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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."

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

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Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

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Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

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Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

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Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

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Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

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Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

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Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

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We can't wait to see what you come up with!

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Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

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Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

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