Celebrating Shonica Gooden & The Black Artists Dance Collective

Photo Credit: Simply Greg Photos
Gooden is standing in front of a gray painted brick wall with her hair center parted and slicked down into a frilly ponytail revealing her butterscotch shaded hoops, with some curly hair cascading over her shoulders. Her lips are slightly parted, and her eyes gaze into the camera. 

November 15, 2022
Volume 4 Issue 1
By: Kiera Baity

In the industry, she’s known as a triple threat — proficient in singing, acting and dancing — but in reality, Shonica Gooden’s resumé reveals many more talents and passions. In her hometown of Atlanta, she is an entrepreneur and mentor for aspiring Black dancers. Gooden took her passion for the arts and created a whole new legacy for not only herself, but for the Black artist community. Her story demonstrates a fierce determination and passion to not only achieve great personal success, but also to support and shape the next generation of dancers. Her contributions to the city dubbed as “too busy to hate” are only beginning to be realized, and Gooden is definitely somebody to keep an eye on in the coming months and years.

You could say that dance is in Gooden’s blood. Her father was a breakdancer, and her entire family loved to dance in social settings. Gooden was first introduced to the technical side of dance through her cousin and mentor.

“I saw her when I was three years old and thought, ‘I want to do that!’” says Gooden. From there, her grandmother enrolled her into dance classes at Jacob’s Dance Academy in Atlanta, “. . . and I’ve been in love with it ever since.” Later, Gooden continued her dance training at Dekalb School of the Arts and Dance Makers of Atlanta. 

Photo Credit: Full Out Creative
Gooden, onstage amidst a haze of purple and pink lighting, wearing a black slip dress, sits in a chair, leaning back with bare legs and feet extended — perched on pointed toes. She holds a microphone to her mouth as she leans her head back, singing.

Gooden had a breakthrough moment in her dance training at age 15, when she attended a summer intensive at the New York City Dance Alliance. She took a class where the instructor encouraged all the students to not only connect with each other, but with their own bodies and body languages. “It was life changing,” says Gooden. “I was truly passionate about it and could see the way it could have the impact of human connection . . . the impact of healing people and the impact of inspiring people. . . . I wanted to do this for the rest of my life. It was amazing.” 

However, dancing was not Gooden’s only blossoming talent growing up. She started singing at a church in Decatur where she grew up, and later studied voice in college. She delved in musical theater after graduating from Point Park University, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. Her dance teachers back home in Atlanta thought theater would be a good fit for her.

“They kind of made me go to the audition for Bring It On: The Musical,” says Gooden. At first she was hesitant, but after booking the gig, touring with Bring It On and later performing on Broadway, she was sold.

“I fell in love with the people and the community so much,” Gooden says. From there, more shows started sashaying in, and Gooden started to accept that this was the path God wanted her to be on.  

From a very young age, Gooden soared as a triple threat. She’s danced on Broadway, regional and national tours, TV and film. Gooden is proficient in multiple styles of dance, but no matter what, she brings joy and inspiration to her audience. Her strong suit as a performer is her ability to “root every art form in storytelling,” Gooden says. Even when she’s performing on the biggest stages in the country, she remains committed to connecting with her audience, her team and herself. 

As part of her dedication to fostering meaningful connection and mentorship, Gooden jump-started a new community arts organization, The Black Artists Dance Collective, with a mission to connect the Atlanta Black dance community to networking, resources and opportunities both nationally and internationally, in many ways including tuition-free intensives for young Black artists. She is the founding director of the organization, which is an alliance of Black dance professionals with a shared goal to empower and support Atlanta’s Black Dance Community.

Photo Credit: Simply Greg Photos
Beyond a sea of legs and feet in turned out first positions, Gooden balances on one leg, demonstrating a forward extension with her arms outstretched into second position in The Windmill Arts Center’s black box theater during The Black Artists Dance Collective’s inaugural intensive. She has a soft smile on her face.

Gooden brought other dance professionals like her into the fold — people who grew up in the Atlanta area, whose careers range from dancing for Alvin Ailey to dancing for Beyoncé. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, we need to get together and pour into these students,’” says Gooden. Many of the mentees under Gooden and her colleagues had been in need of safe spaces where they felt seen, heard, supported, and represented.

“Well, why do we keep putting our young people in these spaces? Why do they even feel like they have to go?” Gooden asked herself when building her collective brand. When looking back at her own life, her own process to becoming a professional dancer, she realized with her colleagues that in order to be successful as a dancer, you have to connect with the people who can lead you to that success. 

“Wait a minute,” she says, “we are those people!” From there, The Black Artists Dance Collective came to be what it is today — a much-needed resource for the dance community so Black dancers can make connections in the industry. “I always knew that I wanted to bring something back to my city,” says Gooden.

Now, Gooden resides in New York where she is working as a performer for Broadway’s Hamilton while raising her one-year-old son with her husband and high school sweetheart, Jared Williams. Her organization continues to provide for aspiring dancers back in Atlanta. The Black Artists Dance Collective will be hosting their Tuition-Free Summer Intensive in July of 2023. They will be accepting student submission applications Spring 2023.

Photo Credit: Rashid C.
Kiera is wearing a hot pink dress with mulberry grape earrings, and a black necklace. Her red-orange hair is in a ponytail on top of her head, and the light from the sun glosses her caramel skin. Kiera smiles while standing in front of trees and a grassy area.

Kiera Baity is a twenty-seven-year-old graduate student pursuing a Masters in Professional Writing with a focus in Creative Writing. She is specialized in fiction, non-fiction, songs, poetry, news, blogs, web content, copy-editing and articles (just to name a few). What makes her writing unique is the way she blends prose and professional language, ultimately producing content that both informs and intrigues.

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