Shankman on the set of 2007's Hairspray. Photo by Daniel James, courtesy Shankman

Why Hollywood's Adam Shankman Is Jealous of Dancers

Adam Shankman came into the spotlight in 2007 when he choreographed and directed the movie-musical Hairspray and made his first appearances on the "So You Think You Can Dance" judging panel. But he was already more than a decade into his career as a choreographer and budding director. Today, Shankman is a Hollywood mainstay who has worked on scores of movies, TV shows and commercials, including dance classics like the Step Up franchise, which he produced. Next up: Directing the film What Men Want, which opens in January.

He recently spoke to Dance Magazine about his path to Hollywood and why the dance studio remains his favorite place.


How His Reality Differed From His Dreams

"Producing, directing, choreographing—that was never the plan. My dream was to be a chorus boy on Broadway or to dance behind TV personalities. Sometimes it feels like that still is the dream!"

Adam Shankman on the set of What Men Want. Photo byJess Miglio, courtesy Paramount Pictures

His Stunted Start in Hollywood

"I went to Juilliard, but left to do regional theater and ended up in L.A. I started booking music videos—I worked with Janet Jackson, Paula Abdul. I was getting work, but I realized my look wasn't what was happening in the dance world at the time. Everyone was looking for all-American, beefier dancers. I was super-skinny."

The Little White Lie That Opened Doors

"My big opportunity was one I made for myself. I was in a production office and an assistant ran in and said they just lost their choreographer, and did anyone know someone. I said, "I am!" I had never choreographed anything. I said I'd worked with Paula and Janet, even though I had never choreographed for them. So I lied, and the director hired me on the spot. He ended up loving what I did, and started hiring me a lot."

Being in The Right Place At An Unfortunate Time

"The timing of my early career felt a little strange. A lot of my friends were getting acting work, so I would get hired to choreograph little scenes here and there. Then two big choreographers in film and TV—Michael Peters and Lester Wilson—died within a year of each other. So I ended up getting a lot of the work. Not to say I didn't merit it, but there was another hole that needed to be filled, and I was sitting there, poised, and it happened. I was still in my 20s."

How He Got Pushed Into Directing

"I was working with directors who didn't know what they wanted with dance scenes, so I was pushed to direct those sequences. I decided to create and direct my own short film, and my producer secretly submitted it to Sundance—and we got in."

What Dance Has Taught Him

"As a dancer, my role was always to make whatever was thrown at me work. That's turned into the cornerstone of my philosophy about everything. You take what's given to you and wrestle it into the ground and do the best job you possibly can. It's a service job, in a weird way."

The Studio Is Still His Happy Place

"I'm never as happy anywhere as I am in a dance rehearsal room. I have no concerns about the rest of the world except making stuff, trying stuff, being able to fail spectacularly and just creating."

The Dream That Hasn't Disappeared

"I still go to shows and see dancers onstage and get envious. That will never end. I always see myself in that role. That's always been my first love."

Latest Posts


Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021