Local teen wins shot at national dance title

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By Walt Reichert

Inspiration sometimes comes from an insult.


One of Joseph “Austin” Shirley-Dean's classmates several years ago told him he couldn't dance. That comment got him started on the road to the title 2009 Teen Mister Dance of the Bluegrass, an honor he picked up last weekend in Ashland. This summer he will compete in Washington, D. C. for the national title.

Austin, 14, an eighth-grade honor roll student at West Middle School, is the son of Anne Marie Dean  of Simpsonville and Jonathan Lewis of Shelbyville. Austin has been dancing for more than four years. He practices at the Michael Thomas Dance Center in Jeffersontown. He said his first love is tap, but he also does hip-hop, contemporary, jazz and ballet.

“Well, just about every kind,” Austin said.

A couple of years ago he started dancing in competitions with Dance Masters of the Bluegrass, which is affiliated with Dance Masters of America. In past competitions, he has won in the tap and contemporary categories. In 2008, he won first place in tap solo and won the “Fancy Footwork” award in competition.

This year, he danced to “As long as I'm singing” in the statewide Dance Masters competition. He was one of 25 teens competing. He has been practicing his routine with the help of his dance coach, Lola Griffin, and instructor, Michael Thomas. The dance is a challenge, Austin said.

“There's not a lot of parts to breathe,” he said. “I lost my breath at the end.”

But his performance was good enough to win a trophy large enough to take his breath away.

“It came up to his ribs,” his mother Anne-Marie Dean said.

In July, Austin will take his talent to Washington, D. C., where he will compete for the title of 2009 Teen Mister Dance of America.

Austin said he eventually hopes to turn his talent for dancing into stage performances – a Broadway stage or movie career, either one, would be fine, he said.

Austin practices dancing at least seven hours a week, but he never really rests, his mother said.

“I say he's like Mumbles in the movie 'Happy Feet,’” she said. “He's constantly in motion.”