Julie Shanahan was born in Adelaide, Australia, in 1962. She started dancing at the age of seven, training in the Royal Academy of Dance system at a ballet school that her mother ran together with a friend. After graduating high school, she studied modern dance at the Center for Performing Arts for two years. A choreographer from Sydney, Kai Tai Chan, discovered her and invited her to join his company, One Extra Dance Company. Julie Shanahan thus went to Sydney at the age of 19, earning very little money. But, she says, “we experimented a lot in the theatre. It was a great time.” A job in northern Australia enabled her to save some money, and she decided to travel to Europe with a friend in 1983. He had contacts at Reinhild Hoffmann’s company in Bremen. Julie Shanahan was able to train there, auditioned – and was accepted into the company. It was a turning point in her life as a dancer. In 1984, she decided to stay in Bremen for at least a year. At first, it was difficult. She wrote many letters, telephoned her family occasionally and was very homesick. Nevertheless, she renewed her contract and followed Reinhild Hoffmann to Bochum.
In 1981, when still living in Adelaide, she had seen performances by the Tanztheater Wuppertal at the Fringe Festival, where she had also performed. She recalls: “This kind of dance theatre appealed to me very much, but I wasn’t brave enough to audition for Pina Bausch.” While she was in Bochum, the contact to Wuppertal intensified, and when she auditioned in 1988, she was accepted into the company. Palermo Palermo was her first new production. She immediately felt at home: “Pina’s language was also my language.” For 21 years, until Pina Bausch’s death, she worked very closely with her. Julie Shanahan had two children during this time, but never took a long break. The Tanztheater Wuppertal was and is family to her. She cannot imagine stopping dancing. “Pina used to say that dance can be anything. And as long as you still have stories to tell, why should you stop? Dance is my language.”
Today, she is an experienced rehearsal director for the Wuppertal repertoire and also teaches workshops. Recently, she was a rehearsal director on a project by the Pina Bausch Foundation in collaboration with the École des Sables in Senegal, staging The Rite of Spring with a group of dancers from across Africa.