Albuquerque, New Mexico
I love movement, I love people, and I love putting the two together,” Shira Greenberg says of her arduous but joyful work as artistic director of Keshet Dance Company, which she founded in 1996. “Keshet” is the Hebrew word for rainbow. Shira—who had just returned from Israel when she founded the company—chose the name because it “resonated with bringing pieces and colors of my life together to make something beautiful.”
Keshet, which recently opened its permanent home, the Keshet Center for the Arts, unites professional dancers with programs, institutions, and people throughout Albuquerque to change lives. Participants in the programs include troubled teens, wheelchair users, and the homeless. “Movement is our common language,” Shira says. A popular annual event is “Nutcracker on the Rocks,” a rock version of a holiday classic.
Keshet Dance Company, which has touched more than 100,000 lives and relies on 300 volunteers annually, was honored in 2009 at the White House by First Lady Michelle Obama and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. It was recognized for its M3 program with incarcerated juveniles (Movement + Mentorship = Metamorphosis) and its PID program (Physically Integrated Dance). In PID, Shira explains, “All bodies dance together—some from wheelchairs, some with walkers, some with no sight or hearing, but all with joy and passion.”
One dancer is Tonya, born with cerebral palsy, who uses a wheelchair but feels “free and beautiful” when onstage dancing. Thanks to Keshet, she now teaches dance and has started a program, Every Ability Plays, to make playgrounds accessible for all children—with and without disabilities.
Keshet partners with the local Title I Homeless Project to bring children in from hotels, shelters, and schools to improve self-esteem through dance. “It also gives them an opportunity just to be kids,” Shira says. The company woos middle-schoolers with breakdancing and hip-hop, and helps high school students rely on yoga for quiet and grounding.
Shira’s aha! moment came on a long road trip in her early 20s, when she pondered her life’s work. It had to include her renewed passion for dance (she had aspired to be a dancer as a young girl but had abandoned that dream due to an injury), her call to service, and her love of people. “I decided to make my own company.” Eighteen years later, she says, “There is nothing else in the world I would rather do.”