Kealoha Ferreira looked around the University of St. Thomas campus, scanning for the perfect place to pose for photos. She was immediately drawn to the fountain. She took off her shoes and improvised, very slowly, each step deliberate, every move with a purpose.

Ferreira has been dancing with the Ananya Dance Theatre since 2013. The company is known for its powerful social justice messages portrayed through dance.

She was cast in a show by Ananya Chatterjea, who was a professor of dance at the University of Minnesota at the time. She was then invited to apprentice with the studio and is now an artistic associate, dancer and co-leader of the Shawngram Institute.

“I actually had a really difficult time deciding to join the company because it was so different, the form, its philosophy. But, as much as I recognize its difference, I also recognize its depth,” Ferreira said. “There was something about the depth of the work that I was actually pretty afraid [of].”

She eventually decided to join because she recognized how important and beautiful the Ananya Dance Theatre’s work is.

Ferreira enjoys incorporating social justice into her dance. One example is a piece called “Roktim: Nurture Incarnadine” that the studio put on in 2015. It was part of a multiyear series titled “Work Women Do.” Roktim was specifically focused on loving land, and Ferreira said she felt especially connected to stories from Hawaii, because that’s where she’s from.

“It was the first time that I was beginning to develop this understanding of how to bring myself into this work, and how I experience how this work holds space for all of us to bring our full selves into it and for all of our full selves to exist together.”

Ferreira said she hopes the audience becomes inspired and connected to her dancing, adding the audience is essential to the performance.

“How can maybe for just this night, only in this performance environment, we can move our audiences to a place of emotion, to a place where it touches humanity and human spirit, and that as a motivator to continue the work and continue forward.”

Ferreira and the Ananya Dance Theatre are working on a new piece called “Sutrajāl: Revelations of Gossamer.” The word “sutrajāl,” another word the studio created, means connection and intersection.

They bring pieces from the past, the present and imagination into all their performances, she said.

“That’s also inspiration for how we think about our connections to each other, both present and historical,” Ferreira added.