JoAnna Mendl Shaw ’69: Dances with Horses

Association Fellowship Helps Shaw Develop Theatrical Dance Piece for Young Adults with High-Functioning Autism

In 1997, JoAnna Mendl Shaw ’69 brought together the Mount Holyoke Dance Department and the Equestrian Program for a novel collaboration into uncharted choreographic territory: performance works that boasted a cast of both dancers and horses. For almost two decades after this project, Shaw would dedicate her career to exploring the potential and power in the “dynamic physical dialogue between horses and humans,” and ultimately open her own dance company, The Equus Projects, that combines accomplished dancers and equestrians to perform unique works choreographed by Shaw.

This summer, Mount Holyoke was again able to be part of Shaw’s artistic career when the Alumnae Association awarded the 1969 graduate with the ‘Francis Mary Hazon Fellowship’ to help fund  “The Hovdala Library Project,” an evening-length performance piece with horses and a Swedish cast of young adults whom all fall into the high functioning category on the autism spectrum.  The unique partnership between Shaw’s dance company and the talented group of Swedish dancers (under the direction of their local theatre director, Ulrika Michels Nord) produced a compelling work that utilized the mysterious and historic dimensions of their outdoor space, helped the dancers develop useful performance skills, and ultimately showcased the “power and beauty of non-verbal communication.” The project premiered July 27 and ran for five sold-out performances through August 4. Due to the tremendous success of the project, Shaw and Nord will collaborate again on a new piece, which will debut in 2015.

Back in the United States, Shaw has returned to teaching choreography courses at the Julliard School and the Ailey School/Fordham University BFA program in New York City. The Equus Projects will continue choreographing and performing various works through the rest of the year around the country. For more information, follow updates on their website,

— By Camille Malonzo ’16

Interested in Applying for an Alumnae Fellowship?

Thanks to generous gifts from alumnae, the Association offers fellowships to Mount Holyoke graduates each year .Applications due by January 15 and are disbursed July 1. Learn more »

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2 responses to “JoAnna Mendl Shaw ’69: Dances with Horses”

  1. Teresa Benzwie says:

    I am a dancer, mentor and taking lessons in horsemanship. I would love to learn about Dancing with Horses. Please send me any information about your workshops, especially near NJ
    thank you

  2. Are you giving any workshops somewhere near NJ. I am very interested in dancing with horses. I have just began learning horsemanship with my teacher Carrie Christianson who is also interested in your work and it is an amazing experience. I have a dance background and now I am 82 years young and in love with a horse Pegasa
    thanks for any information

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