By most standards, Shane Ohmer has taken the road less traveled in his dance career. His first introduction to dance came in fourth grade when he accompanied a neighbor girl to her drill team under the impression that they'd be working with power tools. "They were instead dancing with pompoms and making fun formations and doing kick lines," he said. "And I stepped right up and got in that frickin' kick line."
After graduation from his Cincinnati high school, Ohmer began ballet training in Seattle, but moved to Chicago in 2006 at age 19 to train at Lou Conte Dance Center and booked his first full-time dance job with River North Dance Chicago. A year later, he joined Les Grand Ballet Canadiens in Montreal where he continued to marry his ballet training with contemporary dance.
In 2009, he moved to New York with the intention of working on Broadway shows,but instead went to work for a millinery designer where he accidentally acquired work as a runway model for New York Fashion Week, which led to gigs modeling for magazines such as GQ and a job choreographing a runway show for celebrity designers The Blonds.
Ohmer was working as an office manager for an advertising company—and barely dancing—when a friend suggested via Facebook that he audition for Rasta Thomas' "Rock the Ballet." Initially rejected, Ohmer later got the call to star as the lead in the show's world tour, which traveled the globe for two years. After attempting to relocate to L.A.—but leaving continually for freelance dance and teaching gigs—he auditioned for "Flashdance—The Musical" in Seattle and joined the cast as an ensemble dancer and singer in April.
"I had two days to pack up my whole life into my car and then I hopped on the bus to Portland with the company," he said. "And it's been awesome."
The musical—which is directed and choreographed by Tony Award-winner Sergio Trujillo ("Jersey Boys," "Memphis," "The Addams Family")—is based on the 1983 film about a female welder who dreams of becoming a professional dancer and features the movie's hit songs as well as 16 original numbers. We called Ohmer to find out more about his career and the musical.
Great heights: "One of the first things that people notice about me is my height. I'm almost six-foot-three, and that's tall for a dancer. [But] it makes it good for partnering."
Getting hairy: "There's a ton of wigs in the show; especially for the women. There's one boy who's in the process of growing out his mullet right now—he just joined the show—and he's not necessarily happy about it. [Laughs.] My hair in the show is just a regular gentleman's haircut, but I wear a lot of hats—baseball caps kind of backwards and a hat that I wear when I'm the steelworker as well."
Warm-up tunes: "On tour, I play a lot of Scissor Sisters to warm up to, just because they're kind of party-starting. They've got such a cool groove but a pop sensibility to their music and it gets you going—at least, it gets me going. Daft Punk's new CD I've been playing a lot. Sometimes I'll throw on a slow song and that's not necessarily good for crunches." [Laughs.]
Mouthing off: "There's definitely beauty in dancing a story. But I'm so happy to be singing a story instead of only just dancing it—I sing at least parts of 11 different songs in the show."
His favorite scene: "I enjoy watching the water scene go off—it's so fun! And of course people are like, 'Oh, my god, there's water all over the stage; how are they going to clean that up?' There's a little bit of magic with it; it's so cool."
On learning the "Flashdance" choreography as a ballet-contemporary dancer: "[It's] a little bit hip-hoppy. So I said, 'Listen, I'm going to need a Swag Coach. [Laughs.]"
Overcoming obstacles: "I was born completely and totally turned in from the hips. It's funny; you know, Forrest Gump wore those braces on his legs and so did I—and here I am dancing. I can't believe that I ended up being a dancer."
His non-dancing shoes: "I have Converse, I have some Asics that I go to the gym in, I have boots from All Saints and I have a pair of Nike high-tops."
Go: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6-August 18 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $18-$85. 800-775-2000; broadwayinchicago.com