LUMBERTON — With her mother’s health deteriorating, choreographer Shea-Ra Nichi decided to put her dreams of becoming a successful dancer and actress in New York on hold.
In 2001, Nichi was in her final year of study at the Circle in the Square Theater School on Broadway — a 53-year-old conservatory that counts Philip Seymour Hoffman, Benicio del Toro and Kevin Bacon among its notable alumni.
Suffering from tumors in her brain and chest, Nichi’s mother, Evelyn, traveled from her home in Scotland County to attend her daughter’s last performance at the school.
“I noticed she was having difficulties walking from one side of the room to the other,” she said. “I knew I was going to have to come back here to take care of her.”
Evelyn’s death later that year marked the first in a series of tragedies that would lead Nichi, a Philadelphia native, to put down roots in Elizabethtown. Both of her uncles passed away shortly afterward, followed by an aunt, a grandmother and most recently, her father in January 2013.
“That’s what kept me here. Dealing with tragedy after tragedy and the responsibility of handling properties and other things they left behind,” Nichi said. “It’s been a constant struggle to maintain these things. I guess that the common solution for most people would be to sell it all and move on, but the way I look at it, these things represent a person’s life efforts … . I felt an obligation.”
When she wasn’t tending to her family, Nichi taught dance lessons at fitness centers in Robeson, Scotland and Cumberland counties. She also continued to learn, traveling to France, Germany, Spain and Haiti to research traditional forms of dance from other cultures.
Nichi incorporated some of the moves she picked up during her travels into a self-developed style of dance she calls “The Nichi Technique.”
“I called it that not because I wanted to have something named after me, but because when people asked what I was doing, I felt I had to say something,” she said.
Nichi’s technique will be on display during “Courageous Hearts,” a performance event set for June 21 at Robeson Community College in Lumberton. The event will consist of seven segments choreographed by Nichi, who will perform alongside dancers Kelli Skinner and Stephen Damasco.
The event will be free to attend, though Nichi encourages a “love offering” of $10 — money the dancer will put toward her next big step.
In March, Nichi auditioned to attend an intensive midsummer program in Oxford held by the British American Drama Academy in association with Yale Drama School. A bevy of acclaimed actors, including Sir Ben Kingsley and Dame Judi Dench, have taught at the academy, which was founded in 1984.
Nichi’s letter of acceptance arrived in April and a couple, who wish to remain anonymous, covered the cost of her tuition. With “Courageous Hearts,” she hopes to raise enough money to pay for her airfare and other expenses not included with tuition.
“Being accepted into the Oxford Yale Drama School summer program is so important at this time in my life,” she said. “It’s time for me to go where the arts thrive and test my skills and share my gift so I can truly honor my family with my success.”
“Courageous Hearts” is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. on June 21 at Robeson Community College, though Nichi said the venue is subject to change. She can be reached at 910-474-1134.
Jaymie Baxley can be reached at 910-272-6146, or on Twitter @Jaymie_Baxley