From being an exotic dancer, special education teacher, improvisational actor, parent coach, and self-described enchantress, Far Rockaway resident, Shane Kulman defiantly, and regally embodies — “everywoman.”
Kulman, a Brooklyn native, seeking the ocean, moved to a bungalow in Far Rockaway in 2015. “After living in Brooklyn all my life, I started dreaming of living in my own witch’s cottage near the ocean. A friend told me to check out Rockaway. After reading an article about local artist and former president of the Beachside Bungalow Preservation Association of Far Rockaway, Richard George, I was immediately wooed,” Kulman said.
Kulman corresponded with George, and was won over by his love for the community and preserving the bungalows, not to mention the thriving artists’ enclave living there. Months later, she moved in. “I am now living in a redone bungalow, my little dream home in a community that has become my family,” Kulman said.
So how did Kulman go from exotic dancing — to working as a teacher with children on the autism spectrum — to improv acting — to coaching parents with special-needs children?
Kulman, who has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a master’s in Special and Early Childhood Education, explained, “Believe it or not, exotic dancing was the stepping stone that inspired me. For 11 years I was an exotic dancer. During this time I learned that men and children give themselves permission to play, when women don’t. We often feel that we are not enough or too much. I got to really enjoy being seen. Being a stripper for me was a celebration of my body, my face, my personality.
“I could have been suicidal. I grew up loathing myself. These feelings haven’t all dissipated, but they are less meaningful. So I believe that working as an exotic dancer for all those years was really symbolic because I learned many things about myself and others. I am a listener. I focus on and absorb people. I never used to disclose my past as an exotic dancer, but I have come to the realization that I learned a lot about people just from doing it. It was a invaluable time of inflection and reflection,” she said.
Kulman decided to continue working with others, but this time with children. She began teaching, but hated the conformist structure of the public educational system.
“When I was a pre-school teacher, I knew that working in groups was not my passion. I knew how more helpful I could be if I worked with one child at a time. So I left and started working with the agency, Variety Child Learning Center in their Special Education Itinerant Teacher (SEIT) program, which specializes in teachers who work-on-one with special-needs children. I worked with kids ages three to five, either in their homes or in their schools,” she said.
Kulman learned a lot from working with children on the autism spectrum. “I was at first taken aback by how some of them did not automatically like me, when throughout my career most children did. For example, one child just preferred to line up his video boxes, rather than pay attention to me. After a while I learned to relax and be present with them, not to push any agenda or specific goals, but to meet them where they’re at.
“Then these children started to trust me. I learned that speech is not the only way to communicate. There is so much communication in behavior. So when I was working with nonverbal children, I was able to join their world, and appreciate their little quirks, and together we had the best time.
“I worked with this Egyptian family who came to the U.S. for the sole purpose of getting help for their nonverbal three-year-old autistic child. When I arrived at their home, the little boy is jumping everywhere, staring at the ceiling fan, and I felt the mother’s longing, like please help me. So I started working with the little boy by first using the overrated Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) technique. Getting a child to do what I want, and then reward them with a cookie, is just silly, so I decided to just play with him. One day, I sprayed this lavender spray I had in my bag and the next day he looks at me and makes the psssh, psssh sound of the spray. No words, but he was asking me for the lavender spray. He was curious about me, not my bag of toys or artificial goals that were set for him.
“It wasn’t about me teaching him the color red. It was about connecting with him, relationship building that made him want to learn. Who wants to hang out with anybody who just harps on the goals you can’t reach?” Kulman said.
Kulman went on to open her own business, Our Beautiful Child, to work exclusively with parents and kids. “I realized that the crucial work was working with moms. If a parent is not working on developing their own inner strength, they pass on their own issues in a nonconscious way. Parents who realize the power of support will learn how to introduce behaviors that set a child up for success.
“Simultaneously while working as a parent coach, I began improv acting, which was so helpful. There were exercises where we were mirroring our actions and learning how to be present, and with kids, you need to be present. I was learning how to pay attention to my own physical behaviors and the subtext of what I was saying versus what I was really saying. If I say to a child point to the color red, what they may be hearing is ‘this is boring and annoying, just do it so we could be done already.’ Children, autistic or not, sense what adults are feeling, and as a result shut down internally. So sometimes it’s not about the actual words, but the subtext of what we are really saying.
“I met a lot of moms who were depressed and did not know how to handle their special-needs child. I felt like parents expected me to fix their kid. So I really got to be in the minds of mothers. I observed that they were not feeling empowered to work with their children. They were trusting everyone else to do it for them. I want moms to see their greatness, which ultimately will empower their children,” Kulman said.
Kulman recently opened in Rockaway another business, Enchanted Embodiment, to help women embrace their power and “live a badass life and stop putting ourselves down. We deserve to own businesses, have lovers, feel good in our bodies,” she said. Enchanted Embodiment will be hosting a women’s retreat at the Rockaway Retreat House on June 16 through June 18th. For more information visit: enchantedembodiment.com
“This retreat will be a magical weekend to really dive into and celebrate the divine femininity, instead of going through life exhausted and blaming ourselves,” Kulman said.