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Teaneck Couple Tells Stories Together Through Contemporary Dance, Poetry

Ness White, left, and Nia Shand, both of Teaneck, travel and perform together. Ness recites poetry as Nia dances. Photo Credit: Facebook
Ness White, right, and Nia Shand, both of Teaneck, travel and perform together. Ness recites poetry as Nia dances. Photo Credit: Contributed

TEANECK, N.J. -- Ness White and Nia Shand of Teaneck knew from their first date they shared a passion for verbal and visual expression.

What the couple did not know was that they would create an art form that allows them to express themselves together.

White, who writes and performs poetry, and Shand, a contemporary dancer, will be featured in two shows this weekend at Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City. Show times are 6 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday, and and are part of the Park’s Suite Summer Festival.

Their piece is part of a series that tells the personal and moving story of the issues faced by a young, black lesbian couple and the daily challenges that they endure, Shand said.

White, who works at Children’s Learning Center of Hackensack, and Shand, a counselor at Manhattan Youth Community Center in Tribeca, met at Temple University in Philadelphia three years ago.

They discussed their mutual artistic passions, and a year later performed their creative art in a student dance concert. Later on, Ness wrote a rap verse and performed it with the cast of Nia’s senior dance thesis. In both instances, their work resonated with the audience.

“It was like, ‘OK, we need to pursue this,’’ Ness said. “It just clicked. It just felt right, like this is what we need to be doing.”

With careers starting out, moving to Teaneck and few places to showcase their work, Shand and White focused on their own personal art forms for nearly two years before pursuing a collaborative duo this spring.

“We started talking more about doing work together, and Nia started applying to places for shows,’’ Ness said. “We started getting responses. I said all right, now we have to create some content.”

Besides time constraints, the couple found their evolving hard for several other reasons. There was no template to follow or model to admire. Creatively, both women found it challenging to sync their messages. They also needed to work on their timing to create the most dynamic impact. Like all art, there is no right or wrong way. For creative souls such as Ness and Nia, that can be a good -- and bad -- dynamic.

“There was no one else to copy,’’ Ness said. “That is what is refreshing about it. People haven’t seen it done the way we do it. It’s the spoken word, but it’s the way I talk every day. Add it with Nia’s dancing, and it’s just amazing.”

Individually, Ness and Nia produce good work. Combining their work, however, produces a powerful, transformative message the cuts across cultural and social boundaries. People of all segments of society have complemented the couple for their creativity and expressive message. “What we’re doing is so important for people who might think they are different,’’ Nia said.

Both artists have deep appreciation for each other’s talents. “She’s so honest,’’ Nia said about Ness’ poetry. “A lot of poetry is abstract. She’s very straightforward and honest. And her delivery is so captivating. You can’t help but be engaged with every word coming out of her mouth.”

Ness feels similarly appreciative of Nia’s dancing. “She can express any idea,” Ness said. “Communication is 90 percent body language, and she knows that. She’s powerful. She can go from moving really quickly to just being very still. She goes from being a powerful bullet to something that’s really gentle.”

Ness and Nia rehearse their craft in the backyard of their Teaneck home. “I always wonder what our neighbors must be thinking,’’ Nia said. They devote several hours each night after work to create their show.

Neither is exactly certain how their artwork came about. “If you had told me we’d be doing this three years ago, I’d have said no way,’’ Ness said. “It’s funny how life works.”

What the future holds is anyone’s guess. Both women know, however, that they have a passion for their craft, and each other. Mountains can be moved with work, passion and creativity. That is the path Shand and White are embracing.

“We really want people to feel almost like they closed their eyes, opened them and they’re in this completely new place,’’ Ness said. “We want people to think, to see that the world you’ve been taught is not necessarily what it is. It can be a beautiful place.”

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