shannon c. mcmullan


A collection of thoughts, discussions, and experiences within the dance community, AEC industry, and yoga land.


I decided a follow up to my last blog post needed to be sent out to the world. This world needs to know that it needs to #HireMoreDancers*

If you didn’t read my last post, I spoke a lot about my ongoing existential crisis of why I am working in the AEC industry; I really believe this has triggered my quarter-life crisis. Besides my own life issues, I mainly focused on the recent AEC Tech event I organized and my experience from an outsider’s perspective. I briefly said one thing in regards to how I managed to organize such an event and it is something I find myself continually telling people,

“I possess all of these skills solely from my dance training”

I am most grateful for the Writing for Dance course I took in college because not only did we learn how to write about dance, write dance reviews, talk about visual art, but we had a full lesson on how to implement our skills as dancers across every field. NOT JUST AN ARTS FIELD EITHER. Have you ever thought of that? That a dancer can use the skills they’ve learned from dance training to work in a job or field THAT IS NOT DANCE. This lesson literally turned my life around, honestly I turned a full 360 degrees in my desk because I couldn’t handle the fact that I was actually valuable in the world (outside of dance at least). It wasn’t until I held my first full time job that I truly learned how these skills could be so beneficial.

Still to this day I want to find each person who ever told me, “You’ll never get a job with a major in dance” or “What are you going to do with that kind of degree?” and sit them down for a four hour detailed powerpoint presentation of what I have done with my dance degree and the jobs I have been offered. These questions always came from people who had a mixture of smugness and disgust on their face and spoke to me in a tone that felt as if I was a five year old that had said they wanted twin ponies for Christmas.

I would now like to bless the world with the top 3 skills dancers possess that could be useful to your company:

1. Quick Learning bonus: Great memory!

Whenever you are first starting a job, regardless of whether you already know how to do the job or at least have the technical skills to do that job, everyone still has to face that learning curve at a new position or company. Or when hiring a new employee that is either entry level or will need additional training, not only do they have an even bigger learning curve but now the manager has to supplement that time from when they can’t fully do their job until they can. These learning curves are more often than not fairly painful and can last anywhere from 1-6 months, depending on how fast the employee learns and how much they can retain.

As a dancer, I am expected to learn brand new choreography in 30 minutes or less. The faster you pick up choreography, the better you are considered. Dancers are often put at a high standard when it comes to having this particular skill because if you can’t pick up new movement than you will lose a job or an opportunity to perform. These pieces of choreography that are taught can range from 2 to 8 minute pieces. On top of this, the technique you are learning could be in a style that you are not familiar with and you will have to learn how to do movements you have never done before. Remember, you need to know this perfectly in 30 minutes or you lose a job.

A long term skill to possess, within all areas of life, is having a great memory. There is no use if you learn a new skill or a piece of information, but can’t retain it for more than a day much less a lifetime. People don’t need to be continuously retaught how to fill out a timesheet or where to submit a proposal to. Specifically in my line of dance work we have a very large database of historical pieces of choreography. Master teachers, and performers alike, can retain many choreographies for 5+ years. Personally, I can easily come back to a solo I learned two years ago and remember it 85% fully - I can’t say 100% because ‘human error’. When performing with a professional company, rehearsals take place months in advance and with a program of 12-15 pieces, it is impossible to rehearse every piece at every rehearsal. It is very common to go a month without visiting a piece and when you do come back to it, directors expect dancers to know it perfectly because there is no room to relearn choreography.

Are you beginning to see how this translates across every industry? Because I’m only on #1, I’ve barely started.

2. Collaborative (but can work alone)

Oh, collaboration! Too much collaborating and you get nothing done, not enough collaborating and you still get nothing done. No matter what company you work for it is guaranteed that you need to be able to work in a team, and be able to work alone. I have never seen a job description that did not say the below two things:

“Must be a self starter and can work alone”
“Must be able to work in a team setting”

Because no company is going to hire someone to sit in a corner by themselves and only work alone; trust me it’s not out there. Most days I wish it was though. I get too distracted by Amazon Prime if I’m left alone long enough, so still not possible.

To get straight to the point - dancers are some of the most collaborative people you will ever meet. Not only are we really good at it, but we thrive off it (most of us). If you work with a company than you are constantly working with all types of dancers with all types of personalities and all types of creative processes, we all have to work together to achieve the end goal. Even if you are a solo artist, you will still collaborate with production staff in a show. Every dancer has to learn to collaborate with a Lighting Designer and trust me from experience, they will most of the time have different opinions on how your lights should look. If you want to choreograph to a new piece of music, then get ready to collaborate with a live musician and that truly tests your collaboration skills. Even the simplest collaboration happens with the Sound Technician on when your music will play and when it will cut. Ideally, this should be straightforward, but that’s not always the case and being a Sound Tech is more difficult than you think. Case and point, dancers are in a constant state of collaboration and have to manage that collaboration across a variety of people and areas.

Real life example: I work in a team of architects, structural engineers, software engineers, and programmers, who all have different workflows and processes, and I have to work with them in different areas like project management, events, and marketing.

Ever heard of choreographers? They typically come in a single entity. Can you guess what they do when they choreograph? Work alone. To be able to choreograph a work, you have to be able to spend hours in a studio alone to figure it out. Same goes for starting a project, no one is telling you to start one, you have to be a self-started to get it going.

3. Improvisation

A large portion of my university study was based on improvisation, group, solo, and contact. During my studies I understood that learning these skills were highly valuable when it came to creating choreography or working in a partnership, but I did not directly see the translation of this skill until I started working at an investment firm. I was thrown into my first full time position in an industry I had no prior knowledge it and I was the only employee. I was never trained nor had anyone to go to for help, I faked everything until I made it; it wasn’t until much later I realized I was actually improvising solo that whole time.

Improvisation is the technique of dancing with a blank slate, no prior choreography, and when it comes from your body it’s gone forever. It’s the act of being able to think, or not think, on the spot and make decisions. Contact improvisation is doing all of the aforementioned only while being physically contacted to another person. You begin to learn to read other people’s bodies and make decisions about their movement language, this skill is advanced when you change partners constantly and always have a new person to read.

In a corporate setting, you will always been faced with different people who have vastly different ways of thinking and doing things. There is not much of a difference when reading another body in contact improvisation versus learning to work in a team with no same personalities; this makes it much easier to work with different people because you are aware of the differences and how to acclimate to those.

These are only my top 3, but I have plenty more skills including Leadership, Critical and Creative Thinking. I have left these out for the sake of wanting to get this blog published on time, but also because this has become fairly long and I can save those for a round two post.

If you happen to have openings at your company or are searching for a new business partner, maybe you should look outside your initial scope for all of these reasons. If you’re a current dance student in university, or a recent graduate, don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do anything with a dance degree. Don’t let this misconception convince you that you can’t do something greater than submitting yourself to a “starving artist life”.

I’m releasing a blog series called ‘dancers beyond dance’, to bring more examples of these skills in real life. Stay tuned for interviews with dancers who are real-life examples of this post.

*credit for this hashtag goes to Andrew Heumann