With ten years of touring experience, Bessie Award winner and current visiting assistant professor in the dance department Shani Collins has reached beyond borders to expand her own knowledge of culture and identity, particularly in women.
She desires to make a positive impact on people’s lives and now inspires others to do the same.
Following her graduation from the North Carolina School of the Arts, Professor Collins attended a small, women’s liberal arts college, Hollins University, in Roanoke, Virginia, where she received her bachelor’s degree in dance.
While in the undergraduate program, Collins got the chance to travel frequently, spending four months in London and visiting Amsterdam, France and Italy, studying dance and mostly classical music.
Collins, as a testament to her involvement in and passion of dance, teaches at the American Dance Festival every summer, where she met David Dorfman, choreographer and Dance Department Chair, who recommended her to join the dance department as a visiting professor.
Collins decided to take a break from touring with Ron K. Brown’s company, Evidence, A Dance Company, to get her master’s degree from Hollins University and American Dance Festival.
She was able to return to the company after completing her degree, a rarity.
As a part of her graduate program, she traced her lineage back to Africa, and spent some time there, most of the time in Senegal.
While there, she studied traditional and sacred women’s dances, along with West African dance.
This past summer, she returned to perform her own work in Africa as a part of the Kaay Fecc International Dance Festival, held in Dakar, Senegal.
Performing in the festival was momentous for Collins, as her entire family was there to support her.
After having such positive experiences in Africa, Collins remained in Senegal where she studied the Mende tribe.
She was delighted to discover that a Connecticut College student is Mende and from Sierra Leone, where most of the Mende tribe is located.
Collins uses the African dance aesthetic often in her work, and she has had many opportunities to showcase it.
Collins had two of her pieces selected for a program called the American College Dance Festival, where colleges come together to showcase their performance pieces.
She also performed at the Dance Theatre Workshop, which took place over a period of five nights in downtown Manhattan.
That year, the concert featured a combination of Collins’ and another choreographer’s work , and the performance was reviewed in the New York Times.
Last summer, Collins worked with the Lincoln Center Director’s Lab in New York. Here, she studied acting, which was, in Collins’ words, “fun, really fun.”
Collins said that actors and actresses ask very different questions than dancers do, and by answering these questions, you get to know and see your own work in even more detail, which has helped her “to recommit to work and teaching.”
She not only has been teaching, but also by running her own New York-based dance company called Eternal Works.
This company was formed to spread the healing power of dance, especially for women.
It offers workshops for women who are suffering and in dire need of healing. Collins’s sister began these workshops, now known as Breaking Out Workshops, as a support group that looked at identity and gender in addition to contemporary and historical images of the past. This had a great impact on Collins as she now works first-hand with people and their painful stories.
She can see how important the workshops are to people and wants to continue offering that service to those who need it, and see the healing power of her work on them.
Collins has greatly impacted many lives with her dance, and was rewarded in 2006 by receiving the prestigious Bessie Award, which is given to very few choreographers and dancers each year. Getting this recognition for her work was a major highlight of Collins career.
In her dance, Collins strives to “reflect real life, real people and real situations.” In doing so, she hopes to continue making a difference with her company, workshops, and teaching.
On December 11 and 12, Collins’ inspiring and impactful new choreographic work, entitled “Swing Us Sky Rain(bow),” which is focused on intimacy and violence, will be performed at the dance department concert held in Palmer Auditorium.