SPARC Stories with artist Shireen Dickson: Part 1

Recently, we asked two artists participating in the SPARC (Seniors Partnering with Seniors Citywide) program, more about what they are working on and learned more about what drives them to be an artist. SPARC is a community arts engagement initiative that places artists-in-residence at senior centers across the five boroughs in exchange for providing arts programming for older adults. These first features, part of our new “SPARC Stories” series, follow the journeys of two artists during their residencies: Paul Ferrara, who is teaching printmaking at Hamilton Innovative Senior Center, and Shireen Dickson, who is teaching the history of American dance at Hudson Guild Senior Center. This is Shireen Dickson’s story:


Name: Shireen Dickson

Medium of Work: visual and performing arts

Describes work as: Insightful, inclusive, joyous



Let’s start with how you became an artist and tell us a little bit about your current practice. 

I was always interested in music, design, creative writing, and of course, dancing, from young. I’ve sung in gospel choirs and rock bands; designed, sewed and sold modern dance and burlesque costumes and gowns; made everything from shoes to paper to 6-layer cakes; I even make about $15 a year in worldwide royalties from my Amazon book! But dancing, and sharing my love of dance, is number one.

I’ve always been interested in the “bridge” between what people dance onstage (for money) and how people dance in their homes and communities as cultural ritual. As someone who primarily danced non-traditional theatrical forms before attending college I was fascinated by how factors like migration, political policy, poverty, or cultural clashes affect our perceptions of the arts – and how value is assigned to them. New York’s vibrant and diverse audiences recognize and embrace cultural heritage, and I use that as a basis to connect the ways they move to the things they value…to build a greater appreciation of dance (and the arts) overall.

What drew you to the SPARC program?

Last year I administrated a DFTA (Ed note: DFTA stands for Department for the Aging) grant for an organization — including gathering resources for, training and supervising teaching artists, and piloting teaching ideas with a few willing senior sites. I was excited by the seniors’ reactions to the programming, and surprised by how much I enjoyed the work. I generally lead 5-6 classes or workshops a week (youth-professional development) and the seniors are the highlight of my week!

Why are you interested in working with seniors in particular? 

Senior audiences have: a deeper appreciation of your skill and talent that comes from their wider range of experiences; a vocality that demands respect and personal attention in the teaching environment; and an authentic understanding of the value of time so it’s significant when they choose to spend some with you!

What art form will you be using to engage with the folks at the senior center?

Dance and performance

Why do you hope participants will learn from the collaboration?

During the collaboration I hope seniors experience something intriguing enough to regularly incorporate into their weekly or monthly routines!

What do you foresee as the final culmination of the project?

We have several performances planned. The first performances are happening on March 30th and March 31th at Queens Theatre in Corona-Flushing Park. The dancers (group name TBA) will perform the opening and closing numbers during my dance company’s run of shows for public school children (West African and Michael Jackson)! We will also perform in the 9th annual Dance Parade on Saturday May 16. Finally, we will do a performance at Stein in June.

Finally, what was the last work of art that you saw that had a strong impression on you? 

The crocheted trees and flowers around 104th/Lexington. A splash of instantly, publicly, accessible awesomeness. That’s what I aim to do with dance.


Featured Image Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shireen Dickson