Choreography Fellow 2022-2023: Dr. Monica Shah

Monica Shah is an independent dance artist who performs in both classical and contemporary Indian dance styles. She has trained in Bharatanatyam for over 30 years, with complimentary work in diverse movement forms. Monica toured North America as a senior member of the Menaka Thakkar Dance Company for a decade, and since then, she has performed as a soloist and guest artist in dance productions and festivals across Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and New York. Monica is also a licensed psychologist, providing individual, family, and group treatment to youth and adults in outpatient settings, as well as community workshops and outreach to expand access to mental health services. Dr. Shah’s research focus includes the use of mindfulness and acceptance strategies with special populations and, as a clinician, she applies an evidence-based, collaborative, and compassionate approach to help people build the lives that they want to lead.

Monica states, “I believe that the arts fill the soul and provide a form of healing like no other.  I’ve experienced this cathartic healing both personally and have seen it in my work, through dance demonstrations in schools, research-backed dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease, and dance therapy for mental health issues.  Youth and adults alike respond to movement with joy and curiosity, and the physical, mental, and emotional health benefits are clear.  With mental health issues on the rise, I have felt drawn to combine my psychology and dance worlds to express my thoughts on mental health through the medium of dance and contribute towards collective healing.  This fellowship is an opportunity to explore this merged path along with the necessary support, guidance, and power of community.”

For her choreography this year, Monica would like to focus on the mental health impacts of COVID-19 and racial discrimination. She states, “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health care and the everyday struggles that people face. In my work as a psychologist, I have found that humans have a remarkable capacity for both psychic pain and healing. Our minds, one of the marvels of humankind, can also lead us to great depths of agony. Unhelpful and patterned ways of thinking take over, coming from our histories and experiences, often creating emotional distress and unhealthy behaviors.”

She continues, “In my proposed dance choreographies, I aim to normalize mental health issues as a function of the world in which we live and highlight the strength that is found in moving through these struggles. Through unfathomable challenges, we persist and even thrive by connecting to our inner wisdom.  With the support of this fellowship, I would like to explore the concept of resilience within struggle through the lens of mental health. People of color may also struggle with the stigma of seeing mental health concerns as a “weakness”, and if they do get to the point of seeking services rather than pushing through on their own, they may have difficulty with accessing affordable and culturally appropriate care. In my choreographies, I hope to both validate psychological struggle as well as highlight the hope that can be found in standing at the intersection of multiple barriers and still moving forward.”