Risking it all on dance

'Spirit of the Dance' has evolved from a Jewish Briton's dream to 10 colorful companies touring the world.

spirit of the dance 88 2 (photo credit: )
spirit of the dance 88 2
(photo credit: )
David King stood at the back of the Bristol Hippodrome auditorium one evening in September 1996. His mouth was dry. His palms were sweating. His heart was beating overtime. "You're nuts!" he'd repeatedly been told one way or another over the preceding months, but he'd driven on. Then the curtain rose on his Irish dance extravaganza, Spirit of the Dance, and two hours later a screaming, whistling, standing ovation from a delirious audience was all the validation he needed. Spirit of the Dance is coming here, and will play in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa from January 27 to February 2. Its backbone is Irish dance, but the show is also a celebration of dance styles and genres that include tango, flamenco, jazz, Scots reels and red-hot salsa. Described as a "foot-stomping spectacular that features dynamic lighting, dazzling costumes and breathtaking choreography," it changes every year, "to keep it fresh and to incorporate the latest dance styles," says King. IT ALL started when he saw Riverdance in London. "I thought 'Hey, this is no big deal. It's only dancers dancing. What's all the fuss about? I can do this,'" says King. For all that, he said, it was as if the idea drove out every other thought from his mind. He felt impelled, energized, enabled and he went after his dream like a magnet after iron filings. And in three months he'd written all the music for the show. As a child, King had studied classical piano, he'd written music and songs for weekly family concerts when he was growing up, and continued to compose as an adult, "but they were never commercially used. It seems that Spirit of the Dance was just waiting for me to create it so my music could come out. "Riverdance created a huge market for Irish dance, the whole world was screaming for Irish dance, but they had only this one show, and they couldn't deliver. I saw it as an opportunity and dived in head first." To create the show he gave up his day job as "a not-very-successful agent and manager," which you shouldn't do, say the pundits, and mortgaged everything he owned, which you certainly should never do. Along the way, there were inevitable arguments, creative and other rows, tears and, above all, the constant need to keep everybody together with just promises. It helped "being Jewish. Having determination, courage and the will to go forward, and being a good salesman and schmoozing people that I couldn't pay that week to keep working and keep going." "I'M JEWISH, you know," was the first thing King said in our phone interview, and "we love Israel," the second. He'd just had a two-week vacation in Eilat with his wife and four of their eight children. One daughter is spending a year volunteering in Tel Aviv teaching English, and the family bought a vacation home in Netanya last year. King was born and grew up in Leeds where his family was mostly in the retail clothing business. He had tried a short stint as a comedian "but I didn't have much talent for the stage." These days most of his time is spent "visiting [his] various productions in different parts of the world." Spirit of the Dance has become a phenomenon. To date there are 10 companies touring the world, and some 30 million people have seen the show. Four of those companies are permanently in the US, where King also owns two of the theaters his shows play in, including one in Branson, a Missouri resort town. To keep the shows on the road, the company now has a full-time training school in London, where King makes his home. King dancers must be "fit, healthy and willing to work hard. We employ about 500 dancers at peak periods because apart from Spirit of the Dance, we have a portfolio of different shows I now make." There are some 13 on his Web site, all fast-paced song and dance shows like 12 Irish Tenors and Red Hot Broadway. King's empire is such that much of his early hands-on involvement is now delegated to others. He still creates the ideas, though, and the words with which he concludes his Web bio still hold -"I am the luckiest man in the world, living my dream." Spirit of the Dance will run at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv (January 27-29), Jerusalem International Convention Center (January 30) and International Congress Center in Haifa (January 31-February 2).