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Shanna living her dancing dream

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Dance steps: dancer Shanna Henry will be showing off her work in Troika’s FYE! Young Choreographers’ Showcase (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

When she was 24, Shanna Henry had to make a difficult choice. Stick with a job she cared little about or pursue a lifelong dream of becoming a professional dancer.

For a while she tried to do both, but found she was too exhausted at the end of the day to do more than sleep.

“It was one of those moments,” she said.

“I felt if I didn’t go now, I would be focused on what the job has for me to do. I felt the job was bringing in income, but it wasn’t helping me mentally to stay in the artistic mindset.”

So, in July, she quit.

“In the beginning, my family were upset, but then they said, ‘OK, we see what it takes for you to get where you want to be,’” said Ms Henry, who received a bachelor’s degree in dance in May.

“I wanted to spend more time building myself up as a brand, and researching dance opportunities in the United States.

“[Local dance troupe] United Dance Productions was opening after the summer break and I knew I could take classes there but I was starting to wonder if I would perform again outside the studio.”

Then an opportunity popped up. Troika was planning a show — the FYE! Young Choreographers’ Showcase.

“I thought it might bring me some exposure and maybe lead to further collaborations with other artists,” she said.

“I can also use the footage from the performance in my dance portfolio.”

The annual show gives amateurs the chance to choreograph and perform their own dance material before an audience.

This year 13 people, between the ages of 11 and 25, are taking part, showcasing a variety of dance styles.

It was a challenge for Ms Henry. She had done some choreography while studying at Montclair State University in New Jersey, but not much outside of her classes.

“Sometimes I had an idea, but it didn’t necessarily work out for my body type,” she said.

In the end, she settled on a piece that pushed her comfort zone a little.

“It is a little bit on the sensual side,” she said. “It’s not normally something I would have chosen to choreograph for myself, but I wanted to challenge myself, and see what else I could do.”

Her “normal” dance style is somewhere between contemporary modern and commercial hip-hop, but her entry in the showcase is more on the contemporary modern side.

“That is where my highest level of technique is,” she said.

She started taking lessons when she was 7 at In Motion School of Dance on Reid Street.

“At first, I was doing it mainly as an extracurricular activity,” she said. “I liked it because it was fun.”

Her interest heated up when she transferred to United Dance Productions five years later.

“I joined the United Dance Production Junior Company,” she said. “Doing dance showcases around the island, I knew I wanted to do more with dance.”

By the time she was 16, she knew she wanted to dance as a career.

“It allows me to step away from what is going on in my everyday world and just express my artistic self and branch out from there,” she said.

“When my mother [Shona] was growing up, she wanted to be a dancer, but she also wanted to be a teacher.

“She kept dance as a hobby, but for me, she said whatever dreams I had pursue them no matter what. When it came to dance, she was 100 per cent behind me for it. She was my biggest fan.

“Sharing an interest in dance does give us a bond. She still dances — at First Church of God. She is the dance leader there.”

At Montclair State, she was deeply inspired by one of her teachers. Frederick Earl Mosley had taught at The Ailey School, the Interlochen Centre for the Arts and Yale.

“I am obsessed with him, even though he put me in my place every day,” she said.

“I look up to him the most. Sometimes it seemed like he was constantly on me. I asked him why, one day, and he said I was one of the best in the class but I needed me to push myself harder.

“I would push myself, get somewhere and stay there, rather than pushing further. It all worked out. For the final piece that year, he gave me the best solo ever.”

She had hoped to stay in the United States and pursue a career but the visa she had would not allow her to work outside the dance industry.

“Every dancer knows you need a second job to get by,” she said. “You never know if a dance audition will lead to a job or not.”

So she returned home to Bermuda.

She is looking for an agent to help her get the right visa and find work.

Meanwhile, she helps out at United Dance Productions.

“I help them whenever they need another dancer for a piece,” she said.

She will be in the Court Street company’s Christmas show next month. “I feel like where I am going is actually beneficial as opposed to not having quit my job and then taking too long to do it,” she said.

Troika organiser Seldon Woolridge was thrilled to be able to help her.

“Many of these young people train around the island at the various dance schools but they don’t necessarily always get the opportunity to present their own creative pieces,” he said.

“It’s the third showcase we’ve done, and we can see the growth of submissions over the years.”

Troika’s FYE! Young Choreographers’ Showcase takes place tomorrow in the Earl Cameron Theatre at 8pm. Tickets, $25 for students, $35 general admission and $55 for patrons, are available at ptix.bm/fye

Dancer Shanna Henry will be showing off her work in Troika's FYE! Young Choreographers' Showcase (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Dancer Shanna Henry will be showing off her work in Troika's FYE! Young Choreographers' Showcase (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)