Women and Adversity: Shea-Ra Nichi
Dancer, Choreographer, Actress
Shea-Ra Nichi (pronounced SHAY-rah NEE-chee) understands that every movement in African dances sends a cultural message, and she is meticulous in expressing the message correctly. She began her career as an actress when she was eight years old at New Freedom Theater in Philadelphia where she grew up. As a teen she studied acting at the Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City and Afro-Caribbean danceat Djoniba Dance and Drum Centre, also in NYC, under the direction of Baba Richard González, a professional dancer from Puerto Rico.
In 2001 Shea-Ra, 38, came to Elizabethtown, N.C. to care for her mother, who passed away shortly after. Since then she has performed in Haiti, Brazil, Germany, France and Spain, and explains she was “researching and learning all forms of cultural behaviors and lifestyles through dance.” She has been in three films, performed at festivals and private events and has lectured.
Currently, she teaches an African dance class at Hannah Block Community Arts Center in Wilmington, N.C. assists at Fort Bragg Intrepid Spirit Center to provide art therapy to those with PTSD and other brain trauma and is a resource in the New Hanover County Schools, Wilmington, for practical art therapy in which students use performing arts to develop their creativity and express their deepest concerns. She performs throughout the area.
Q: Your name is unusual. Explain.
Shea-Ra: My mother gave it to me. Shea-Ra means core or center of life force or sun. My last name means sun, too.
Q: When did you choose African dance as your genre?
Shea-Ra: I have never chosen dance as my genre. Even today I’m looking to find my footing in acting because this is my life’s challenge and passion. It pushed me past my comfort level and allows my heart to open beyond what I think is possible.
Q: What was the biggest challenge you had to face when you began performing African dances?
Shea-Ra: It was deciding how to share these many unique cultures with those who think of Africa as one mass with one culture. I wanted to make sure that the lessons I teach about each culture and their traditions are valued just as much as the movement.
Q: What challenges do you face now?
Shea-Ra: The ability to sustain my life with acting and dance as my career choices.
Q: What do you want people to know about you?
Shea-Ra: I’m driven and determined with a never-stop-until-I succeed spirit, which I credit to my spiritual practice of chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. I’ve been practicing Nichiren Buddhism with Soka Gakkai International–USA since 1994. Based on the fundamental principles of this practice, I’ve been able to persevere in the face of many obstacles and to experience many things that some only dream about. I try to live my life artistically as best I can.
Community African Dance class: www.whqr.org/community-calendar/event/312906#stream