Shanina Carmichael: Teaching, Performing, and Integrating Art into Schools
By Dasha Peipon
When the rhythms of the drums fill the space, and get deep into your mind and body, there is a special energy in the air. This energy is so thick you can almost touch it with your hands. Thirty or more people are moving to the rhythm, filling the room with the sounds of joyful cheering and clapping. In the center of all this motion there’s a slender petite woman leading the group. Her posture is strong, her voice is confident, she has a peace about her that is magnifying.
Her name is Shanina Carmichael. She is a dance artist and choreographer who teaches West African Dance in Jackson, MS. Shanina offers dance classes to our community free of charge, because she believes everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the gift of dance and fellowship. Shanina conducts trainings and in-school presentations. She shares ways to make learning more engaging by using arts and culture to teach core subject objectives. Shanina and a few friends also started Mothers Support Group called Restoring the Village to offer women support, encouragement, and mental health resources.
When Shanina talks about all the ways women can and should advocate for each other and offer mutual support, her face lights up. She delights in her role as a mother to two busy boys (2 and 6 years old). But she also openly talks about her personal struggle in finding balance in her busy life of a working mom.
“Life gets busy. I get overwhelmed. This is exactly why I need dance. Even if I was never paid for any of it, the energy that fills me, the heat, the sweating, the joy, the fulfillment – all of it is payment in itself! And sharing that experience with others only adds to the joy and makes my reward that much bigger.”
I asked Shanina how this passion for dance began. I wasn’t prepared to hear what she said.
“It was born out of anger, frustration, exhaustion, loneliness and despair.”
She has danced her whole life. But maintaining the lifestyle of a dance company member while studying in college was physically draining. One night Shanina was up till 3 in the morning dancing, but had to do homework afterwards and get up early for class. That lifestyle was not sustainable. She wanted to focus on her academics, and quit dancing altogether.
Fast forward a few years. Shanina was married and with a 2-year-old. She was a stay-at-home mom, tired, sleep-deprived. She felt underappreciated and lonely.
“I was focused on raising our child, and that was my way of contributing to our family. I didn’t realize it then, but I completely divorced who I really was. I didn’t even know what I liked anymore. I felt like I was playing a role I didn’t audition for,” admits Shanina.
“Shanina, what DO you want to do?” – her husband brought up his concerns first. Shanina couldn’t even answer that question. “OK, but what DID you want to do before you were a mom?”
Shanina remembered that she got her degree in Social Services Administration Concentration: Community Schools and Partnerships, so she could work on improving education.
She used to have a passion for dance. But was it completely gone?
That day she didn’t make dinner. She handed the 2-year-old to her husband, jumped in the car and drove to a dance class. It was West African Dance class, taught by Chiquila Pearson. One of the drummers noticed Shanina was pretty good and asked if she would want to teach a class. She didn’t take him up on that offer, but she did agree to be a sub if one of the teachers couldn’t make it one day. The rest is history.
Women come to Shanina’s class to rest their minds, burn some calories, learn fun choreography and educate themselves about African culture. This space is open to everyone, men and women, all ages. Shanina always reminds her students that children are welcome, too. The class is designed for adults, but youngsters find a way to stay entertained. Some kids dance, others play games. Including children is important because it’s the only way to include their mothers, who often feel isolated in their roles. Dance classes allow them to do something good for themselves, to relax and have fun.
“We want our kids to be in close proximity to the things that give them joy. We want them to learn, to explore. We’ll do anything and everything to relieve their stress. But how often do we allow ourselves to do what brings us joy? How often do we learn new things? How often do we explore new opportunities? We need to remember we’re modeling our children’s behavior. They do what they see, not what they hear. When you say to your child, “Follow your dreams!” ask yourself, “Am I following my dreams?” When you say, “I want you to eat healthy,” are you eating healthy?”
“We need to figure out who we are outside of what we’ve been told about ourselves.” Shanina believes this generation of women will be able to shake off the trauma and the pressure to be someone that we’re not.
“God has something special for you to do, and you have everything you need to do it,” a friend recently told Shanina. May this be an encouragement to all the women out there.
Photo Credit: By Bashiri Meterti and Joecephus Martin
West African Dance Classes in Jackson
If you need a boost of energy and feel like moving, join Shanina’s dance class on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Central United Methodist Family Life Center downtown Jackson. The classes are free to attend, but $5 donations are encouraged. Children are welcome! Location and time of classes are subject to change. The best way to stay updated is by liking Shanina Carmichael-Artist Facebook page.