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Championship dancer Tristan MacManus: Irish addition to ‘Dancing With The Stars’

By R.J. Donovan, Special to the Reporter, special to the BIR, July 5, 2011

By R. J. Donovan
Special to The BIR

Fans of ABC-TV’s “Dancing With The Stars” may have noticed that a good-looking young Irishman joined the show this past season as a member of The Dance Troupe. His name is Tristan MacManus, but what not everyone may know is that he taught dancing here in Boston several years ago.

The Troupe was a new element this past season—six world-renowned, award-winning dancers who appeared on each of the Tuesday night Results Shows, performing presentation pieces as well as appearing with the special musical guest artists (Hanson, Toby Keith and OneRepublic, among others). McManus also had a chance to choreograph a couple of The Troupe’s numbers himself. He expects to return to the cast when “DWTS” reconvenes for its new season in September. He’s also crossing his fingers about being promoted to become one of the featured pros competing with a celebrity.

While waiting for rehearsals to begin later this summer, he and fellow “DWTS” colleagues Chelsie Hightower and Peta Murgatroyd have been on a USO tour, traveling to military bases around the world, talking with the troops and performing. When we were last in touch, he was in Germany.

A native of Bray, McManus started dancing when he was nine years old, encouraged by his grandparents, Jon and Phyllis McCann, who were, and are, dancers. “They got us into it, myself and my sister. My sister didn’t last too long. She didn’t like the attention, I suppose. Apparently I did,” he said with a laugh.

McManus danced extensively in Ireland and Europe, capturing numerous titles. After winning the All Ireland Championships for the last time in 2000, he moved on to perform in musical theater. Following a highly successful tour of “Simply Ballroom,” initially in London and then in Las Vegas, he was back in London’s West End where he performed in the stage version of “Dirty Dancing.”

He also served as the production’s Dance Captain and Ballroom Supervisor. He subsequently joined the dance spectacular “Burn The Floor,” playing everywhere from New Zealand to Boston’s own Wang Theatre. He also appeared in the film “Ella Enchanted.”

Earlier in his career, McManus divided his time between dancing and sports. “I was playing football—well, soccer. Where I come from, you don’t really dance, you know. I think I was at the age, where, I suppose, I wanted to do what all me friends were doing. I gave up dancing for a while, and then I realized I wasn’t as good at football as I thought I was. I decided to go back to dancing, and that’s when I went back to ‘Burn The Floor.’ “

He had also given up dancing briefly because he’d grown tired of the grind of competition. At the time, he felt “It was taking the fun out of it … I think that’s why I went into musical theater really, because it gave me a different perspective on it. And it was only then that I realized why it was so important to compete. I appreciated it more.”

His jump to “Dancing With The Stars” was by chance, he explained, chatting from his home in Los Angeles. The show’s producers first approached him while he was in “Burn The Floor.” He’d been in the company on and off, and the call came just after he’d returned to the tour. “I had only been back in for two or three weeks, so I told them that I wouldn’t be able to do it that time around. But I was lucky enough that they came back a couple of months later when the new season was starting and asked if I’d be available.”

His first appearance on the show last spring stands out as being particularly exciting. Maksim Chmerkovskiy choreographed Jennifer Lopez’s “On The Floor” for the full company. “It was fun,” he said, “because the professionals started the number. Then they all came off stage, (and) we came on stage, so that in itself was our first introduction to everybody. To get to the end and see the reaction to it—that was a bit unreal.”

Fans have also picked up on his tendency to stick his tongue out when he dances. “It’s a funny one,” he laughed, “because I don’t really know where it came from. I kind of get carried away with me-self a little bit and me tongue comes out. I never realized I did it.”

His time in Boston came as a result of an injury he suffered during one of the “Burn The Floor” tours. “I hurt my knee and had to have an operation … Unfortunately, I wasn’t recovered in time to go back on the next tour, so I needed something else to do. And I got contacted by Chris Johnston who owns a dance studio there in Boston.”

He wound up teaching for a year at SuperShag Dance Studios in Charlestown. “Again, it was a new experience, and something I wanted to do,” he said. “Teaching Ballroom and Latin … It was great … I think after every different experience it’s nice to go back and teach … I’d definitely like to do it again.”

That was three years ago and he still has fond memories of Boston. “I used to like knocking about the Irish bars,” he said. “At the time I was there, the Celtics had just won [the championship] and where I was staying was just beside the Garden, that was pretty cool.”

McManus feels the abundance of dance shows on stage and television has provided a major popularity boost for the art of dancing itself. And the celebrity element has only added to the intrigue because, “Whatever profession they come from, TV or sports or whatever, [the public] already has a connection to that person. … And there’s always that kind of a surprise when someone comes into something they don’t generally do and performs it so well. It’s an eye-opener really.” He added, “A lot of people thought ballroom dancing was kind of something that your grandparents did. “With these shows, it’s a lot easier to relate to something when someone you know is doing it.”

Thanks to his own hard work and dedication as well as the enthusiastic fan base supporting “DWTS,” McManus received praise and exposure on everything from YouTube to “Entertainment Tonight.” In fact, one New York Post writer claimed that he’d done “top notch work on stage, screen and my heart.”

Of his newfound popularity, Tristan McManus says modestly: “It’s very unexpected. But I’m enjoying it.”

R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com.

ABC-TV’s “Dancing With The Stars” returns for its 13th season on Sept. 19, airing locally on WCVB-TV, Channel 5.

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