A Conversation With Kevin Shannon of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Shannon trained at Wally Saunders Dance Studio, Baltimore School for the Arts and The Juilliard School. Photo by Quinn B. Wharton, courtesy of HSD

Kevin Shannon was raised on classic movies starring Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. By the time he was 10 and saw Gregory Hines perform Jelly's Last Jam live, he let his mom know that was what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. It was at The Juilliard School where the diversity in repertoire at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago caught his eye. He joined the company six months after graduation and has been there for the past 11 years. "I wanted to go somewhere I could be challenged all the time," he says.

This month you can see Shannon perform with Hubbard Street as the company tours works created by contemporary choreographer and viral dance video star Emma Portner, and hip-hop choreographer and jookin sensation Lil Buck. "I'm excited to work with Emma and see what energy she brings to the company at just 23 years old," Shannon says. "And jookin with Lil Buck will be totally out of my comfort zone. I'm curious to see how it translates into my body."

On keeping things fresh after 11 years with Hubbard Street "This year we had our 40th-anniversary season, and we brought back pieces that I did when I first joined the company. It's great to see someone do a part that used to be mine and see their interpretation of it. Being here as long as I have, I'm not as precious about the work. I love it, but now it's more about community and sharing these experiences with other dancers."

On his evolution as a dancer "Things get harder in some ways, and easier in others. Physically, dance gets harder. But mentally, I'm much less stressed because I know the work well, and know that whatever happens, it will be OK. If something goes wrong onstage, I know I can figure it out. I understand that I am sharing with the audience, and that's the most important thing. I can let go of the nervousness and anxiety that comes with performing. It's still there at times, but it's not like when I was younger."

On taking care of his body "I do a lot of physical therapy, stretching and dry needling. We have an hour each day that we can sign up to work with a physical therapist that the company brings in. Mostly, though, I have learned how to work intelligently. At some point, I had to figure out how to do all of the work we do without injuring myself. When I was young, I would feel the need to do each combination 20 different times in order to push myself or be recognized. Now, I know how to just do the combination twice, but work thoughtfully."

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.