Rowan grad dances his way to fame

By Senitra Horbrook
shorbrook@sjnewsco.com

Shaun Thompson has danced with superstars like Mariah Carey. He has been in the movie "Beauty Shop," which starred Queen Latifah. He has worked as a model and dancer internationally. He has a line of fitness videos and a set of television infomercials where he is known as Shaun T.

Yet, it was the act of returning to Rowan University, his alma mater, to teach his "Hip Hop Abs" that rattled Thompson's nerves like never before.

"I was nervous. I don't get nervous," he said. "There's a lot of people here who saw me when I first started teaching."

"You're going to dance and have a really good time, but you're working your core with out doing a sit-up or crunch," he told the class.

Almost all of the 50 students at the afternoon class had never done "Hip Hop Abs" before.
Rowan alumnus Shaun Thompson stopped back at his old alma mater to teach a special class of his 'Hip Hop Abs' to students while filming an infomercial.

"My abs are killing me, but it was awesome," said Whitny Castano, junior.

After attending the class, Rowan senior Dana Pancoast said she felt good, in the midst of being hot and sweaty.

"It was fun and high energy," she said. "I've seen his infomercial. Everything was well instructed."

"Hip Hop Abs" uses dance moves to give an abdominal workout and focuses on Shaun T's three T's: Tilt, Tuck and Tighten. It was needing to be in shape for his dance career that lead Thompson to develop the fitness program.

"I hated doing sit ups and crunches," he said. "When boys dance on stage they have to take off their shirt."

"Hip Hop Abs" was released on Jan. 27, 2007 by Beach Body. In June, the two millionth copy was sold.

"A lot of people don't like to go to the gym or are shy. To be able to work out at home -- that's what people love."

Thompson is getting ready to launch his next set of fitness videos called "Rockin' Body."

"Rockin' Body is all about your body and your personal performance. You're the rock star in your living room," he said.

Thompson described seeing his infomercial on television for the first time as "weird."

"When I saw it for the first time in the middle of the night I freaked out," he said. "I was like 'Oh, my God. That's my voice.' "

Thompson had been an athlete all his life, but dancing was his dream.

"When I was 8 years old my mom said 'Little boys don't dance,' " he said. "Now, she's my biggest supporter."

When Thompson first arrived at Rowan, he was a communications major, but after gaining what he calls the "freshman 50," he changed his major to health and exercise science and decided to minor in theater and dance.

After changing his major, he got involved with the Recreation Center at Rowan and asked to teach a hip-hop class. He had natural ability and was soon choreographing dance concerts and also dancing at Triple Threat Performing Arts Center in Cherry Hill.

Thompson went into health promotions after graduating from Rowan. It was while visiting a friend in California four years ago that he got the opportunity of a lifetime. Thompson attended a dance class and the teacher said he should audition for an agency. Two weeks after he returned home, the agency called wanting to sign him.

"Two months later I moved to L.A.," he said. "Two weeks after that I got my first job."

The whirlwind of moving to California, pursuing an exercise and dance career was not overwhelming for Thompson.

"I was making so little money, I had to rely on the fact that I was having fun," he said.

One moment that sticks out in Thompson's mind is when he was starring in the musical "Pippin" at UCLA two years ago. His appendix burst and the doctor told him he would not be able to dance again for six months after surgery. It only took three weeks for Thompson to recover and get back on stage.

"I practiced through the pain," he said. "It was an eye opener to see how blessed I really am."

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Date Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 - 06:00