Shane Sparks was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the youngest of three children to police officers Wanda and Melvin Sparks. He has two older sisters, Rene and Buffy.
Sparks started dancing at the age of 11, when he attended a local dance called the Easterball. Hooked on dancing from that point on, he performed in hometown talent shows and high school showcases, performing such dances as "The Robot," "The Running Man," and the "Cabbage Patch Kid," in addition to holding rehearsals in his backyard.
When his sister's boyfriend was murdered, dancing became even more important to Sparks, as it was his way to escape and feel safe. Other dancers that inspired him included Pop n' Taco, Bob Fosse, Fred Astaire, Michael Jackson, and Paula Abdul.
After graduating from Aiken High School, Sparks moved to Los Angeles in 1993, at the age of 19, to explore a new career. He was part of a dance group named Cold Krush (named after the New York group Cold Krush) that performed in talent shows, then became a singing group called the Cold Premiere. The group was signed to Giant Records and made a film and some videos, but eventually disbanded.
Sparks then went to a dance tryout at the Millenium Dance Complex (formerly known as Moro Landis) in North Hollywood. When a teacher for one of the hip-hop classes was late, someone saw Sparks standing around in a baseball cap and baggy shirt, assumed he was a teacher, and asked him to teach the class. When the real teacher arrived 15 minutes later, he drafted Sparks as his assistant. A week later, the original teacher moved to Japan and suddenly Sparks was taking his place. Under his tenure, the class grew from three students to ten, to two classes a week, to four classes a week, to the biggest class in Los Angeles, breaking records with over 175 students.
Sparks then began getting work as a choreographer for venues such as the American Music Awards, as well as getting a modeling and dancing contract with L'Oréal's Matrix hair products. He has choreographed for A-list musical artists such as Ak'sent, Lindsay Lohan, Marques Houston and Omarion, among others. He received the industry's prestigious "Best Choreography in a Feature Film" award for "You Got Served" at the 2004 American Choreography Awards, as well as a 2005 BET Award for co-choreographing with Omarion.
In 2006-2007, Sparks was one of several choreographers who took part in a two-day hip-hop dance workshop, "The Pulse," held in cities across America. He was joined by such choreographers as Brian Friedman, Mia Michaels, Cris Judd, Laurie Ann Gibson and Wade Robson. One of the workshops in 2006 had 200 attendees, and another workshop in 2007 had more than 900.
Sparks is largely recognized due to Fox's national hit TV show, "So You Think You Can Dance," where he was hand-picked by executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. Sparks sits on the panel of three judges and choreographs for the show.
ASM: What was your childhood like growing up in Cincinnati?
Sparks: In Cincinnati, I moved around a lot. I went to a new school every two years. I lived with my mom and my two sisters, I never lived with my dad, but I saw him often. I played every sport and was good at all of them, especially football and gymnastics. I thought I was going to be a gymnast, until I almost got hurt.
ASM: When did you first become interested in dance and how did that interest come about?
Sparks: When I was three or four years old, I used to dance for my mom and her friends all the time. It wasn't until I moved to Price Hill that I started really trying to learn to dance. I'll never forget, I was getting ready for this dance called the 'Easterball' in Cincinnati, and we were all just practicing, and I learned this one move I called "shockin!" We went to the dance and I think I outdanced everyone there [laughs]. My boys said that I learned to dance in one day, because before that, I was too shy to dance in front of them. It is so crazy that I turned out to be who I am today...but the funny thing about it is I always knew I would make it. I just didn't know how I was going to get there.