Shani Sterling

Shani earned a Bachelor of Science in dance (Summa Cum Laude) from Lamar University in 2002 and a Master of Fine Arts in performance and choreography from Florida State University in 2006, followed by a Fulbright Fellowship in Ghana, West Africa in 2007. This fall, Shani will continue her studies at Rice University with a Master of Art in religious studies (Religion of Africa).

Fascinated by the scope of study, how did you get to this place in your career? How did your time at Lamar influence this path?

My time at Lamar University allowed me to study the fundamentals of dance technique and theory while providing a ripe environment for me to explore my own ideas and themes which set a wonderful foundation for my career.  I enjoyed traveling and being a part of the dance ensemble there. We had the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC as part of ACDFA. Additionally I was supported in directing a full length concert, Endurance, in which I brought in guest gospel vocalists from other art areas within the college as well as people from local churches in the Beaumont community. The concert was one of my first major projects in which I explored themes of religion and spirituality in the body. I recently continued my research interests as an artist in residence in Tetouan, Morocco where I explored these same themes and I am now beginning a Master's Degree in religious studies at Rice University this Fall focusing on religion in Africa. My time at Lamar University was extremely beneficial in helping to get to this process. I particularly enjoyed the faculty and how supportive they were.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (both personally and professionally)? 

My greatest accomplishments are my children! I have given birth to three beautiful souls. Also, aside from my academic achievements, I am really proud of the fact that I have been able to marry my passion in dance with my passion for community engagement. One of the greatest ways this has been visible is through the Akwaaba Dance and Drum Festival which celebrates the beauty and diversity of African culture through drum classes, dance classes, performances and lectures. The festival celebrated it's 10th year in 2017.  

What is your most fond memory or favorite story of your time at Lamar University?

Developing a supportive cohort with the other dancers in the program. We traveled together, performed together, supported each other in our various choreographic projects and we even created a performance group, "Einstein Dancers," in which we went to local area schools and taught students about science through dance which was an amazing way to have first-hand experience with integrating dance into an academic curriculum. It was wonderful!  

What advice would you give current students and young alumni in your field?

Be present, fully immerse yourself in it each moment of this experience. Allow your passions to consume you while trying to figure out ways to sustain yourself economically in the future. Ask yourself questions. Questions can lead to wonderful research. Work hard. Give each class your all, whether it's a movement class or lecture class. Be creative and daring with your artistic ideas. Have fun and work hard! Never stop being a student.

Final thoughts…

A quote that I love from Nayyirah Waheed:

"When creating, be kind to your doubt.
hear it out. thank it for it's concern.
and reassure it that you are an artist.
and risk is essential."

Shani Sterling