Shanna Irwin vividly remembers her introduction to Complexions Contemporary Ballet. She was dancing Clara in the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble's production of The Nutcracker. Guest artists from Complexions performed as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier, and from the moment Irwin saw them dance, she was hooked. Years later, as a senior at Marymount Manhattan College, Complexions co-artistic director Desmond Richardson invited Irwin to fill in for one of his injured dancers for the end of the spring 2014 season, and her long-held dream of performing with the company became a reality. She's been dazzling Complexions' audiences with her undeniable strength, full-bodied performances and eternally lengthened lines ever since.

See her perform June 17 with Complexions at the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit.


How her teachers prepped her for a professional career: "My teachers were very strict because they understood the path I wanted to take with my career. I learned that I should be able to give a choreographer whatever they asked of me as a performer. They taught me to be a clean slate. They wanted every choreographer to clearly see the vision of what they were working for when they saw me dance."

On her rigorous schedule: "I start my days with an hour-and-a-half ballet class at 10 am. We have a quick 15-minute break before going into our long day of rehearsals. Depending on what rep we're working on for our upcoming tour, we'll either work all together as a company or in smaller groups with different choreographers. The full day of dancing ends around 6 pm, and then we start it all again the next morning. When we're on tour, we're usually gone for three to six days at a time. We spend a full day traveling to our venue, rehearse and perform for a few days, and then head right back home."

What she does to stay fit: "The most important part of my fitness routine is my warm-up. I usually start with abdominal exercises and go into simple leg exercises and hip openers (sometimes with added resistance). I then do a series of planks and hamstring stability exercises. Right before class starts I'll work through my feet and ankles with a TheraBand. Outside of my warm-up, I really like to do Pilates and stay active in general. I grew up near a lake, so I love to go kayaking and swimming."

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