, however, is to land a gig on a Royal Caribbean or Carnival cruise line.
“The audience wants fast rhythms, hard shoes, great music and a good storyline,” Boros says. “Being in a smaller venue means everyone will feel the taps. That’s what makes Irish dancing great. It’s not sitting in the back of a 100,000-seat venue where you can’t see or experience the dancer’s feet.”
The 10-member troupe will perform with the City of Sarasota Pipe Band Nov. 13, at the Irish Rover Pub in Gulf Gate, opening for AC/DC’s Brian Johnson, whose addition to the bill last week added more oomph to Boros’ Sarasota debut.
“In my opinion, we’re going to exceed the audience’s expectations,” says Boros, who unlike his idol, Flatley, will not play the hero of the show.
“I play the bad guy,” Boros says. “I can’t play the good guy with my build and dark hair.”
What keeps Boros moving?
Dave Matthews Band
“He’s one of those guys who always knows exactly what he’s doing and what everyone else is doing.”
“I wear track pants and a jacket for practice, so I don’t sweat all over the girls. A lot of people who are unfamiliar with Irish dancing think I wear tights. There are no tights involved for the guys –– not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“I go to the gym four or five times a week. I mostly lift weights. I leave my cardio to dancing.”
“I’m infamous for eating 12 eggs at a time. I’ll eat grilled chicken for breakfast. It’s good protein.”
if you go
“Rhythm in the Night” will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Irish Rover Pub, 6518 Gateway Ave. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/rhythminthenight.