There happens to be a company in Chicago whose works range in aesthetic from ancient cultural dances to more recognized contemporary forms, all centered around dance as a pathway to healing. That company is SheWolf…”
Every now and then, we all need some healing. Whether it is in the physical, emotional or spiritual sense, the difficulties of life can require us to search for methods that provide us with some sense of relief. These methods can involve therapy, but dance therapy is typically not the first type that comes to mind. In 1966, 50 years after the first record of dance as psychotherapy was widely circulated, the American Dance Therapy Association was established. The organization continues to be a national and international advocate for the development and expansion of dance therapy worldwide. But, we must not forget that dance as a form of healing existed long before its formalized practice. Ancient cultures from across the globe used ritualized dance; some forms, like the Vimbuza healing dance of the Tumbuka people in northern Malawi, remain an essential part of indigenous health care systems.
Lucky for us, the opportunity to experience an evening of the healing of power of dance is much closer than Malawi. There happens to be a company in Chicago whose works range in aesthetic from ancient cultural dances to more recognized contemporary forms, all centered around dance as a pathway to healing. That company is SheWolf, founded by Artistic Director Julie Brannen. Her experience as a practicing dance therapist gives a unique lens to the practice and performance of concert dance. What’s more, it is that lens that is the foundation for the mission and vision of her company, SheWolf, and their upcoming performance at Chicago’s Center on Halsted.
SheWolf’s Sacred Movement is an evening of dance that invites the audience to rediscover what is natural, instinctual and vital within the human experience. DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera caught up with Julie to learn more about SheWolf, as well as get the inside scoop on the community of dancers, choreographers and musicians that will be presenting at Sacred Movement. Here’s what she told us:
I was also very lucky to find a field of work that seemed to be made exactly for me: dance/movement therapy – where this passion for creation meets the inherent healing capacity of dance.
Kristi Licera: The program that SheWolf is presenting at the Center on Halsted includes 50 artists including dancers, musicians and choreographers. Aside from directing SheWolf (and choreographing in the program), you are also are a practicing dance therapist which informs how the program is structured as well as SheWolf’s mission and vision. How has your background in dance therapy affected your approach to bringing together this collection of artists and their work? Can you tell us more about the structure of the evening as it pertains to the mission and vision of SheWolf?
Julie Brannen: Dance is enough for me. I know the feeling of coming home to myself through movement again and again. This process has always been healing; becoming comfortable in my own skin, taking up space and being seen in authentic expression. I was lucky enough to find this passion at a young age. I was also very lucky to find a field of work that seemed to be made exactly for me: dance/movement therapy – where this passion for creation meets the inherent healing capacity of dance. And the next layer revealed itself—to then gain the skills to be able to facilitate this for others. Looking back, it seems like an organic way of revealing gifts to myself, the people I work with and the world.
SheWolf has the intentionality of healing process turned up because this is the background and perspective I bring. Although it is not therapy, it certainly has therapeutic elements woven into it.
SheWolf was birthed out of seeing the power of bringing dance as a healing modality to people who had been affected by systems of oppression, which historically has included women, people of color and LGBTQIA+ identified people.
Julie: My first job as a dance/movement therapist was working with women and girls who were recovering from addiction, eating disorders and traumatic experiences. Little did I know this experience would set the tone for a deeper layer of revealing my purpose and passion. As a woman, it also illuminated some aspects of my shadow side that I had yet to deal with. Now I have words for that experience, including being violently exposed to the feminine wound, victim-hood and systems of oppression. SheWolf was birthed out of seeing the power of bringing dance as a healing modality to people who had been affected by systems of oppression, which historically has included women, people of color and LGBTQIA+ identified people. The beauty resides in the ability to witness the incredible strength and resilience needed to exist in this society and, in many cases, the world.
So, the evening is structured as an invitation to witness the process of healing for all involved. The show will be a cohesive evening length work, separated into four sections: summoning, claiming, healing and thriving. We do this through dance, music, integrative storytelling and audience participation.
At this point, this work is beyond me and all about the community.
Kristi: SheWolf’s team of six choreographers will be presenting a variety of works that range in aesthetic from traditional cultural dances to more contemporary dance forms. Can you tell us more about each of the choreographers and the works they will be presenting?
Julie: I am endlessly grateful to be surrounded by a group of dedicated, passionate and talented people! At this point, this work is beyond me and all about the community. We have a group of 6 lead choreographers who will be presenting works of solos, duets, small and large groups and 16 guest artists, who have works ranging from solos to small groups. Some specifics include Sondra Malling’s investigation of sacred geometry and the human form, Krystle Aguilera’s exploration of the Hermetic principles of self-mastery, Sarah Lemley’s embodiment of the life-death-life cycle, Tracy Mihaljevic’s play of belly dance empowerment and Jen Halman’s expression of her West African lineage and teachings. I am showing a new work embodying the instinctual animalistic nature as humans.
A few guest artist’s works include Brandice Manuel’s exploration of indigenous rituals and rites of passage, Laksha Dantran’s theatrical embodiment of connecting to the Hindu Goddess Devi as a transgender woman and Gaea Lady’s expression of ecstatic union from duality into bliss.
SheWolf presents Sacred Movement at the Center on Halsted (3656 N. Halsted Street, Chicago 60613) Thursday, May 23 and Saturday May 25 at 7pm and Sunday May 26 at 2pm. Tickets are available community.centeronhalsted.org/SheWolf.