irouette, leap, lift, plié...not words you typically hear in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Children's Hospital Boston. But they're words Michael Shannon, MD, MPH, chief of the department, is very familiar with.
A modern dancer and performer for more than 30 years, Shannon first began dancing during his undergraduate days at Washington University in St. Louis. "I took a few classes, and it quickly became an obsession," he recalls.
But medicine also emerged as a passion for Shannon, and after graduating with a degree in biology, he headed straight to medical school at Duke University. "I managed to continue dancing during medical school," he says. "And after completing my medical degree, I decided to devote some time to simply being an artist."
Shannon danced professionally for a year, appearing in shows in the Durham, N.C. area, and in New York, before completing the internship portion of his residency. He then took another break, dancing professionally for two more years, before finishing up his residency.
"I got to a point where I missed being a pediatrician," he says. "I knew then that while dance would always be a passion for me, medicine was ultimately my chosen career."
Shannon came to Children's in 1983 to complete his training and has never left. Today, along with being chief of Emergency Medicine, he is the first African-American to be named a full professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Yet he still finds time to dance.
For the last four years, Shannon has performed in two local holiday productions—"Black Nativity" and "Urban Nutcracker." The first show is the traditional story of Jesus told through dance and song. He has played Joseph, who, along with Mary, dances much of the story. "It's a fairly challenging role, with lots of lifts, partnering and turns," he says, explaining that he unfortunately had to give up the part this year due to greater demands on his time.
But Shannon will reprise his role of Herr Drosselmeyer (the mysterious magician and creator of mechanical toys and clocks) in this year's production of "Urban Nutracker." Presented by BalletRox and performed at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester, the show offers an urban feel—complete with hip hop and tap dance, as well as jazz and rap music—to the traditional story of "The Nutcracker."
"It's truly a cross-cultural show that brings in a lot of diverse folksÄīpeople of all ages and colors," says Shannon. "The show pairs professional dancers from the Dance Theater of Harlem and the Boston Ballet Company, among others, with local kids from the Jamaica Plain School of Dance. So it's really a neat thing."
When he's not performing, Shannon and his wife take dance classes at the Brookline Community Center for the Arts, near their home. "I plan to continue dancing for years to come."
Performances of this year's "Urban Nutcracker" will take place from
Friday, Dec. 17 through Sunday, Dec. 19. Tickets are available by
visiting www.ticketweb.com or by calling the Strand Theatre Box Office
at (617) 635-1409.