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Dancing Into The Digital Screen

As time goes by, so do changes in trends. We all can see them. From the way we feed our families, to the way we entertain ourselves. This is not your grandparent’s era. 2020 began a new decade, a decade filled with digital platforms, websites, and e-commerce. Gone are the days of malls, catalogs, and QVC. Well QVC is still going strong. One aspect of the times that’s apparent, is the shift from experiencing live theater to being immersed in home/mobile streaming – damaging the performing arts sectors across the United States. Shawn Short, Founding Director of Ngoma Center for Dance (Ngoma) in Washington, DC, is noticing this trend and believes business transformation in his sector is paramount. Through the path of digital storytelling and film projects, Short is preparing Ngoma to thrive during a COVID present while rebuilding towards a racially-inclusive digital/streaming dance entertainment future; producing through Ngoma’s Filmworks/Dog Bark Media partnership.

Washington, DC has a vast Black dance history. Since 1934 when Bernice Hammond (a Howard University alumnae) established the first dance studio as a licensed DC business for U Street’s Black socialites, Washington, DC has provided dance artists globally. Short was born in South Carolina but raised in the DC area, dedicating tireless years to developing spaces for the cultivation and showcasing of dance artists – especially Black dance artists and ensembles. In the film, His Eyes Saw Dance directed by Donovan Johnson and written by Shawn Short, its mentioned that there were 37 Black DC dance companies since 1932 – less than five remain in 2022. 

The need for visibility is desired for dance entities of color, according to Short. In the past, Shawn has formerly established an online bi-monthly magazine (Ngoma Reader Magazine) to promote minority dance artists, currently erected outreach/education programs (Dawn, The Ngoma School), and let’s not forget the launch of Dissonance Dance Theatre (DDT) that turns 15 years old in 2022 – New York Foundation for the Art’s first DC dance fiscally-sponsored artist project. DDT is now a program of Ngoma Center for Dance, and is the only nationally-recognized Black-managed contemporary ballet company between NYC and ATL.  Yet, times are changing as entertainment is become more available on screens than stages – due to COVID.        

With platform businesses a mainstay in modern societies, Shawn pushed to develop himself to lead Ngoma Center for Dance into a new era of expansion. Finishing his undergraduate studies at Howard University, and his graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Short completed his business management studies at the University of Liverpool – essential for his advancement as an executive director. 

Branding and brand awareness is king, with many non-profit arts organizations focusing on youth outreach and education – held together by word-of-mouth marketing engagement. Shawn believed in a competitive approach to ensure a diverse and equitable outcome. Short is now an alumnus of social media company HootSuite’s Syracuse U/Advance Social Advertising, and Columbia U/Emeritus Digital Marketing certification programs. Through this newfound education, Short produced new systems that aided Ngoma Center for Dance in reaching new audiences through its evolving social media platforms – obtaining collectively more than 50K followers on Instagram and 14K followers on Facebook in 2021. This was paramount for gaining new leads to prospective subscribers, as Ngoma currently works on an app to reach new audiences through Firetv, Roku, Hulu, and mobile devices, with Short leading the project. 

From observing social media trends during the rise of the COVID pandemic, Short started to notice that much of what dance audiences were consuming was online. People were in lockdown and became accustomed to digital/streaming entertainment – the concept of Ngoma Filmworks was born.  A storyteller in his own right, Short is the Principal Choreographer of Dissonance Dance Theatre, and Lead Creative for Ngoma FilmWorks. Now, Shawn is behind the camera and pen versus just working in a dance studio.   

Launched in the Summer of 2020 in partnership with Dog Bark Media (a DC-based media company), Ngoma Film Works (NFW) is Ngoma’s latest program that highlights urban and classic dance society, human relationships, cultural history, and “visual-choreo” art through documentaries and narrative film. Short, now a holder of a certification in TV and Film from NYU Tisch School’s Film department, has embarked on and released two award-winning films since the program’s launch – His Eyes Saw Dance (2020), and Mute (2021). NFW has seen its films screened locally, nationally, and internationally – winning an award for best dance film at the Cannes World Film Festival, and selection at American Dance Festival’s Movies by Movers Film Festival. 

NFW’s goal is to provide new opportunities, digitally, for dancers. Short is carving a new path for dancers, especially dancers of color. To that point, In January 2022, Short assisted Casting Coordinator JP McLaurin with finding more than 70 considerable dance artists for the upcoming DC production The Queen’s Ball: A Bridgerton Experience, an immersive theater production produced by Netflix, Shondaland, and Fever (casting provided by Casting Executives Paul Weber, CSA, and Chris Downey-Asher). Many of the auditionees were local dancers of color. Shawn believes in dancers and the community he belongs to – showcasing DC area dance talent whenever the opportunity arises. In 2018, Short produced ME 2018, a production that brought hip hop and contemporary ballet together for one evening of dance – showcasing troupes Dissonance Dance Theatre, Culture Shock and Phunktions. The event was documented in the student film of the same name, directed by Shawn Short. 

Through the path of digital storytelling and film projects, Shawn Short is creating ways for not only Ngoma to thrive but by assisting the arts sector as it rebuilds in the DC area. As the performing arts sector slowly gains momentum during the COVID pandemic, Short is innovating new ways for DC dancers to gain employment, experiences, and make their mark locally and beyond with the innovation of film.  

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