RIVERDANCE first came into the spotlight in 1995 and was an immediate success, making a star of lead dancer Michael Flatley.

The traditional Irish step dancing has been enduringly popular ever since, with numerous world tours.

But after 13 years, the music and dance extravaganza is coming to an end — it has been decided the ninth tour will be the last.

For the farewell tour, the role of lead male dancer has gone to Ohio-born Joe Moriarty.

Joe — who has been Irish dancing since the age of eight (he’s 28 now) and has competed at the World Championships on three occasions, ranking in the top five — explained the show's popularity.

“It’s got something for everyone,” he said. “Spanish, American, Russian choreography as well as Irish.

“The rhythm of the footwork is music itself.”

Joe joined Riverdance in August 1997 and he is only the second North American dancer to be the male lead dancer in the history of the show.

The farewell tour is breaking box office records as fans clamour to see the show one last time.

“The shows have been great and it’s totally selling out," said Joe. “In fact, at the Hammersmith Apollo, they had to sell standing room only tickets.”

The sheer energy and power of the steps makes a gruelling schedule for the dancers.

“It can be quite hectic,” said Joe. “At first, you have to learn the dances and even though we are all world class dancers it takes a few weeks.”

But once they’ve got to grips with it, it’s just a matter of keeping it going.

“We rehearse every day, but once we are on tour we don’t need to rehearse as much as we’re doing it every day — sometimes twice a day. We then do a run through every so often just to keep it topped up.

“There’s a wide range of injuries as we put a lot of stress on the balls of our feet, the knee joints and lower back, but we have a physiotherapist who travels with us and puts us back together again.

“Warming up and cooling down are very important and we always have ice buckets on standby.”

“I sprained my ankle twice on the tour and was out of the show for a week each time. It depends on the person, but I reckon you can dance up to your mid-30s.”

Riverdance is a celebration of Irish dance and culture and apart from the millions who have seen it live, over two billion people have seen it on television.

Not bad for something that started out as a fill-in for an interval.

l See Riverdance — The Farewell Tour at Manchester Opera House, Monday to Saturday, 23 to 28 March. Call box office on 0844 847 2328.