Arts & Life Editor
Visiting artist Molly Shanahan ‘90 grabbed a chair, flipped it around, sat, and looked at the small crowd, mostly dance majors or members of the dance team, and said sincerely, “You are so lucky to be here.”
After making sure everyone was comfortable in the Knapp Performance Lab, which set the casual mood of the talk, Shanahan wanted students to know how much she trusts and admires the dance department at Denison and that they should take advantage of it.
Shanahan would occasionally smile at Dance Department professor and chair Sandra Mathern-Smith throughout her talk. Smith, who introduced Shanahan, shared how important Shanahan’s visit is to her because Shanahan was one of the first students she taught at Denison.
Shanahan showed footage of her 10 year old solo piece “My Name is a Blackbird.” It featured Shanahan flowingly moving her body, jerking her arms in different directions as the violin music intensified, and the icy sound of her barefeet skidding across the floor as she maneuvered around the large space. The footage is part of a documentary filmed by Shanahan’s friend.
“I wanted to transform my perceptions of what a body is,” said Shanahan. Her choreography seemed both improvisational and composed. She seemed comfortable in her own body and was not concerned with constantly uplifting and stiffening her torso.
“I wanted to feel and acknowledge what it was like to let my belly out,” said Shanahan. She explained that at the time she choreographed this piece she was getting over an eating disorder.
“The center of conflict was my abdominal [muscles],” said Shanahan. Her ability to release her abdominal muscles let her liberate her body. Her passionate expression in her choreography reflected her conflict with her body.
Shanahan is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Temple University and writing her dissertation on this piece. She is examining the relationship between the dancer and observer. Looking back on her experience with “My Name is a Blackbird,” she is amazed by how comfortable she felt having her friend film her so intimately.
Vulnerability is a large part of this relationship. She works to understand herself and her body, not worrying about what the audience thinks. If allowing her body to be vulnerable makes the audience feel vulnerable, then that only empowers her more.