The Dance Warriors project is an artistic response to political and social issues, in collaboration with dancers across the country. This project started as my response to our changing political climate and my desire to make an impact for the better. This is my way to use Denver dance photography to raise awareness about the issues that face us today. This session features dancer, Jenny Schiff to raise awareness about mental health.
Jenny Schiff is the founder and choreographer of The Schiff Dance Collective. We first met at the Presenting Denver Dance Festival, last summer. She was one of the choreographers for the inaugural festival. I was really moved by the piece she presented and she was really excited about my Dance Warriors project. We started thinking about ways we could collaborate and made plans to do a session later in the year. In November, we got together for our Dance Warriors collaboration on the topic of mental health awareness.
Interview with Jenny Schiff on Mental Health
Tell me a bit about yourself.
I have the privilege of having a non Eurocentric dance background. My father was a conga drummer and started an African Dance Company in New York for his students. Those rhythms have been guiding me since. These rhythms and movement do not belong to me or other white people and I am deeply honored that I have been able to experience dance directly from these ancestors. I have been blessed in my lineage and feel a responsibility to make sure others understand that history.
I grew up in LA and started out in the commercial dance world. For me dance was the safest space I had due to the unyielding trauma of my childhood. I knew in my soul that it was a place that could house people of all races, abilities, gender expressions. Even though I did not always see that reflected in the dance world. I went to the LA county HS for the arts where I fell in love with concert dance.
I moved to Denver after high school and was hired by the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble. I continued to work with companies in jazz, hip hop, and modern dance. I have been lucky to perform and learn for so many years.
I feel my spiritual journey has equally inspired me. That the creative forces of the universe are living inside us with the stories of the ancestors trying to find a way into being. I feel it’s our job and our way to freedom to express them. Dance should reflect all humans.
Why are you passionate about the issues surrounding mental health?
I am passionate about mental health because I grew up in a family riddled with mental illness. I also suffered with mental illness for so long before I was treated. Mental health is stigmatized in our culture and it stops beautiful, creative, intelligent people from getting help and living the lives they deserve. The stigma separates us. It kept me quiet for a long time until my life was on the line. It is not a moral issue it is an illness that needs to be treated.
How has dance helped you express yourself?
Dance has saved me. Before I understood trauma healing, dance allowed me to move the energy through my soma. Now that I am conscious of this process I can dive into this work of allowing my sensations to have voice- without judgement. It helped me realize that I was whole and not broken. It has been a path that has led me to community that I can fully express myself in and to make that available for others.
What do you think is the intersection between art and politics?
I believe that dance intersects with politics because it expresses the voice of our time. If you look through history it is marked by the dances and the art that was happening. It is innately social. It expresses ideas that can infiltrate the audiences energetically, reorganizing their cellular experience. Making it the perfect protest- the perfect revolution.