Inside A Carousel for Missoula on a summer afternoon, a group of preschool- and elementary-aged kids stands quietly around the entrance. Their camp leader, Shane Rooney, a lanky man with a scruffy ginger beard, places ride tokens into their outstretched hands. "Thank you, Coach Shane," says each child before running off to get in line for the carousel.
While twirling his mustache, Rooney explains that he loves his multiple day jobs where he gets to work with kids. He's also excited to blow off some steam at the upcoming art, fashion and music show, Please Don't Tell My Dad. Most of the participating artists at Please Don't Tell are operating under pseudonyms, due to the show's "R-rated content," Rooney says. But Coach Shane isn't one to be shy or coy about it. He says he's looking forward to openly participating in an event that's all about embracing an adult sense of humor. The show will include art displays, a fashion runway, a robot mingling with the crowd and erotic popcorn ball sculptures. Rooney will be dropping some "dope rhymes" as MC Boogeyman, with beatboxing from a performer going by the name "DJ Tastykake." He doesn't want to give too much away about the show, but he insists it will be engaging, to say the least.
"It will out-fun at least anything at First Friday," he says. "It will be the freshest, for sure."
Around the local arts scene, Rooney is best known to kids and adults alike as Coach Shane. The 29-year-old can be found exuberantly refereeing Garden City Lady Arm Wrestlers matches and dancing in his skivvies on top of a van at VonCommon art shows. He was once spotted cycling down Higgins Avenue at midnight while doing bicep curls with jugs of milk.
By day, Rooney works an assortment of gigs, including teaching at the YMCA, performing with The Whizpops!, coaching basketball and leading day camps. He gets relief from all the G-rated fun by writing filthy hip-hop lyrics.
"Sometimes, it's nice just to be a grownup, to say the F word," Rooney says. "I come from Philly, and Philly's the birthplace of gangsta rap. Schoolly D. Know your history. Straight up. So as a result, even the white kid studying philosophy at a Jesuit college still has to be equipped with their battle raps."
Rooney attended St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, studying philosophy for a few semesters. He briefly considered becoming a priest before settling on elementary education as his major. During his first student teaching gig, he says he felt constricted by standardized testing requirements and traditional education.
"What I had envisioned was getting to shape young lives, but instead I had to instruct 7-year-olds on what 'exceedingly proficient' means," he says.
After graduation, he moved out West to work for Camp Mak-A-Dream, the nonprofit outdoors and arts camp for children and young adults diagnosed with cancer.
"Oh, I had leukemia in high school, that was how I found out about Camp Mak-A-Dream," Rooney mentions, almost casually. He survived leukemia, thanks to a successful bone marrow transplant. As a side effect of chemotherapy treatments, he can't father children. He makes up for it by devoting his life to working with kids, he says.
At Camp Mak-A-Dream, he perfected his special brand of exercise called "Freakaerobics." It's an aerobic kickboxing workout he describes as part Tai Bo and part Richard Simmons, and it was first designed to help give cancer patients a boost of energy.
"There were brain tumor survivors with half their brain cut out who'd be Freakercizing, have a seizure, come to and get right back into doing some Bruce Lee knees," he says. "There's something really special about it."
After Camp Mak-A-Dream, he was offered a job teaching Freakaerobics at a Missoula gym, and decided to stick around.
"That was five years ago, and now I'm the Professor of Fun. That's my official title, it's on my business cards," he says. "If anybody else tries to call themselves the Professor of Fun, I will battle them. We'll have a fun battle. I will out-fun anyone in, I would say the world, but I'll definitely claim the state of Montana."
Please Don't Tell My Dad features music and art at Betty's Divine Fri., Sept. 4, from 5 to 8 PM.