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Is This News?: Left Shark Enters Life’s Second Act

In 2015, a phenom known as Left Shark danced ever so briefly into America’s hearts during Katy Perry’s performance at the Super Bowl. The seven-foot-tall mascot became endeared to the American public when he tried to keep up with his more rhythmically gifted Right Shark counterpart, flailing his fins as though they’d been injected with novocaine. It was, perhaps, the most any audience member felt able to relate to a Super Bowl halftime performer.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post revealed the man behind (or rather, inside) the shark, publishing an op-ed by dancer-turned-hair-stylist Bryan Gaw, who spent five years performing in Perry’s touring ensemble. “It was really only a few seconds, a snippet, maybe four or five counts where I improvised in my giant blue shark costume,” Gaw wrote. “But people went crazy.”

In an interview with NPR, Gaw elaborated on his decision to take liberties with the routine. “So there’s a set choreography,” he said. “There’s also what’s called free-style choreography, or, like, you get to move around or play your character as a dancer. … I’m in a seven-foot blue shark costume. There’s no cool in that. So what’s the other option? Well, I’m gonna play a different character.”

To Gaw, the halftime show wasn’t just a family-friendly performance of a Top 40 pop hit in the middle of another completely uninspiring Patriots win. This was performance art. From WaPo:

As a dancer, you take on the vibe and the energy of whatever piece you’re performing. Just because you’re working with a pop star doesn’t mean you aren’t presenting an art piece. Improvisation is part our job: We perform the choreography, but we’re also supposed to fill in the gaps. If I’m instructed to go from one side of the stage to the other, I don’t just walk across like I’m shopping at the mall. I was a big shark. I had to be a big shark. That’s what separates a dancer and a performing artist — the ability to fill in those gaps and to interpret the work.

And when you get a chance to improvise, as a dancer, that’s your moment. It’s a gift. And you’re entrusted with those moments to improvise because you are known as an artist who can handle it.

Gaw’s lackadaisically prancing shark performance was certainly a gift. The thing is, once you’ve proven a Daniel Day-Lewis-level of commitment to carnivorous fish choreography, where do you go from there? When you’ve brought joy to literally millions of people during a brief televised performance, where can you go? If you’re Gaw, you learn how to cut hair and start working in a West Hollywood salon. From WaPo:

My life has slowed down since the Super Bowl. But for me, fashion, hair, styling, dance — it all blends together. I’ll continue to dance and be a stylist.

Left Shark’s famously inept-looking performance at the 2015 Super Bowl was, in the moment of its conception, the embodied inspiration of a consummate artist who nonetheless shied away from instant celebrity in order to pursue twin passions for dance and hair styling…. is this news?

Is This News? is a series of stories that might be news.