When Diane Sharp-Nachsin was forced to retire from dancing due to a series of successive injuries at 32 years old, three dancers from her old company, who had become her dear friends, had a question: “When are you going to start your own dance company?”
To which Sharp-Nachsin answered, “Are all your old a—s going to dance for me?”
They said yes.
Three years later, SHARP Dance Company was formed in 2005. As the artistic director of the nonprofit, Sharp-Nachsin is focused on translating raw emotions into modern dance and inviting the audience to partake in what she calls “an experience, not a performance.”
Sharp-Nachsin’s life-altering diagnosis – a doctor saying she would never dance again – does not stop her from being heavily involved in the Philadelphia dance world, from taking ballet classes or trying to demonstrate a move during rehearsal, which normally ends in Sharp-Nachsin and the dancers giggling infectiously. She said, however, her body is not what it used to be.
“I have to laugh at it,” Sharp-Nachsin said.
Caroline Butcher has danced with SHARP for almost two years, and has found the same joy and laughter in working with the company.
“We laugh a lot,” Butcher said. “It helps me laugh at myself, and take myself a little less seriously.”
And that is so integral to what the company does, Sharp-Nachsin said.
“I can train you to be a better dancer, but I can’t teach you to be a better person,” Sharp-Nachsin said, one side of her mouth curving up into a smile.
Everyone who dances at SHARP shares a similar mindset, and therefore become very close, according to Sharp-Nachsin. When the company tours, all members pile into a van and rent a house together, allowing them to “wake up and have coffee and laugh. And drink a lot of wine,” Sharp-Nachsin said.
It is those tight-knit relationships that both Sharp and Butcher said they think make SHARP Dance so different from other companies.
“I believe SHARP is about the relationships between dancers, almost more than the dance itself,” Butcher said. “There’s something deeper because we care so much about each other. And I’ve learned lot – dance can be a very self-centered world, but there are dancers who don’t think that way, who put the art before themselves.”
Sharp-Nachsin said that she has loved seeing the way her dancers’ real lives intertwined with each other, how they became fast friends, some even moving in together.
The company will be running a reunion show from Oct. 10-12 featuring past company members as well as current ones, meshing the old with the new.
Originally, Sharp-Nachsin wanted to do a reunion performance at the 10-year mark. But, she recently met a painter from Detroit named Kristin Beaver, and immediately knew she wanted to do a large collaboration with her.
“So I was like, ‘You know what? It’s going to be our nine-year anniversary show, because I’m in charge!’” Sharp-Nachsin said.
Sharp-Nachsin asked some retired dancers and some who have gone on to other opportunities in the dance world to be a part of the performance, creating what she sees as an interesting mix. With 15 dancers involved, Sharp-Nachsin has a lot of talent to work with.
Butcher said she is excited at the prospect of dancing with alumni of SHARP. Butcher said she thinks that it will bring a “whole new energy” to see dancers do their old parts – an almost spiritual quality.
“A lot of the people I chose to bring back are the ones who say they’re part of the SHARP family,” Sharp-Nachsin said. “The crazy SHARP family. We rope you in for life.”
Sharp-Nachsin likes to say that the company’s work is technically driven, but story-based. She finds that a lot of the dance pieces have a strong narrative behind them, particularly ones surrounding social issues. SHARP has done performances based on pollution, mental illness and domestic abuse.
Though the topics vary, Sharp-Nachsin believes everyone who walks through the theater doors is there for an experience, not necessarily a performance.
“I just want people to really get something out of it, to have an emotional response,” Sharp-Nachsin said. “That’s why our work tends to be story-driven. I want you to feel something.”
Victoria Mier can be reached at email@example.com