Out of the Mouths of Babes

Shannon Hummel

Since becoming a mother, I have become braver and truer to myself as an artist. There is an immediacy to being a mother for me (probably for everyone), whether I want it or not, that has taught me to trust my gut more than before having my son. I am proud my son watches me make things. Dance, done right, destroys nothing and I’m proud to take part in a world that is about creating when there are so many chances in this world to destroy.

It sounds silly, but my dances always begin with people… people before ideas. My dances always begin with dancers: beautiful, sensitive, articulate dancers who are not only technically skilled movers, but intuitive human beings, open to feeling things and sharing things with an audience in rare and vulnerable ways. They patiently listen at length to my rambling ideas and thoughts and experiences. They decipher and physicalize these ideas and ultimately, through them, I find clarity. I am always so deeply grateful to these incredible people who translate my feelings into something I can see. I am so proud to have them as characters, friends, role models and playmates in the life of my son. My dancers invite my son into their world and their arms. And that, as well, makes me proud, satisfied, grateful to be an artist-mother.

I make dance much the same way I do everything: I start by just starting. When I begin, I have very, VERY little vision of what the end product will become and many, MANY disjointed ideas that, at first, have seemingly nothing to do with one another. I’m a meanderer. A trial-and-error-and-error-and-error-and.. oh now I’ve got it… kind of person. I cook this way, I parent this way, I talk this way… I start blindly but faithfully down a path and then I try to remain judgment-free about where it might end up and just follow it where it goes. In many ways, it’s a wonderfully active meditation that helps me resist the urge to scream sometimes when I want to force my kid in a direction I know he will never go, into a person he will never be, and instead embrace what he is. It’s hard and frightening…. always frightening and always necessary. The work I have included here for example, “down here”‘, has its beginnings in things I notice that, as I said, seem unrelated: the hunched-over shapes and meticulous hand gestures of factory workers; the passive-aggressive words of a spouse explaining to a listener how much she loves the little things her partner does for her with a tone and expression that says those are clearly the things she despises most; Joni Mitchell songs that remain youthfully hopeful while dripping with bitterness; the militaristic synchronization of soldiers moving off to the horrors of war with placid, well-trained expressionlessness; lovely little silver dolls so easy to create, admire and ruin. From these starting points I take months and months to experiment: generating movement phrases, interactions, gestures, monologues, sounds, and endless manifestations of these… ingredients. I sew and unravel and sew and unravel them together so many countless times, I get lost. It’s always at that point when the material is too much to manage; I start noticing the universal truths these images share. These truths serve as an anchor and compass for me to find what is real in this world I am creating (and usually, in the world I live in as well) and what can be stripped away. Eventually, I ditch anything that doesn’t support the central truth of the work. Sometimes that means I let go of the most beautiful parts, but in the end, it’s the clear telling of the truths within that matters most to me. “down here” reveals to me, in all its images, the pain brought on by the desire for something different from what one has. When I found this, this single universal truth, and this common denominator in all this material I suddenly realized: I feel this way. And this is how it always is…Somewhere in this stripping down of the dance, I find what is troubling me, blocking me, important to me. I discover me: what I have been processing, feeling, going through in my own life.

This is why, for me anyway, dance-making is so relevant and important to my parenting. As a parent, I’m a doer. I’m not proud to say it but, I don’t always feel or feel I have time to feel. I don’t always want to feel. I have lots to get done and feeling might get in the way. Some of this is necessary and not all bad, but gone on too long, it becomes like a callus on my emotions. Choreography is more than a release to me, it’s a spirit-guide. I mean, how can I guide my son toward understanding his own feelings when I can’t experience or acknowledge my own? Choreography gets me there.

So I make dances. For me, and for him, I make dances because I need to. My dances illustrate for me how I’m feeling before I feel it myself. My dance-making allows me to laugh at myself, love myself, forgive myself and be forgiving to those around me. When I can look at what I have made and say “there I am” then I know it’s finally becoming a dance with truth inside of it… truth I can use… as a mother, an artist, a whole person.


Shannon Hummel by Heidi Zarou

Shannon Hummel by Heidi Zarou








Shannon Hummel (Artistic Director) is a choreographer, arts educator and the Founding Artistic Director of Shannon Hummel/Cora Dance. Hummel is driven to create access to the arts for all people, believing that everyone should have high-quality arts experiences through performance and education. In 2009, she opened The Cora Studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn as a laboratory for breaking down the impediments that keep low-income and isolated communities from taking part in the arts. Since that time, she has developed a pay-what-you-can dance school offering professional dance classes to students regardless of their ability to pay and brought her professional choreographic work to school gymnasiums, church basements, parks, piers and in the hallways and courtyards of public housing developments as well as professional venues in NYC. 2013 inaugurates her return to extensive residency work, lecturing, teaching and performances in established venues across the country as she continues her commitment to creating a sense of passion and relevance for the arts for all people. She has been on the faculty of a plethora of NYC dance education organizations and is the longtime Movement Specialist for young children at Poly Prep. She has been a full-time professor at James Madison University (VA) and Queensborough College (NY) and taught and lectured at such institutions as The American Dance Festival (NY Intensive), ACDFA (Mid-Atlantic Region), NY Live Arts (DTW) (NY), Rutgers University (NJ), The College of William & Mary (VA), Marlboro College (VT), among many others. She is most proud of being the mom of a lively boy named Henry.


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