"To be honest, I was none to pleased about it," he said. "I wanted to be out kicking a football and playing with my buddies."
Cunningham said Irish dance is still very big in Ireland, still very much part of the culture. Of course, not every boy or girl is good at it.
Cunningham was very good at it. He won major Irish dance awards, including several Ulster, British and North American championships, as well as runner-up spots in the All-Ireland and World championships.
When he turned 18, Cunningham joined "Lord of the Dance" and has been touring the world ever since.
He said his mother still ribs him about being reluctant to take those first dance lessons when he was a kid. She tells him, "Now aren't you glad I dragged you down to those Irish dance classes?"
"It's a bit of a running joke when I get home," he said.
Not that he sees a lot of home. Tours seem to come one after the other, but it's good to be working. Cunningham is ever mindful that a touring dancer is just another kind of professional athlete. There are only so many good years, only so many years any of them can keep up the pace before the wear and tear takes its inevitable toll.
However, Cunningham said he's doing fine thanks to a little luck (no serious injuries) and because of the dance itself.
"It keeps us fit," he said. "When you're doing this six times a week, you can't get any fitter. That high level of exercise, you just can't replicate it anywhere else."
And there's no getting bored with the show. It's always challenging, and lately, it's sort of new. A few years ago, Flatley brought all the dancers for the two touring shows together to revise and update dances, costumes, sets and lights.
"I almost had to learn to dance in a new way to compliment the music," Cunningham said.
That's not a complaint. Cunningham seemed genuinely pleased to get to be able to do what he does night after night.
"We all love it," he said.
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.