Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

 (From left to right) Shoshanah dancing to Sukiyaki

My mother, known to the world as Ms. Kennedy, was a professional dancer before she became a dance teacher. She used to dance with Shu’vah, an African dance company in New York City. She danced while she was pregnant with me until she was almost about to give birth. Once I was born, she wrapped me up and danced with me on her back. I guess you can say dance is in me because I’ve been dancing since I was in the womb. 

With my mother being a dancer and my father being a jazz musician, my sister Chaya and I didn’t have a choice. Music runs through our veins. Music was always playing in our house. When your mom is a dance teacher, it’s hard for it not to be in you. My mother exposed us to dance from an early age. She took Chaya and I to Dance Africa at the Brooklyn Academy of Music every year to see professional African dancers so we could experience our African culture. It’s a family tradition now. We try and go every year to feel that energy that reminds us of who we are and where we come from. When my mother taught dance at schools during the summer sessions, Chaya and I were right there with her. It gave us a chance to put our choreography skills to work. We were kids too and my mother gave us the opportunity to teach the students that she worked with all the latest dances to all the popular songs we loved. 

P.S. 399 had just opened up in the neighborhood so everything about it was new and positions had to be filled. My mother became the first P.T.A president and volunteer dance teacher. I had to call her and ask her how she even became the P.T.A president and dance teacher because to me, she just was. I never knew a time when she wasn’t. In the first PTA meeting, the community leaders in attendance saw something in my mother and suggested that she run for the office of the president. How random is that? They knew nothing about her and never had a conversation with her. She was unanimously voted in as the president. 

At the same time, my mom was also teaching dance in various places around the city. One day in a conversation with Mrs. Robertson, the principal asked if she was available to teach dance to a few of the students and the rest is history. She started with about 25 of us from various grades and the “P.S. 399 Players” was born.

The first time that I performed in a dance was when I was in the first grade. She taught the younger girls a dance to “Sukiyaki,” by Taste of Honey. Our costumes were a lace top and skirt over our body suit. Everyone had a different color lace and I’ll never forget, mine was yellow lace with an orange bodysuit. 

We danced with beautiful colored fans and we were always a hit, every time we performed. 

It became one of our signature dances. I remember dancing at Governor’s Island for the United States Coast Guard and community events all over Brooklyn. 

When I attended high school, I met Ms. Burroughs, who expanded my knowledge of dance.  

It was there that I learned the Dunham and Graham techniques. Katherine Dunham and Martha Graham were legends in the field of dance. To learn their techniques as a teenager, is something I’ll always cherish. I wanted to learn everything I could in dance. Ms. Burroughs was a tough teacher, but everyone loved her. I performed in all of the dance shows and was sometimes referred to as the “big girl” in dance. I was also told that I was an excellent dancer and I was very graceful and poised. We had the best costumes. My favorite costumes were these bright balloon leg strapless tulle jumpsuits that we wore over our unitard. 

The drama department did the musical, “The Wiz,” when I was a senior. I was in the Emerald City Sequence dance scene. I was so in love with that dance that I went back to P.S. 399 and taught my version of the dance to the students. That’s the great thing about your mom being a dance teacher; she’ll let you come and teach her students. I remember when the video for “Remember the Time” by Michael Jackson came out. It became my favorite Michael Jackson video. I learned the entire dance sequence and taught the students. In 2009, when Michael Jackson passed away, the school did an entire show featuring his songs. I was able to work with my nephew Chris, who was in the 5th grade at the time and I taught the dance to him and some of the alumni students. I treasured that moment more than I think he even realized. Funny thing is, the other students chose him to be the lead. Most people would think because his Nana was the teacher and his Auntie was teaching the dance, we gave him the lead, but it was evident, he had the family talents when it came to dance, just like us. 

For years, I was also a praise dancer at my former church. Chaya and I danced and sang at church from the time we were teenagers to adulthood. She was the head of the praise and worship team and was also the choir director. When she took a hiatus, I started to direct the choir. The music was in me so it came naturally after a while.  Chaya was like a female version of Ricky Dillard, a renowned choir director. For all of those familiar with choirs, Ricky Dillard is totally energetic, and attending his choir concerts is a true gospel experience. Chaya had that same energy and she did it in five-inch heels. I learned so much from her about singing and directing. 

I continued to teach the students at 399 until 2013. I realized that my time teaching the students was coming to a close. The students didn’t have the same passion for dance and the talent was decreasing. At one time I attributed it to the cutbacks in the arts in the schools, which prevented the children from having dance classes. When I was a child, I remember all the children had some kind of talent. Everyone either played an instrument, danced, sang or could draw.  Sometimes I wonder when we got attached to our phones and computers; did we lose our creative side? It’s a question I often ask myself. 

Dance for me is a form of expression. I stutter, so getting words out to express myself wasn’t always easy. I believe God gave me the talent and gift of dance so I could express myself without words. Dance is emotional. Your body expresses what you’re feeling without the use of words. Whenever I had a break or free time, I was dancing to release those emotions. I’ve created so many dances to express myself that I can’t name them all. 

These days, I would dance around the house and at various functions. I was even taking dance classes at a gym before COVID-19 happened.  I have always been plus size so I wasn’t the “typical” dancer. I think that’s why I love to watch dance performances, just as much as actually dancing. Now, I’m the person that will watch Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, every season to fulfill that need to dance and live vicariously through them. I don’t teach anymore now, but if someone were to call me because they needed some steps, I’ll be right there.  Dance and music will forever be a part of me, so every now and then, you may just catch me “dancing like nobody’s watching!” 

Thanks for listening,

Shoshanah

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