Shauné Myah Culmer earned her Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2016 and is now completing her final semester towards a Master’s degree in dance education, which she plans to merge in and in the future, advocate for dance education in Bahamian schools, because she feels everyone should have dance in their life.
“Psychology is the study of the brain and behaviors, and I feel as an educator in general, you need that background, because a lot of the things I’m learning now has to do with dance for students with special needs or learning behaviors of students in general,” said Culmer who has returned to New York University (NYU) to complete her final semester. “My psychology background has helped me so much, and that’s one way to merge [the two degrees].”
In the future she’s looking to use her two degrees in dance therapy which uses movement to help people deal with trauma and help with physical disabilities or mental disabilities.
“You don’t necessarily have to be a professional dancer to dance, especially in our culture. You move every day. As soon as you hear Junkanoo, you movin’…you steppin’ – so in our culture, it’s big. It’s basically the basis of our culture along with music and I feel like everyone, especially children, should have dance in their life, especially in the educational system, mainly because of mental health aspects and interdisciplinary success,” said the NYU dance student. “There have been many studies proving that students with some kind of performing arts in their educational experience have way more success in terms of science, math and English. You embrace more critical thinking skills and communication skills. There’s just so many benefits [to] dance education, dance in general and even performing arts in general. And I just feel like as a country, we need to be more exposed to it.”
Her favorite dance is contemporary. She’s also studied ballet, jazz, modern, salsa, Afro-Caribbean and some West African; she studied African in Uganda last year during her study abroad.
Culmer, 25, has been dancing since she was three years old, having started at Yodephy before switching to the National Dance School of The Bahamas in her senior school years, where she said her passion for dance bloomed and she discovered it was her purpose and what she’s supposed to do. But she said her dad, Vaughn Culmer, like most Bahamian parents, told her she had to have something to back it up. She said she’s always been passionate about mental health and enrolled in Fisk University for her undergraduate degree. But she did not let go of her dance. She said while at Fisk University she was always involved in dance with the companies and it was there she decided she would merge her psychology degree with dance therapy.
“I went into dance education just because I feel like everyone should have dance in their life,” she said.
Culmer recently spent three days, January 13-14 and 23, with 10th, 11th and 12th grade dance students at Government High School (GHS) teaching them modern dance elements and an Afro-Caribbean, modern dance fusion combination. The style and direction ties into her final thesis/curriculum that she presented: “The Connection Between Modern Dance and Caribbean Dance/Culture”.
She’s plans to return home to begin advocating for dance education in The Bahamas within the school systems and the communities.
“My passion would be in the school systems and within the community in terms of under-represented, underprivileged communities, so going into community centers and providing dance classes so that students can get the exposure and encouragement so it empowers them. I know a lot of times in our community it’s said – oh you can’t make money as an artist, you have to have something to back it up – because that was my experience, so I want to be able to empower dancers, artists in any field, that you can make a living doing what you love and what you’re passionate about.”
The daughter of Vaughn and Shelia also aspires to open a dance studio, providing a creative space for students and adults.
Culmer also recently presented her first choreographic at the Master’s Concert at NYU in November 2019 that she dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Dorian.
As she prepares to complete the final semester of her graduate degree, Culmer said education is important to her and she has plans to earn a doctorate degree.
“Education is definitely the basis of your success in general and to have grades you have to pay attention and have some kind of outlet – and that goes into my mental health passion [because] you have to have some kind of outlet to take off the pressure of school, because obviously school is very difficult sometimes.”