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Shanna Woods is a dance artist, educator, entrepreneur, and mother from Delray Beach, FL. She describes herself as the “Sweetest mango with a dash of ghost pepper.” This description offers some insight into the personality of this Queen and visually piques the interest of the reader. Who is this sweet and spicy woman? Shanna has an extensive resume having performed nationally and internationally with Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theatre, Jubilation Dance Ensemble and currently with Olujimi Dance Theatre. She has a musical theater background as well—her credits include “Deena Jones in Dreamgirls, The Wiz, The Producers, Ethel in Memphis The Musical, and dance captain for Man of La Mancha and The World Premiere A Wonderful World and Mayme in Intimate Apparel” (https://www.shannawoods.com). She is certified in KAY Yoga for Children, AkhuYoga, and Kemetic Yoga and she developed the “Art of Acceptance” self-care workshop series. Shanna is the Director of Dance at Boynton Beach Community Highschool, and founding member of Florida Black Dance Artist Organization, and is currently the first Artist in Residence at Bailey Contemporary Arts Center in Pompano Beach, Fl. Okay Sis, we see you!
My relationship with Shanna is multi-dimensional. I first met her as a student at Miami Dade College Kendall when she took my CaribFunk class. We currently dance together in the Olujimi Dance Collective. I have supported her business “Lavish Lovin’ Skin Soul Care Line products (the skin is giving island tropics hunny!) and we cofounded The Florida Black Dance Artist Organization with several other local dance artists. I have watched her mother her daughter Lilian with a fierce tenacity and incredible love, instilling African principles. Ms. Lilian is quite often adorned in African print clothing; she is exposed to Black/African books and authors and enrolled in African dance and Capoeira classes and both of their hair is beautifully locked. I have also listened to Shanna discuss the joys and pains of teaching dance in K-12 which has produced numerous squawks and gut busting howls. It is truly inspiring to see how Shanna is mothering her daughter in a very intentional manner, educating her about the beauty, brilliance, and resilience of her ancestors. This sensibility is transposed into the classroom where it is evidenced that she is practicing motherwork, “this type of [work] recognizes that individual survival, empowerment, and identity require group survival, empowerment, and identity” (Collins 1994, 374).
Black womanhood has produced a narrative that has negatively impacted the lives of many, “Black women have been victimized by the sociopolitical racist and sexist ideologies that control the discourse entrapping Black females” (Gammage 2019, 9) but we can overcome these abuses by centering our survival, power, and identity (Collins 1994). Shanna’s new work “Rituals” addresses this. “The dance work, Rituals, challenges my thoughts around survival, thriving, rest and joy. In the past, I felt like I was always in survival mode out of fear, trying to make it through, and barely sustaining myself and my daughter. Rituals is an exploration of my desire to thrive with the intersections of joy and dream. As a Black woman, it is my experience that Black folk always innovate laughter, music and dance even in our times of sorrow. One thing we forget is that we deserve to rejuvenate our minds, bodies, and spirits” (Woods 2023). Through storytelling, play, movement, visual art, spoken word, and music, the audience is drawn into a love letter offering healing to women, children, and the community.
My son and I attended the show at Bailey Contemporary Arts on Friday, April 7, 2023. The performance took place during the “Old Town Untapped” event which is an outdoor street festival with live, music, DJ, art gallery openings, craft beer, street vendors, and food trucks. (https://www.pompanobeacharts.org/events/untapped?mibextid=Zxz2cZ). Admittingly, I was a bit confused because what I saw versus what I was expecting didn’t match. I made a phone call to Michelle Grant-Murray to get some clarity and stumbled upon Shanna and Lilian standing outside the building. Lilian was saging/smudging her mom before they entered the space; I immediately felt at ease and recognized that I was indeed in the right place. Shanna took her seat in front of a video which featured Michelle Grant-Murray speaking; Lilian is standing behind her. The video ends and Shanna acknowledges the earth. Shanna rises, moving through the space with a ferocious calm. Elegantly dressed in all white—white pants and a white off the shoulder top with a black cowrie shell bra underneath, she cuts through the room with her brown extremities reaching through, above, and beyond the watchers and finds her brief resting place seated on the floor—Lilian finds her seat in the same chair.
Lilian is dressed in white pants, a white long sleeve shirt with blue fabric wrapped around her waist. She opens her book and takes us on a journey. She references Yurugu throughout the reading. Yurugu is “A being in Dogon Mythology which is responsible for disorder in the universe. This is a being conceived in denial of the natural order, which then acts to initiate and promote disharmony in the universe. In African Cosmology such a being is deficient in spiritual sensibility, is perpetually in conflict, is limited cognitively, and is threatening to the well- being of humanity” (Ani 1994, xxviii). Lilian reads a few lines that are powerful and potent, resonating and affirming with such depth: “I need community. I need people who are going to share and critique…It’s about partnership, that is something I desire.”
Shanna’s movement vocabulary demonstrates the multitude of techniques and aesthetics that she has been exposed to with a layer of Black womanhood, magic, confidence, pain, and joy. She embodies sensuality and play. Her hips circle, wine, and skank positioning her pelvis to give and receive. The cadence of her body shifts responding to the text. She makes her way to the outer realm of the room and leads us up the stairs. The audience follows her, most can’t see. They can only imagine what is taking place in the narrow stairwell. The mood has shifted. The energy is high, and the sound is cutting. The instrumentation is wild and eerie, and Shanna’s body matches it. The sound changes to a lighter flow and the female voice is soothing, singing “I saw things, I imagine…” This shift is refreshing for both the viewer and those who were on the outskirts imagining what was going on.
Shanna makes her way up the stairs and into the center area that is partitioned off. The audience follows. She turns her back to us and changes her clothes. She takes off her top and pants and puts on a white flowing spaghetti strap dress. There is a woman speaking in a gentile tone. I hear her say “She guards her authenticity as carefully as she guards her baby.” The act of mothering everyone and anything is powerful.
Shanna methodically takes a piece of fabric and wraps her hair. The audience is mesmerized. She walks over to the table which has several liquid and colorful items on it. She places her hand in a bowl, submerges it in the concoction, removes it, walks over to the wall and begins hand painting. Shanna voice is illuminated piping loudly through the speakers; she offers us a manifesto of self-love. Her soothing voice is therapeutic and healing. I am drawn into the words of affirmation and declaration. She offers:
“I desire to liberate myself from ancestral depression”
“Inside me is an empire’
“I desire to love and be loved without ownership”
A Black woman to my right is weeping. My soul leaps. I am grateful. I am drawn into the ecstasy that is abundant in her smile. This is the embodiment of Black womanhood.
Image 1: Shanna Woods
Image 2: Michelle Grant-Murray
Image 3: Shanna Woods
Image 4: Shanna Woods
Image 5: Lillian S. Harris
Image 6: Shanna Woods
Image 7: Shanna Woods
Image 8: A’Keitha Carey at Affirmation Wall
Image 9: Affirmation Wall
Image 10: Shanna Woods
Image 11: Lillian S. Harris
Image 12: Olujimi
**There was an area set up where you were asked to write/set your intentions and place them in the designated area. She also provided mini tubes of body butter and invited guests to her workshops: Shea Butta, Movement Meditation, Kemetic Yoga, Mango Butta.
Collins, Patricia H. 1994. “Shifting the Center: Race, Class, and Feminist Theorizing About Motherhood.” In Representations of Motherhood, ed by Donna Bassin, et al., 371- 387. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Gammage. Marquita. M. 2019. “Introduction.” In Challenging Misrepresentations of Blackwomanhood: Media, Literature, and Theory, eds Marquita M. Gammage and Antwanisha Alameen-Shavers, 8-18. New York: Anthem Press.
Marimba, Ani. 1994. Yurugu-An African Centered Critique of European Cultural Thought and Behavior. Trenton: Africa World Press.