"just be." is an exploration into the nature of being: being present, being open, being engaged, being vulnerable, being yourself. The performance is the culminating project for Shannon's Thesis Research for her Master of Fine Arts in Choreography from Jacksonville University.

"The Nature of Being: A Phenomenological Approach to 'Lived' Experience and Embodied Movement"

Shannon's M.F.A. in Dance Choreography Thesis Research included a written dissertation and culminating performance. The Abstract of the written work, future research goals, a brief overview of the performance, and pictures from just be. are included below.

Manny Mendoza, critic for Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones, published a REVIEW HEREFor additional information, please contact Shannon directly.

"At one point, a narrator intoned, 'You may not control all events.' Rather than controlling the audience. Watters demanded its attention, knowingly questioning the usual standoffish relationship between performer and viewer."  

- Manny Mendoza, TheaterJones and Dallas Morning News


Photo: amr photography

Photo: amr photography


“Practice makes perfect.” These words are spoken to people young and old when working to acquire new skills. However, it takes more than “practice” to come to know how to properly execute a task. In dance, it is evident that with repetitive execution you can gain “muscle memory,” but how does one truly come to know? Further, how do dance “steps” become embodied movement, and how does embodied movement become performative potential?

This research explores how the mind and body, when working symbiotically, lead dancers to a ‘lived’ experience that engages the senses, perceptions, and emotions to make movement meaningful. Through a phenomenological approach – actively involving the mind, body, and sensory perceptions – the mind and body learn how to ‘live’ in, experience, and become the movement. “Dancing” becomes “experiencing.”

This research analyzes the interplay between ‘lived’ experience and embodied movement and the implications of this interplay on being. Drawing upon cognitive science and somaesthetics, the study investigates whether specific mechanisms and conditions of the space assist dancers in each stage of the choreographic process in establishing a mind-body connection, heightening sensory awareness, achieving embodied movement, and ‘living’ in a present state of being.

The findings suggest there is a pedagogical framework that can be drawn upon to assist dancers in developing the necessary skills for embodied movement. Through specific cueing and altered conditions of the space, a choreographer can lead dancers to a mind-body knowing. By layering frameworks in appropriate ways and at appropriate times, a state of flow can be achieved. Moreover, the research explores how a state of flow leads to performativity and disbands the traditional triadic perspective. When being, all parties observe and respond within the experience, actively participating, shaping, and observing. When one is able to be, one is able to ‘live’ and embody.


As I move forward in my research, I would like to consider how to strengthen embodied states of being through varied interactions. A ‘lived’ experience is a form of dialogue, whether verbal or nonverbal, and I would like to investigate the role of nonverbal and verbal communication on embodiment, being, and engagement. How do embodiment, being, and engagement communicate to others? Further, how does the space communicate? With a deeper understanding of nonverbal communication techniques, I believe I could introduce more complexity of movement that would potentially make the movement more universally understood – more embodied.

"just be." 

An exploration into the nature of being through traditional and non-traditional performative means. 

Traditional Venue. Expectations are constructed through prior experience. The use of a familiar venue for a performance experience – a traditional proscenium-based theater – gave context to the audience and a sense of comfort when they arrived in the space. A sense of comfort in the space assisted in producing a willingness in the audience to be open to change. The decision on venue was vital. I chose Plano Courtyard Theater because it was an intimate setting. The theater also presented local artists’ work throughout the L-shaped lobby, and I incorporated the “art gallery” feel of the space within the choreographic work.

Traditional and Non-Traditional Use of Space. I explored ways of using the entire space in the performance. I incorporated movement in the lobby (non-traditional) and theater (traditional) space. I designed the base choreographic framework to integrate a complete immersion of the dancers in the audience space with moments of a traditional “front” so that the change would not be too abrupt or alarming for the audience to be receptive to the non-traditional elements. For the lobby, I furthered the idea of an “art gallery” and placed life-sized frames throughout the space. The frames were a way to exhibit a traditional, two-dimensional “front” while appropriately aligning layers with the existing theater environment. I also intended to remove the “front” by having dancers moving among the audience (three-dimensional) in the lobby. When considering the use of theater space, I removed over 70 seats, utilizing the traditional stage (two-dimensional) and the non-traditional audience seating area (three-dimensional) for movement.  I also included video projection and interactive technology in the theater space.

Traditional and Non-Traditional ‘Experience’ Opportunities. I gave the audience control of their role in their performance ‘experience.’ Did they want to maintain their traditional observer role or become active participants in the performance? I set aside areas for a more traditional experience in the lobby and the theater spaces, allowing the audience to enter and exit interactive-based sections throughout the event and engage with dancers at their level of comfort. The audience was given freedom to move anywhere – at any point – to change their vantage point and/ or role. 

Manny Mendoza, critic for Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones, published a REVIEW HERE

Kelley Chambers, Arts & Entertainment Editor with Star Local Media, published an ARTICLE HERE.

PICTURES OF just be.

Pictures from the performance are below. Click any picture for a larger view and slide show. The performance consisted of three parts:

(1) Pre-Show Movement in Lobby. This took place from the time the doors opened throughout the lobby space. It involved interactive life-sized frames and dancers positioned throughout the lobby space. It involved the four cast members and 18 of Shannon's students from Academy of Dance Arts.

(2) Guest Performers. Four pieces by Shannon's students from Academy of Dance Arts took place in various sections of the lobby. 

(3) just be. The final piece in the lobby started the more "traditional" performance experience. becoming  transitioned the audience into the theater, and the remaining six sections (be vulnerable, be strong, be open, be here… now, be real, and just be) took place throughout the theater space, whether on stage or in the audience seating area. The theater portion also utilized an interactive technology projection software called Isadora.

Photo: amr photography

Photo: amr photography