May 20, 2016
BE Modern Man: Meet “The Dance Maker” Shawn Short
Name: Shawn Short
Profession: Educator/Director/Dance Maker
One Word That Describes You: Driven
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
This is a humbling moment for me, and it truly means a lot. Being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction means that my work as an educator, mentor, and artist is being appreciated and recognized. I’m blessed to stand next to my fellow brothers who are making a difference in their communities.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
I believe that struggle is a part of success. Without risk, there is no growth.
My examples of turning struggle into success, is my realization of Washington, D.C.’s only black-managed contemporary ballet, DC’s only dance magazine, and an emerging pipeline for African American dancers (particularly male dancers) to launch their careers on the national level.
Washington, D.C. has a vast history of black dance organizations that date back to 1932. However, in 2000, the 36 black dance entities in D.C. dissolved to 17. Today there are only a handful of black-managed dance organizations. Like many sectors in business, you can’t change the marketplace if you don’t have “a seat at the table.” The arts and entertainment have always been a way for blacks to enter the creative economy. Through personal investment and professional development, my company, Dissonance Dance Theatre (DDT) founded in 2007, has been recognized by New York for the Arts, Dance Magazine (2013), and Dance Spirit Magazine (2016); premiering dances in D.C., NYC, and Milwaukee. Currently, DDT is the only emerging black-managed dance company in D.C. currently celebrating nine years of operations and serving approximately 15 dance artists annually.
If it’s not written, it’s not real. This is true when it came to having a literary voice for dance. A voice that would boost not only recognition but educate en masse. Educating the general public on the power of dance and how the arts are a necessity. With deficit comes opportunity to create. With a two-person staff, a creative eye, and experience, Ngoma Reader (NR) Magazine was launched in 2013. A bi-monthly magazine that has featured more than 30 dance artists in its two-and-a-half years of operations. NR Magazine now serves as a tool to boost awareness of dance artists in D.C., particularly dancers of color.
Lastly, the struggle of being a black man in the arts. With recent attention on the strife women of color endure especially in ballet, many feel that black boys and young male adults have a better chance. I disagree wholeheartedly. I don’t have to tell Black Enterprise of the struggles and challenges facing black men today. We all know the statistics. I wanted to do my part to effect change in my community. In 2012, I founded Ngoma Center for Dance with programs that provide housing subsidies, administrative job training, mentorship, and artist development for black aspiring and emerging male dance artists. Male dancers have gone on to perform with Complexions, Phildanco, national musical tours, and cruise ships. These are a few ways that I have challenged adversity and have seen the success of my dreams.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
Humility is the most important quality I look for in my relationships with others. I feel it keeps you open to listen, self-assess, and laugh at yourself. Laughing is needed sometimes.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I’m working on the planning of Dissonance Dance Theatre’s 10th year theatrical season, and our third year of our Summer DanceLab program serving 50 students from the age of 8 to young adult.
What is the best advice you ever received?
You can sleep when you’re dead, live life with urgency.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Work on yourself first. You are no good to anyone if you can’t fix yourself.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
Sleep. I over plan for meetings, so I can feel comfortable going “off book” when needing to relate deeper understanding of subject matter. Reading speeches in the mirror still helps.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
As a busy Modern Man, I haven’t taken a vacation in a while. My dream vacation would be one that is quiet, with a small group of fun friends, and somewhere scenic and warm.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
The Hague, Netherlands. I would love to visit Nederlands Dans Theater headquarters.
Anything else you’d like to say?
When I was an undergrad theater student at Howard University, I had the pleasure of having Ozzie Davis speak to me and several young men on the steps of the Fine Arts building. He said, ‘My generation cracked the door open so your generation could see what was going on. It is your generation’s duty to kick the door open.’ It is a tiresome road at times, when you are a leader. However, our ancestors have put everything we need in our bones. Continue to prosper and fight for the betterment of our communities.
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