Regarded as Australia's leading dance-educator, Shirley pioneered this country's first Dance major in a Bachelor of Education course at Victoria College (Rusden). The course, which was accredited in 1977, paved the way for the development of dance programmes in tertiary institutions throughout the country. Shirley's career as dancer, teacher and choreographer began when she trained with Daisy Purnitzer, a former member of Gertrude Bodenweiser's Company. The central European style dance from the Viennese School in which she trained became the foundation for the development of modern dance in Australia.
Shirley formed the Contemporary Dance Theatre of Melbourne in 1963 as a vehicle for her own choreography and for the talents of her former students of the Beaumaris School of Modern Ballet established 1955. Her company became renowned for its highly contemporary and innovative work. After completing a Bachelor of Arts with Honours and undertaking a travel/study tour funded by the Theatre Board of the Australia Council in 1974, Shirley returned to establish the dance course at Rusden. In 1977 she co-founded the A.A.D.E. (Australian Association for Dance Education) with Dr. Warren Lett, Dame Peggy van Praagh and Donna Greaves. The A.A.D.E. was later renamed The Australian Dance Council: Ausdance. Ausdance has now become a major organisation for dance advocacy. Shirley's vision for the role of artist/educator in our society, her inspirational teaching and fostering of choreographic talent has set many students on the path to careers in dance as teachers, performers and choreographers. In 1986 Shirley choreographed What a Load of Rubbish and Canon for Four Dancers for Tasdance. Ausdance and the National Library have more information about the work and research Shirley McKechnie has undertaken in her celebrated career.