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Ballas, with dancers Matthew Bezzant and Abigail Werner. Photo by and courtesy of Deanna Werner

Shirley Ballas is known in the ballroom world as the Queen of Latin. In competition, she was a standout dancer, winning numerous titles with her partners, including British Open to the World Latin American champion (three times), United States Latin American champion (10 times) and British National champion (multiple times). In 1996, she stopped competing and focused her career on coaching couples and judging competitions internationally. In 2017 she became the head judge on the hit BBC show "Strictly Come Dancing."

"As a woman, I'm particularly grateful for the success I've had in this industry," she says. "The most powerful people in ballroom are predominantly men. So for a woman to get to where I have gotten to is huge." She admits it has taken a great deal of determination, an attitude she recommends all women adopt. "You have to go out there and take it," she says. "That has been the story of my life. Be an extremely focused person, and don't take no for an answer. Be a team player, a team leader and a positive presence. Surround yourself with people who want the same things for you."

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Photo courtesy of NYCDA

In March 2018, Jennifer Knostman got a call from her son, Harrison. When she picked up, all she could hear was sobbing on the other end. After a brief second of anticipation, she finally heard him exclaim "Mom! I got into Juilliard!"

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Photo courtesy of Shed

In 1992 while studying early childhood education at Texas A&M University, Lisa Shed decided to make the bold move of starting her own dance studio, Lisa's Dance Connection, 90 miles away in her hometown of Temple, Texas. Three days a week she would make the commute to teach her eight young students, then wake up the next morning at 6 am to make it to her 8 am class at school. Each year the studio would double or triple in size, and by the time she graduated college, she had more than 100 students. At that point she moved back to Temple and invested all of her time and energy into developing her studio. Since then, they've outgrown multiple building locations, and today she has an impressive 500 students and counting.

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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.

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