The ambitious talents of Shea Coughlan, Ryerson DancePak’s “Mr. Congeniality”

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By Dream Homer

Shea Coughlan has been dancing for as long as he can remember. Given that his mother was also a dancer, you could say that dance runs through his DNA. Coughlan’s passion for dance emerged fairly quickly; he describes it as something he was always just doing. He found early inspiration from being constantly surrounded by music playing around the house, as well as watching break-dancing. 

“When there was music playing, I would always be dancing and moving,” said the second-year Ryerson business management student. 

As Coughlan grew older, with the heavy influence of Michael Jackson, his dance transcended into a more urban, hip-hop style. Coughlan was drawn to the different elements of hip-hop.  The fusion of dance styles in hip-hop from jazz to popping and locking is what Coughlan wanted to become as a dancer. 

Even as his taste in music evolved growing up in the early 2000s, his roots always led him back to Jackson, who he cites as his “main inspiration.”

For Coughlan, dance came effortlessly. In high school, he joined the dance team. Coughlan knew that he wanted to pursue dance but, if anything, this was the beginning of what he could become. From a young age, Coughlan has never shied away from opportunities and faces them head-on, leading him into extraordinary ventures.

A member of the DancePak

Now in his second year, Coughlan—dubbed “Mr. Congeniality” by his team for his friendly nature–is a proud member of the DancePak, Ryerson’s competitive dance troupe. 

At Commerce Frosh Week in 2019, he met some members of the group after they performed at the opening ceremony, asking them questions about possibly auditioning. He also competed in a dance competition held by the team at frosh and Daniela Bandiera, a DancePak captain, encouraged him to try out.

“His talent and passion really shone through and I knew right away I would do anything to get him on the DancePak,” Bandiera said. 

Since joining, Coughlan has brought something special to the DancePak, bringing forward new ideas, a unique flare and the passion to improve as a dancer. Although the transition from a high school dance team to Ryerson’s competitive dance team was a different experience, Coughlan said he found a way to make it work with his new squad.

“I felt nothing but welcome coming in, my entire first year everybody was just so outgoing, so nice and it was amazing,” he said. Nonetheless, balancing life on the team with school was work. 

“It was a lot more intensive and out of my comfort zone,” he said. DancePak was a greater time commitment and required a commute that ranged from 30 to 45 minutes to the Mattamy Athletic Centre, but Coughlan said his team members made the experience more enjoyable and overall, worth it. 

“When there was music playing, I would always be dancing and moving”

In his first year, along with Mitchell Jones, Coughlan made history as one of the first male dancers on DancePak ever since the team first formed in 2004. Coughlan said it was a lot of fun being with Jones his first year. This year, however, he is the only male dancer on DancePak. Nevertheless, considering that this is his second year on the team, reconnecting with his teammates and having the role as the only male in the group is not a problem for him.

“It’s all good because I’ve made friends with everybody [and] all the people who came back from last year are obviously not new faces,” he said. His teammates and captains also acknowledge and appreciate his role as the only male member.

“He has allowed us to showcase inclusivity to the rest of the Ryerson community. As a team, we strive to be as inclusive as possible, and Shea has been a huge help to showing other male dancers that we provide a safe and fun environment for them,” said Sarah Elisio, another DancePak captain.

Coughlan’s impact on the team hasn’t gone unrecognized, with his captains describing him as a dedicated, positive and high-energy person. He’s referred to as the hype man of the team, making everyone around him feel comfortable by being a constant friendly face.

“I always try to be the high-energy [person],” Coughlan said. “I’ve always been like that, but it’s nice when it’s recognized and it’s not something I do intentionally.”

His captains can attest to this statement as they’ve seen him make an impact on new members of the team in his second year of being on the team

“From my experience as a captain, he has been one of the most influential role models for rookies and potential team members and showcases everything DancePak should be about,” said Elisio.

“He has been one of the most influential role models for rookies and potential team members and showcases everything DancePak should be about”

Coughlan’s influence goes beyond DancePak. Since joining, he has formed friendships that will last even after he graduates. 

“Shea definitely had a huge impact on me and has inspired me in so many ways to this day. He has become such a close friend to me and one of the most valuable relationships I have had in my university career so far,” Bandiera added. “It’s been nothing but fun memories with Shea from late-night practices, to performances, to studying together, to just hanging out.”

Jenna Stoikos, another DancePak captain, echoed these sentiments of pride in having Coughlan as a teammate. “Seeing him grow as a dancer and teammate has been such a joy, but seeing how he remains genuine, positive, and curious as an individual is just as rewarding.”

Although this year looks a little different because of COVID-19, Coughlan said he’s looking forward to rejoining the team when it’s safe to do so. Nonetheless, he misses the excitement of competing. He considers his favourite performance to be his first competition with DancePak last March, which was unfortunately his last, given that Ontario went into lockdown soon after. Coughlan was not actually meant to compete that day but due to a last-minute swap in dances, he was able to perform with his team. 

“I miss feeling that energy you could only feel when you’re performing together,” he said.“There’s a rush and excitement of [performing] in front of a crowd with people you love to spend time with,” The moments he spends with his teammates on and off the stage are one of a kind for Coughlan and he hopes to rejoin them in the fall. 

Shoe game

While dancing has been brought to a halt because of the pandemic, Coughlan has taken solace in another one of his passions: designing custom sneakers. Coughlan owns the company KicksbyShea, which stemmed from an idea started with a friend in high school. Custom shoe design has been an interest of his for a while, and for the past couple of years it has grown into something not even Coughlan could have imagined.

“After a few months I realized this could be something and I really committed myself to it, and the rest is history,” he said.

Defined as a turning point for him and his business because he realized the outreach, Coughlan has designed custom shoes for Toronto Raptors’ Norman Powell and Scott Morrison, an assistant coach of the Boston Celtics. 

The shoes Coughlan designed for Raptors guard Norman Powell (Photo Courtesy: Shea Coughlan)

His process begins with a one-on-one consultation with the customer and a deep dive on the internet for inspiration. He also likes to draw from his past experiences and feelings as the main roots of his ideas. 

Coughlan said that he takes rough ideas and turns them into “masterpieces.” One pair is just as important as the next and resonates with him in a unique way. For example, when designing his Bob Marley-inspired shoe, he found himself emotionally invested in it because of the influence Marley had on him growing up. The experience allowed him to understand the true value of being an artist.

With over two years of experience, designing almost comes naturally to Coughlan. He said that while the process can be tedious, the creative ideas come easily from within.

“I let my creative juices flow, but it’s definitely non-linear,” he explained. 

Being a designer comes with its struggles and creative blocks. “Some days, I’ll be really feeling creative, others I’ll be really out of it,” Coughlan said. “I’ll let myself be in a rut and I’ll ask myself why I’m here [and] what led up to this.” 

“I let my creative juices flow, but it’s definitely non-linear”

However, he said he turns these creative blocks into inspiration by drawing on these feelings. Continuing to design has become a sort of learning experience for Coughlan; each shoe he designs comes with its own set of challenges and lessons.

With guidance from mentors at The Remix Project—an organization based in Toronto that provides educational programs and facilities to youth in creative industries—Coughlan plans to continue creating and designing for customers. 

“I know it’s a dying craft but [I want to] bring this back to life in a new way,” Coughlan said. His passion for his craft shines through his work, sometimes spending days on a pair to ensure absolute perfection. In the future, Coughlan wants to grow his brand into something bigger than what it already is and reach a wider audience. 

Marketing and spreading awareness have become an important part of the brand and what he wants to accomplish in his career. Coughlan hopes to participate in an apprenticeship or partner with The Kickback, a youth-led organization in Toronto that uplifts and empowers youth around the world through sneaker culture.

“One of my goals is to give back in a bigger way,” he said. Coughlan was a part of the One Community Shoe, a campaign where proceeds from shoes he designed were donated to the Children’s Aid Foundation. Coughlan was also able to donate a portion of proceeds from company earnings to a charity of his choosing.

“It’s very important to give back to the community and give back to people who have helped get you to where you are and being a part of the One Community Shoe has been a perfect opportunity for that,” he said. Coughlan also hopes to one day create a school program that connects kids with design and teaches them how to do what he does.

As a proud member of the Ryerson DancePak and committed to his sneaker design brand, Coughlan has accomplished great success. Those around him believe there is no doubt that his talents are only going to grow and progress throughout his years at Ryerson and after he graduates. 

In the words of his captain, Bandiera, “The world better watch out because Shea is a force to be reckoned with.”

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