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Colleen Shaughnessy ’12

“You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.”

-William W. Purkey
Above:  Colleen dancing in a self-choreographed solo in “18 Hands.”  Photo by Glen Bering.

Although author William Purkey utilized the metaphor of dancing to inspire individuals to live their lives to the fullest, what if living your life to the fullest included literally dancing like there’s nobody watching? Performers must consistently put aside their fears of what others think of them in order to portray realistic passion and emotion throughout a performance. For Senior, Colleen Shaughnessy, Dance Major and Movement Science Minor at the University of Michigan, this is her reality. Starting dancing at the early age of three, Colleen always knew that she wanted to be a ballerina. Where this may have been the dream of many little girls while growing up, Colleen’s natural talent and hard work, allowed her to be where she is today and also allowed her to land an internship with the prestigious dance company, the Paul Taylor Company in New York City this past summer. Colleen is also the President of the Dance Student Assembly at U of M, which works closely with Michigan’s Dance Department to represent a voice for the major’s students.
Above:  Colleen dancing in a work she choreographed called “Body Politics.”  She is pictured with Kelli Yapp, a U of M sophomore who is VP of DSA.  Photo by Glen Bering.
“When I came to college I took my first modern class and fell in love with contemporary work as well.
When I’m not in the studio I love trying to just be a normal college student. I love going out with my friends, spending time with my boyfriend, and going to football games.”
-Colleen Shaughnessy

HC: Michigan is well known for its prestigious Music, Theater and Dance Schools, but how and why did you chose to come to U of M? Were you considering other schools? 
Colleen:Being from West Bloomfield, Michigan, I was really hesitant to go to a school in state, especially for dance. I only applied to one and it was Michigan. Every other dance program I auditioned for was out of state. I had my heart set on New York University. I was close to going there, but when I came for my audition at Michigan, I fell in love. It just felt like home and I’ve never looked back. Michigan allows me to be both a normal college student and a dancer. When I’m not in the studio, I love going out with my friends, spending time with my boyfriend and going to football games.
HC: I love to hear that even ballet dancers are Michigan fans! GO BLUE! Since you said you fell in love with Michigan’s campus, what is your favorite place on campus? 
C: It’s actually the dance building. Over the past 8 years I’ve danced all over the country, but there’s nothing like being in a comfortable space where people love and support you. The work that I’ve accomplished in that building and the work I’ve seen other people accomplish inspires me every time I walk through the door. I know next year when I’m fighting my way through the big city I’ll be missing it. ??
HC: I’m sure not all of our readers are familiar with the Dance Student Assembly (DSA). Can you explain what it is and what types of events the DSA holds.
C: The Dance Student Assembly (DSA) is an important student-run organization in the dance department. We serve multiple purposes, but our main responsibility is to act as a liaison between the students and professors in the dance department. We are a small department within a large university, so it’s important that we have a close relationship between students and faculty. DSA helps represent the student’s interests, concerns, and issues relating to policies in the Department. But, we also host a lot of events, organize activities and keep people informed, and sell dance department apparel. We’re hoping to even be starting a grant program next year that supports student work. There is a student representative from each class and some classes have more than one. We also have both first and second year graduate students represented. I am the President, sophomore dancer Kelli Yapp is the Vice-President, and Chrissy Papetti is Treasurer.
Every month we hold an open “dance jam.” We invite all students at the University to join us for an open dance class taught by one of the dance major students. We change the theme every month and so far this year we’ve had a hip-hop, jazz, and contemporary event. They’re very fun and a great chance for us to welcome people into our “home” and show them what we’re all about as well as encouraging them to have fun while dancing. It’s great to see dancers come in who haven’t danced since high school, but also to see new people who have never taken a dance class in their life. It’s $5 to come take the class.
HC: What are some of your responsibilities as DSA President?
C: As DSA president, I organize events as well as group meetings amongst the student board as well as among the faculty. We’re very close with the dance department chair, Angela Kane, and meet with her monthly to discuss what’s working, what isn’t working, and what could be better within the department. I make sure that DSA representatives encourage students within the major to communicate their needs.
HC: Are you involved in any other student organizations?
C: I used to be a part of a dance group called Pure, but since I am President of DSA and a dance major with a minor, I have enough on my plate. I try to have a bit of normalcy in my life, too.
HC: I’m sure you get asked this all the time, especially in such a competitive industry, but what are your future career aspirations?
C: I’m hoping that after winter term I’ll be moving to a city to dance with a professional company. I’ve worked with companies all over the country and know that it is definitely what I would like to do. ?
HC: What is your favorite genre of dance?
C: I’ve always done ballet, so I have a soft spot for anything graceful and pretty, but I also love the athleticism of modern. As soon as I learned that it was just as difficult to dive down to the floor as it is to balance with your leg next to your head, I gained an incredible amount of respect for modern dance. Contemporary dance is now my favorite style. I love the work of Alonzo King, Ohad Naharin, and Jiri Kylian. I believe artists like these balance beauty and strength in an inspiring way.
HC: Can you tell me a little bit about the Paul Taylor Dance Company? How did you land an internship with the company? What did your internship entail? 
C: My history with the Paul Taylor Dance Company actually started on the day of my audition for Michigan. The chair of the department, Angela Kane, asked me about modern companies I enjoyed. Paul Taylor was one of the only companies I knew and when I expressed my interest in them, she informed me of the brand new summer program that the Paul Taylor Company was starting in Ann Arbor that summer.
Well, 4 years later, I’ve done that summer intensive twice, I have performed in the restaging of Paul Taylor’s famous work “Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal)” on the same bill as the Company, and last year I went to New York to intern with them. It was an incredible experience. I received an internship that allowed me to learn the marketing and business side of the dance industry with their marketing and communications director, Alan Olshan while simultaneously getting to take classes with the company members every morning. I witnessed new companies members come, old ones go, and even 2 that got engaged, I really felt comfortable there. Like our department, the PTDC is a family and it was an honor just to be around them.??
HC: Have you danced with other companies in the past or had any other cool internship experiences?
C: I’ve been doing dance summer programs since I was 14. I’ve spent every summer away in some city since I was old enough to convince my parents that they could leave me for weeks at a time. I’ve done programs at Miami City Ballet, School of American Ballet, Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and The Paul Taylor Dance Company.
HC: I’m sure this is going to be a tough question to answer, but do you have a favorite dance moment?
C: My favorite dance moment actually happened a couple of weeks ago at my senior bachelor of fine arts concert. It’s a show every senior must do to graduate. We choreograph a group work and a solo work to perform. On opening night I was so nervous. One of my dancers was injured, so I was performing her part as well and I wasn’t comfortable at all. I don’t like going on stage feeling unprepared and this was a show I had anticipated for three and a half years. When I went on stage I felt butterflies, but when I looked up, I saw my entire family sitting in the audience. All of my roommates were there, all of my friends, and my boyfriend. When I looked at them all an immediate calm swept over me. It reminded me exactly why I do what I do and that even if I fell on my face they would stand up and clap for me. This is why I’ve been able to stick with this for 18 years, the love and support of my family and friends. ?
HC: What are your plans after college? Do you plan to move to New York City? 
C: I’m still debating. It will depend on how auditions go this Winter and Spring, but I’ll probably move to Chicago or New York.
HC: If you can even put it in words, explain the feeling you get from being on stage dancing. 
C: I know it’s different for every dancer, but for me, it’s about taking all of my hard work and knowledge, and giving it to my audience. I dance for those in my audience who are still major advocates for the arts and for classic dance, since far less people are interested in these genres than in the past.
HC: It sounds like you’re insanely busy. How do you manage your time between dance performances and school? 
C: I try to have balance in my life, but it comes in waves. There are weeks where all I can focus on is rehearsal and performances, and then other weeks I try and focus on catching up with all of the other things in my life, like doing homework and seeing my friends. My friends keep me normal. If I didn’t have an amazing group of friends that drag me to the library once in a while or force me to sit on my couch and eat popcorn with them, I wouldn’t have much of a balance. 

HC: Who is your favorite choreographer?
C: That’s tough, but probably Jiri Kylian. ??
HC: Just for fun…I’m curious, are you a fan of shows such as Dancing With the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance?
I wish I had time to watch them more regularly because they’re fun shows to watch, but I usually don’t have time to catch them.
HC: I just have one last question. Do you have any advice for aspiring dancers? Or aspiring performers, in general? 
There are going to be days where you just want to be normal. My whole life I had to balance what everyone else what doing, and what I had to do. It can be really tough sometimes. When you’re good at something, it’s because you woke up early to practice and stayed late to get it done right, but you miss other things. I think I’ve enjoyed it this long because I’ve made sure I’ve done both. There are times when you have to give something else up, but there are also times where you have to go and do something else.
Have balance.
Do your work harder than anyone else, but when you go home, know how to relax. ??
I think this is great advice even for those who are not performers. Having a good balance in your life is really important. If you would like updates from the University of Michigan Dance Student Assembly, like their page on Facebook or follow their Twitter:
Lastly, if you would like to check out the next Dance Jam, the class is on December 15, 2011 from 7-8 pm in the dance building. Also, the next Dance School performance is call Dancelucent, an annual show held at the Power Center February 2-5, 2012.
More information regarding the DSA can be found at http://umdanceassesmbly.blogspot.com

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