Meet Bill Shannon: Dance Performer at Hirshhorn After Hours

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If you think you know skate boarding and break dancing, you haven't seen anything yet.

At tomorrow's Hirshhorn After Hours, artist Bill Shannon brings his own spin to the two art forms in a hybrid performance that combines both—all while on crutches.

Shannon was diagnosed with bilateral hip deformity when he was five, and from then on, had to use crutches to walk. At first, he was frustrated by the awkward way he moved up the stairs, until he realized there was something about the way that he was moving that was almost rhythmic; unique.

He started to experiment and began to dance, using the crutches as an extension of his body. He went on to study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and years later, has become a leader in the dance, hip hop, club and urban arts movements. He's performed around the world, including at the Sydney Opera House Studio Theater in Australia; the Central Park Summer Stage in New York City; and the Teatro de la Ciudad in Monterrey, Mexico. He was named the Most Creative Street Dancer by the L.A. Urban Dance Festival in 2002, and helped choreograph Cirque du Soleil's production Vareki, which is now on tour.

With his dance crew, The Step Fenz, Shannon says he will create "a new video sculpture that is site specific to the HH plaza," and will lead freestyle dance sessions at tomorrow night's event. It will be shot and mixed live by a VJ and projected onto three large video installations.

We caught up with Shannon before his performance to hear about how break dancing and skateboarding collide, and why he might be helping the idea of what "art" is to expand.

You were diagnosed with a bilateral hip deformity when you were five. How did you become interested in dancing? Did people ever tell you that you couldn't do things like that?

No. They never expected it. I was instinctively attracted to the act of achieving balance in form. Skating and Breaking were the dominant cultures of my youth.

In an interview, you said that break dancing and skateboarding are less of a technique and more of an individual style. Could you explain what you mean by that?

What I was trying to communicate was that skating and breaking allowed for individual style and expression within the form and not rigidly adherent to one technique.

You perform both on the street and on the stage. What are the advantages and disadvantages of both places? Which do you like more?

The street is infinite horizons. The stage is a black box. I can create worlds within a stage but I cannot put the world of the street on a stage. The translation loses the essence. Each has it's place

What kind of statement do you think your work lends to the discussion about art?

The complexities of life are so easily bludgeoned into rigid categories that what we think we know can change suddenly into something we know absolutely nothing about.

Do you think you can engage a younger audience into art with your performances?

My art is a singular hybrid form reflecting aspects of the youth culture from the past 30 years. Young people want the art I make.

The event takes place from 8 p.m. to Midnight at the Hirshhorn Museum, Independence Avenue at 7th Street S.W. Tickets are required.

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