We had the good fortune of connecting with Shenandoah Harris and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Shenandoah, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I started Psychopomp Dance Theater because after working in the dance industry for several years, in several different capacities, I realized that I needed to be the change I so desperately was searching for. There are different forms of abuse that run rampant in the dance industry. Many of these abuses are currently becoming large topics of conversation in the dance community and beyond. Not only are there issues of racism, sexism, misogyny and homophobia that come out in strange ways but also there is often a strong culture of general manipulation. This can be seen in long standing institutions especially. Whether it is wage theft, unsafe working conditions, extreme mind games, crossing the line of a professional relationship or something different, I was tired of being part of the system and I was inspired by other young dance makers to make a change in the dance industry. As a Jewish woman, I believe if we do not speak out against injustice in all forms– as a whole species we are doomed. We do not have a choice. Personally, I choose to speak through Art. I started Psychopomp to create a space where dancers are treated with respect. I strive to create a place where the hierarchy between DIRECTOR and DANCER is not so stark. I want to create pieces of art that speak to the struggles, spirituality, intensity, horror and mystery of human existence. I created Psychopomp to create a space where the performer feels safe to represent themselves and their thoughts.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Every person no matter their form of art encounters many roadblocks and obstacles along the way. Many of the obstacles are things that are out of our control. For example, COVID-19 has brought the dance world to a screeching halt. A person can have a detailed, specific and ‘fool proof’ plan for their career and pathway to professional success. Even if that person is a diligent, respectful, tireless and talented person–we live in a state of organized chaos and sometimes our world loses all organization. A person can work extremely hard and get to where they thought they wanted to be; to only realize when they get there that it isn’t what they imagined. A person can bust their ass day in and day out to get to a position in a company or a place in their career to only realize that their hunger blinded them to the immoral or unjust practices of the system. There are many different religious interpretations of Cane and Able. I believe we are each “our brother’s keeper”. Life is so unpredictable and chaotic– the only constants we have in life are the choices we make. I choose to bring these concepts up in relation to my work because these topics and our thoughts on them affect the world directly. Why else do we make art other than to have a lasting effect on the world around us? As Director of Psychopomp Dance Theater I try my hardest to make sure we remember that what is ephemeral does not last but our words, actions and choices in the community make a huge impact.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
First I would shoutout to my mother, Rena Harris and my brother, Cody Harris. Even though throughout my childhood my family often struggled, my mom worked multiple jobs and many graveyard shifts– she always made sure that I felt loved and supported. Both my brother and my mom made sure from a very young age to instill a sense of moral obligation, empathy and analytical or critical thinking that I am very grateful for. My mom recognized at a young age my love for the arts and creative movement. Though dance classes and extracurricular programs can be expensive and not accessible– I was extremely lucky to live in Denver CO and have access to Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Studios. Cleo Parker Robinson is the first place I took real dance classes in all different styles and I am so grateful. The welcoming environment, accessibility, inclusivity and positive vibes are all definitely reasons I continued to pursue dance as a career.
Linkedin: Shenandoah Harris