WEST VALLEY CITY — Alan Scariff and Kieran Hardiman were having a conversation, and some people listening in thought it was an act.
"A few people were like, 'Oh, look at them faking the Irish accent,'" Hardiman said.
Hardiman and Scariff are, actually, very authentic Irishmen. You can tell by their brogues: Scariff's is as thick as stew and often difficult to decipher. And you can tell by how they move their feet.
Hardiman and Scariff are professional Irish stepdancers and former cast members of "Riverdance," the theatrical production that propelled Irish dance into American popular culture.
And now they're Utahns.
As soon as I started going to competitions, I started winning a few things and realizing I started getting good at it. I just kept at it.
Scariff began dancing at age 4 at his aunt's dance school back home in Galway on the west coast of Ireland. By the time he was a teenager, he was world champion stepdancer.
His friend, Hardiman, also of Galway, started dancing when he was 9.
"It was basically my mother throw me into the class," Hardiman said. "My sister loved it. I really didn't like it at all. As soon as I started going to competitions, I started winning a few things and realizing I started getting good at it. I just kept at it."
In 1994, the boys discovered there was more to stepdancing than competition. That's when, during a broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest, they watched a performance of what would become "Riverdance."
"I think (choreographer/dancer) Michael Flately, dancing Riverdance, opened a window for a lot of young kids young boys like myself," Scariff said. "We knew it wasn't about a girly thing anymore."
"I think (choreographer/dancer) Michael Flately, dancing Riverdance, opened a window for a lot of young kids young boys like myself." Alan Scariff, Irish dancer
"It wasn't about competing anymore. You had the opportunity to dance like in a show like ‘Riverdance.'"
Scariff was just 16 when he traveled to Germany, Australia and North America with an Irish dance show. Hardiman was 15 when he went on the road.
A year later, Scariff joined the cast of "Riverdance" and eventually landed the lead. Hardiman also toured with the show.
More than three dozen countries and a decade later, the two men had grown tired of living out of suitcases and began to talk about running a dance school back in Galway.
They were on holiday in the United States last year, when they were asked to teach at a dance camp at the Crawford School of Irish Dance in Salt Lake City.
A week-long engagement became a full-time job when Hardiman, Scariff and Scariff's brother, a former "Lord of the Dance" dancer who teaches in Florida, bought the school from the Crawfords.
Lindsay Mitchell, mother of a student, remembers seeing Alan perform at Kingsbury Hall just a few months prior. "So it still kind of floors me that he's here now teaching my kids."
"The boys love it, everybody loves it, but it's really kind of rejuvenated a lot of the young men here because you just don't see other men dancing the way they do," Mitchell said.
During a recent class in their West Valley City studio, Hardiman and Scariff put students, young and older, through three hours of kicking, stomping and jumping. Scariff barked out orders with the intensity that, no doubt, helped make him a world champion.
"We're pretty strict on them," Scariff said. "We do it the Irish way."
"You can't afford to sit back anymore if you want to get out there and win," he said.
That's one of Hardiman and Scariff's new dreams — to develop some of these young dancers into world champions like themselves.
The Irishmen say, outside of class, they're learning to live like Utahns.
"All the parents were bringing us water skiing, shooting guns out in the wild, motorbiking and all that," Hardiman says. "We wouldn't dream of doing them kind of things in Ireland."
They had a meeting with a KSL producer at Starbucks. Back home, that meeting would have taken place at a pub.
Ireland's a bit "mad," they say. Utah is much quieter.
Asked if they're here to stay, the two friends answer in unison, "This is our home."