Arts & Life Editor

Visiting artist Molly Shanahan ‘90 grabbed a chair, flipped it around, sat and looked at the small crowd, which mostly included dance majors or members of the dance team, and said sincerely, “You are so lucky to be here.”

She asked everyone to sit in their chair comfortably. People stretched and slouched over the chairs, preparing themselves for Shanahan’s lecture. Shanahan is the second visiting artist part of the Vail Series this semester.

Shanahan occasionally smiled at Dance department professor and chair Sandra Mathern-Smith throughout her talk. Smith, who introduced Shanahan, shared how important Shanahan’s visit is to her because Shanahan was one of the first students she taught at Denison.

Shanahan showed footage of her 10 year old solo piece “My Name is a Blackbird.” It features Shanahan flowingly moving her body, jerking her arms in different directions as the violin music intensified, and the icy sound of her bare feet skidding across the floor as she maneuvers around a wooden-floored dance studio. The footage is part of a documentary filmed by Shanahan’s friend.

Shanahan reflected on her intentions with working on her piece. “I wanted to transform my perceptions of what a body is,” said Shanahan.

Her choreography seemed both improvisational and composed. She did not constantly uplift and stiffen her torso, but rather released it and let it dictate each movement.

“I wanted to feel and acknowledge what it was like to let my belly out,” said Shanahan. She explained that at the time she choreographed this piece she was recovering from an eating disorder.

“The center of conflict was my abdominal [muscles],” said Shanahan. Her ability to release her abdominal muscles in her choreography liberated her body. Her passionate expression in her choreography reflected her inner turmoil with her body.

Shanahan is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Temple University and writing her dissertation on this piece. Looking back on her experience with “My Name is a Blackbird,” she is amazed by how comfortable she felt having her friend film her so intimately. Now, she is researching the relationship between the dancer and observer.

Vulnerability is a large part of this relationship. She works to understand herself and her body, not worrying about what the audience thinks. If allowing her body to be vulnerable makes the audience feel vulnerable, then that only empowers her more.