A Choreographer’s Tale

two dancers

As the sun sets and the clock ticks to 5, Shannon Mahr steps out of Strong and slips into her second skin.

One could say she lives another life. Not hidden, but only obvious if you know where to look. After eight hours of left-brained thinking, Shannon makes the switch from coordinator to creative mastermind.

Being a dancer trained in classical ballet, the arts have always played a significant role in Shannon’s life. She trains young dancers in her free time and has served as a member of a professional dance company. As with any craft, Shannon’s mastery of dance has transformed her from the student to the teacher.

This ballet aficionado began choreographing her own works some time ago, infusing them with her unique twist on contemporary dance. When the opportunity came to submit her work to the Alabama Dance Festival, she couldn’t say no.

Set with two student dancers, Shannon trained her pupils on the moves she choreographed. Her favorite technique is taking the straight lines of ballet moves and bending them sharply for a clean yet fluid feel. After getting the dance down, former Strong employee Kiara Byrd filmed the dancers for submission. Now, all that was left to do was wait.

A few weeks later, the news that Shannon was hoping for had arrived. Her work would be showcased at January’s festival. The piece, entitled Chords Within, comes from a hodgepodge of cultural inspiration and carries a unifying message.

“What I wanted to convey with this piece is that no matter where you’re from, despite different backgrounds, music is our common ground,” Shannon explained. “We are all moved in some way by it.”

Her submission had been accepted, but there was still much work to be done before the final showcase. After work, Shannon would meet with her two dancers to rehearse and refine. As choreographer, she has full control over all aspects of the production, including sound, lighting, and photography.

“The most challenging part of this process is taking my vision and projecting it onto the stage in a way that will make sense to other people in the same way it does for me,” Shannon said. “It is very different from how I think at work. It forces me to go entirely outside of the box.”

Shannon’s goal with this showcase is to seed interest in contemporary dance in Birmingham. Currently, there is no contemporary company in the city. She also seeks to inspire students and young people to pursue their passions in dance, just as she was inspired at this festival in her youth.

“I performed at this festival in early 2017, and I made so many connections and left with a ton of inspiration,” Shannon recounted. “I’m excited to give that same feeling to people now that I’m on the other side of the table.”

The Alabama Dance Festival will take place on January 27 at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theatre at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Shannon will be present with a choreographer’s booth to explain more about her work and her vision for Birmingham’s budding contemporary scene. You can see her dance in action at the March iteration of Happy Hour Happening at Forma, a local arts and wellness center.

Meet the Puppies of Strong

It’s fur baby season at Strong, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with our very first Pet Showcase. You’re going to love getting to know these pups.

Mason: Shannon Boswell

  1. What is your pet’s name? Mason
  2. What is their breed? Maltipoo (Mix between a Maltese and a poodle)
  3. What is their favorite activity? Playing with his new Halloween squeaky toy
  4. Give a funny quirk about their personality: He likes to sit in between my fiancé’s sneakers, whether they are on his feet or not.
  5. Tell me one of your funniest or most cherished memories with your pet: The funniest moments are when he tries to run on the hardwood floor and he slips around. He’s getting better at catching himself 
  6. Fun fact: He’s two months old and we are working on potty-training him. We also let him listen to classical music at night to help him sleep.

Butters: Grace Hatcher

  1. What is your pet’s name? Butters
  2. What is their breed? Cavapoo (Cavalier King Charles + poodle)
  3. What is their favorite activity? Going to the park by our house and playing fetch about three times before getting burnt out
  4. Give a funny quirk about their personality: Anytime she yawns she also lets out this little squeaky noise. It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. Also, she’s obsessed with people, like OBSESSED, any time she passes by another person she freaks out.
  5. Tell me one of your funniest or most cherished memories with your pet: That’s really hard because she makes me laugh every day, but probably the first time we gave her a bath. I didn’t realize how much of her was actually her hair, but when we put her in the tub she legit looked like a wet rat.
  6. Fun fact: Yes, Butter’s was named after the character Butters from South Park. My husband chose that… pick your battles.

Charlie: Charlene Meeks

  1. What is your pet’s name? Charlie
  2. What is their breed? Maltipoo/Havanese
  3. What is their favorite activity? Playing with my other dogs and his toys
  4. Give a funny quirk about their personality: He can sleep anywhere at any time.
  5. Tell me one of your funniest or most cherished memories with your pet: Watching Natalie riding her bicycle with Charlie in the basket attached to her handlebars, and Alyssa pushing him in her grocery cart. He is the most tolerant pup I have seen in a long time.

Gus: TJ Moore

  1. What is your pet’s name? Gus
  2. What is their breed? Red Standard Poodle
  3. What is their favorite activity? Gus loves meeting new people or other pets. He is super friendly!
  4. Give a funny quirk about their personality: Gus loves to eat air! Whenever he is riding with me in my truck, he starts chomping away at the AC blowing in his face. He will even run when he hears the hair dryer going just to come and bite away at the hot air.
  5. Tell me one of your funniest or most cherished memories with your pet: Gus got pretty sick not long after I got him, which included a seizure. So being there for him during that time, letting him know I was there, and seeing him pull through like a champ makes our bond special and unique.
  6. Fun fact: Being a poodle, which is one of the smartest breeds, Gus is quite skilled at escaping from his crate or carrier when I am not home. He can even open some doors. Because of this exceptional skill that Gus has, I have given him the nickname Poudini.

Diana: Luke Thomas

  1. What is your pet’s name? Diana
  2. What is their breed? English Springer Spaniel
  3. What is their favorite activity? Trying so hard to play with the cat, Leo, who is less than amused
  4. Give a funny quirk about their personality: Plastic hangers are her favorite unapproved chew toy. She also has sad-eyes, even though she’s really excited most of the time.
  5. Tell me one of your funniest or most cherished memories with your pet: When we go on the balcony for our sunbathing session during lunch break. The kitty joins too.
  6. Fun fact: Diana loves to frolic in the meadow and play in the creek by our house, even though it means a bath afterward! 

Tippy Grace: Sheryl Jones

  1. What is your pet’s name? Tippy Grace, but you can call her Tippy G! 
  2. What is their breed? Some kind of small terrier.
  3. What is their favorite activity? Running around in the backyard and getting her tummy rubbed.
  4. Give a funny quirk about their personality: She is the most fun! Always happy and runs like the wind and jumps super high. She loves to cuddle but is always up for an adventure. You have to watch her or she will put her nose to the ground and hit the neighborhood road without looking where she is going or stopping.
  5. Tell me one of your funniest or most cherished memories with your pet: The day I got her I was at my dad’s house, where she was brought for me to meet her. There were four of us there, but she came right to me and spent the day mostly in my arms like she knew I was her new “mommy.” She was really thin. But, now she has gained weight and every day she is the cutest and most fun thing ever!
  6. Anything else you want to include, feel free: She is not an official rescue but was living outside with big dogs. I guess that is why she is super tough even though she is little and adorable!

TheodorAlex Golla

  1. What is your pet’s name? Theodor (Theo for short)
  2. What is their breed? Portuguese Water Dog
  3. What is their favorite activity? Swimming
  4. Give a funny quirk about their personality: He is quite derpy and uncoordinated.
  5. Fun fact: I am getting him this weekend on Sunday. He is from North Carolina.

Fine Arts Meets Fitness at Grand Jeté


When Shannon Boswell walked across the stage at the University of Alabama, she knew she was leaving her undergraduate days behind, but not her dreams of dancing.

SEO queen by day, dance warrior by night. That’s how Boswell balances her two passions post-college. The training she received has opened more than a few doors, and the latest one really raises the barre.

A Time for Dance

Boswell has been teaching dance classes to high school students for some time now at Birmingham Southern College. When she’s not teaching, she enjoys trying out barre studios around town.

While taking a course at Grand Jeté in English Village, the instructor was taken aback by Boswell’s graceful flow and impeccable form. She pulled Boswell aside after class and offered her the chance to become a part-time instructor at the studio.

In the weeks that followed, Boswell started training three times per week at Grand Jeté. It was important for her to build up stamina and practice doing the workouts while talking over a headset. After all, one of her biggest jobs is to be an example, so it’s important to not be out of breath!

Boswell enjoys being able to put her own spin on the workouts and the interactive element of tailoring the workouts to the level of the class. She is finishing her training as a co-teacher through April, and she will begin teaching the second week of May.

Trying Out Grand Jeté

While Boswell has tried quite a few barre studios, for her, Grand Jeté is the most authentic to ballet.

“The workouts here are based on ballet, yoga, and weights, with a little cardio thrown in,” Boswell said.

If you don’t have a dancing background like Boswell, the good news is that it’s not necessary for these fitness classes. You’ll work on mastering basic ballet movements, building strength, and learning a bit of dance terminology along the way. It’s also a great energy boost, with workouts choreographed in time with pop favorites.

For those who like a challenge, bear in mind that the workouts change every three weeks at Grand Jeté. This means you have a limited amount of time to master each move, so consistency is essential.

“Most of all, the discipline you learn in dance will help you in work and in all other areas of your life,” Boswell said.

Boswell will teach her first solo class on May 9. Get with her on details if you’d like to give it a try!