ANN SHEA Tennessee Arts Commission and Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga Chattanooga, TN arts.state.tn.us and alliedartschattanooga.org
For Ann Shea, who has been a dance educator for 30 years, there was never any question about her life’s work. “From the first minute of my first summer dance course, when I was 7, I knew that I wanted to be a dance teacher—it was that immediate,” she says.
Since then, Shea has spent her life learning as much as possible about dance and sharing it with others, from professional dancers to K–12 students and especially those with special needs. Her professional accolades include the Tennessee Association of Dance’s 2006 Dance Educator of the Year Award and its Professional Development Award. Based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, she has choreographed more than 50 pieces for organizations including the Orange Grove Center, the Chattanooga Ballet and Dance Theater Workshop. She’s also made works for several high school dance programs in the community.
Formally trained in classical ballet and modern, Shea studied dance at Florida State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree before transferring to the dance program at Texas Woman’s University in Denton. There she received both a master of arts and a doctor of philosophy in dance and related arts.
Shea has long been an avid and tireless advocate for dance and arts education in K–12 schools. For years, she has worked to bring dance to young students via grant-funded workshops and dance literacy outreach efforts. Shea has made special efforts to assist children at inner-city schools, where resources are limited. “We have to get [dance education] to those students who are in financial need,” she says.
Shea also fell in love with special needs students and their desire to learn. “I just observed the signals they sent me in terms of whether they were getting the ideas I was working to transfer,” she says. “I was delighted by how focused they can be.” The staff of the Orange Grove Center for adults and children with developmental disabilities, where Shea has taught dance as an artist-in-resident for several years, says that Shea’s classes help instill confidence and enhance quality of life.
After championing dance education for the disabled for years, Shea was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. But that has not stopped her from teaching. She continues to serve the dance community. “I like teaching little ones; I like teaching grown-ups; I like sharing with anyone who wants to learn about dance,” says Shea. “I want dance education to be accessible, viable and visible.”