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Elizabeth Shea
IU Contemporary Dance Program

Tracy James
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, April 11, 2011

IU Professor Elizabeth Shea's choreography to debut at the Kennedy Center

April 11, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When setting a choreography, Elizabeth Shea usually forgoes her older contemporary dance pieces for her newer works. Her timeless piece These Hands is an exception, and a dance close to her heart; fittingly, it will also mark her debut at the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Connie Dinapoli, who has visited Indiana University Bloomington numerous times conducting dance workshops and setting works on contemporary and ballet dancers, will perform Shea's 1995 solo piece on April 18 as part of "Karen Reedy Dance: Dance is the Answer." The 6 p.m. performance will be streamed live at

Liz Shea's Contemporary Dance

Elizabeth Shea, front, and Connie Dinapoli rehearse 'These Hands'.

Print-Quality Photo

Shea created These Hands during her hectic, topsy-turvy years as a freelance dance artist and mother of a young child. The soloist's hands represent, well, a lot.

"I just had this piece brewing in me," said Shea, director of the IU Contemporary Dance Program in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. "It's about an individual who is struggling as an artist, trying to balance the various aspects of her life. There's caretaking, day-to-day getting by, and the nourishment you really crave as an artist. How do you really work that all together?"

Shea, who was commissioned to create the piece, worked it together in five parts and collaborated with an opera singer/composer to create the live female a cappella that accompanies the dance -- no lyrics, but expressive syllables, grunting, groaning, laughter and percussive sounds on the floor.

"The hands serve as a metaphor for everything one has to do. When the dancer enters, she improvises, examines her hands . . . they're a curse representing everything that has to be done," Shea said. "By the end, they're the potential of what can be. The dancer realizes they're a gift, not a curse."

These Hands was performed by contemporary dance major Esther Widlanski in 2010 during the annual guest artist/faculty concert presented by the IU Dancer Theatre. That's when Dinapoli, who had been helping the dancers prepare their Paul Taylor works, saw Shea's dance and thought it might be a good fit for her. Dinapoli, former dancer for the Paul Taylor Dance Co., also is affiliated with Karen Reedy Dance.

Shea, who is thrilled with the upcoming performance, said only five or six other women have performed These Hands -- she doesn't let just anybody do it. Shea also has presented it at peer-reviewed conferences and festivals around the country. She described the piece as "timeless" because the movements come from more of an "emotional, cognitive place," rather than stylized, trendy designs. This allows the performers freedom in their interpretations.

Shea is an associate clinical professor in the School of HPER's Department of Kinesiology. Her choreographies have been performed by professional dance companies as well as at universities where she has served as a visiting artist.

Shea can be reached at 812-855-7020 or