Sara Shelton Mann

Choreographer, Performer, Teacher
Born 1943, Nashville, TN
Lives in San Francisco, CA

Photo by Mark McBeth.

My usual work mode is that of the mind of survival. Next, next, next. The award from the Foundation has given me pause, a breath of fresh air to stop, consider my age, my future work and what is the best use of my time and skills at this stage of my life. What kinds of materials do I leave for future generations. How best do I serve them and myself. Happy to be alive I am.

Sara Shelton Mann, December 14, 2016


Sara Shelton Mann has been a choreographer, performer, and teacher since 1967. She trained with Alwin Nikolais and Murray Lewis in New York City before moving to Canada where she discovered contact improvisation, a dance theory developed by 1994 grantee Steve Paxton. In 1979 she moved to San Francisco and started the Company Contraband as a performance group and research ground, combining the principles of contact, systems of the body, and spiritual practice into a unified system of research. Shelton Mann's performance work is a platform for collaboration and research in consciousness. Her Movement Alchemy training is an ongoing teaching project and is influenced by certifications and studies in the metaphysical and healing traditions. She is a practitioner of several healing modalities and integrates her research with her teaching and performance endeavors.

After receiving her 2016 Grants to Artists award, Shelton Mann completed Eye of Leo, a series of works in development for over five years. Shelton Mann's works have been performed widely in San Francisco, including premieres of Evol, at Theater Artaud (1985); Religare, at Gartland Pit (1986); Oracle, at Theater Artaud (1988); Mira Cycle III, at Theater Artaud (1994); Monk at the Met, at Dance Mission Theater (2000); Eye of Horus, at Jessie Square, Yerba Buena Gardens (2014); Erasing Time, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (2015); and frames/windows at the FRESH Festival (2016).

Shelton Mann's work has also been presented at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.; Aktovy Zal, Moscow, Russia; Potsdamer Tanztage Internationales Festival, Potsdam, Germany; University of California, Davis; Columbia College, Chicago; Emerson College, Boston; Segundo Encuentro Binacional de Danza Contemporánea, Mexicali, Mexico; and Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston.

Among her awards are six Isadora Duncan “Izzie" Dance Awards (1986, 1987, 1988, 1994, 2011), a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in Choreography (2000), an Alexander Gerbode Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Choreographer Collaboration Award with David Szlasa (2008), and The San Francisco Bay Guardian “Goldies" Lifetime Achievement Award (2014).

Shelton Mann attended Shorter College from 1960-1963. She has participated in the Djerassi Resident Artists Program and was an Artist in Residence at Headlands Center for the Arts.

Artist Statement

I believe that our energetic bodies convey deeper-rooted messages than any culture or identity can express. My work begins with structured exercises designed to make contact with these messages as they are expressed through the energetic body. As kinesthetic perception is refined, we perceive messages—the Morse code of our collective body—in the patterning of energy, tissue, and motility. These messages form stories, and these stories form the “performance." I have come to believe that the exploration of these stories forms a vital collective heritage that transcends the artifact of performance. My art is of a piece with my healing work and political engagement: it is meant to reveal and transmit the story of our collective humanity—our potential for excellence in a time of global change.

December 2015