The Caribbean School of Dancing (CSD) and its company, Metamorphosis Dance Company, won several awards in the recent All Dance International (ADI) World Championships in Orlando. The awards ceremony was held on November 25 following live competitions.
This is an extended version of the article published in the T&T Guardian on December 14, 2018
CSD Principal, Bridgette Wilson, choreographed two of the three winning pieces, with the other piece being choreographed and performed by student Keanu Mohammed. The school took second place in the Neoclassical Solo category for ages 12 to 17, choreographed by Wilson and performed by Cheyenne Carrington-Greene; first place in the Large Group Piece Lyrical category for ages 12 to 17, choreographed by Wilson for a group comprising 18 students; and first place in the Contemporary Duet category for ages 18 and Up, choreographed and performed by Mohammed alongside Anna-Maria de Freitas.
Wilson said the school was approached about competing in April this year, along with other schools in T&T, two weeks before the deadline for entry. The invitation required that interested schools send in recorded dances under their chosen category performed in full costume and adhering to the same competition rules regarding age limits, styles of dance, time limits and more.
The video entry would then be scored by a panel of judges to determine if you were eligible to move on to the live competitions. Marks below 50 were not eligible to move forward, between 50 and 69 competitors would be invited to All Dance International Continental Championship (held in Panama) and entries gaining 70 marks or more were invited to the ADI World Championships in Orlando.
There was only about two weeks between reading through the email and the deadline for video entry, so picking the potential team members and choreographers was a bit of a rush job but done with care. Emails were sent out to the parents of students of both the Curepe and Port of Spain branches of the school from the Grade 5 level and up (about age 12 and up) informing them about the competition and seeking interested persons. A similar email was sent to the teachers of CSD for those interested in choreographing work for the competition.
Wilson said after some frantic appeals for dancers and choreographers, a team was decided based on availability and readiness to work as there was only one week to set music and choreography, find appropriate costumes, tape and send the performances and the audition fee. All three entries submitted were invited to the Orlando competition. Three pieces of choreography were sent in, a large group piece in Lyrical dance performed by the students ranging age 12-17 and two duets performed by the senior students. The group piece and one duet were choreographed by me and the second duet was choreographed by male student and budding choreographer, Keanu Mohammed.
By mid-May we were informed of the outcome of the video entries and were thrilled to know that all pieces got over 70 marks and were invited to the Orlando competition. This is when the real work began.
Wilson said one of the main hurdles that had to be overcome was getting the dancers into a competitive mode. “Our school is not a competition school and neither is the local dance community when compared to the competition culture of many dance studios in the U.S. It is only in recent years we have seen the influence of dance programs like ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, ‘Dancing With The Stars’, ‘Best Dance Crew’ and more recently ‘World of Dance’ reflected in our dance culture with the presence of ‘bMobile Dance Off’ and even the local leg of ‘ World of Dance’ amongst other competitions.
The most prominent form of dance competition in our country is perhaps the Best Village competitions which showcase community arts through our local forms of dance, drama and music. But even with this much needed and loved festival, our dance schools teach internationally certified forms of ballet, modern, jazz, tap and other styles of dance alongside our local forms of dance preparing students more for international dance exams, performances and a general love of dance over dance in competition. If you follow a program like ‘Dance Moms’ for example, Abby Lee’s debatable teaching techniques aside, we saw her competition team preparing for almost weekly competitions that then lead them to National competitions based on their wins. This is more customary in the area of gymnastics and more recently, cheer which has been on the rise locally. As such, to prepare for the competition, it was important to expose the students to competition culture by encouraging them to watch different programs and understand the commitment that was needed from them as we stepped into unfamiliar waters. We entered the Trinidad and Tobago All Star Association Tropical Heat Invitational back in June to get a taste of the competition world. With the same group piece used for our video entry and two newly choreographed duets in Musical Theatre and Lyrical dance, we took home first place for the group piece and first and second place in the duets.”
She said the group of 18 aged 12-17 years old rehearsed each Sunday in the term as it was the only day left when balancing academic demands, regular dance classes, additional school show rehearsals and their personal lives. The four Senior students began rehearsals for the competition on the week after the school show, with only about three weeks to create choreography as they were balancing the demanding schedule of Metamorphosis Dance Company which had weekly performances since September 1st. “The creative aspect is “easy” for us because that is what we do; we wake up and our minds begin dancing and absorbing the world around us and altering it into movement and influences for movement. Only on the Saturday before our Monday morning travel did costumes come into play as I was spending more time worrying about how we would afford all of this and the paperwork necessary for travel and the competition itself.”
Wilson said the school received almost no funding toward the cause “despite the hundreds of letters and emails that were sent out. However, we are tremendously grateful to those companies that did dig deep and offered financial support toward the experiences of these young students. But despite our efforts, most of the money toward paying for airfare, accommodation and participation fees came from our own pockets and really showed the commitment of these parents to their children.”
Wilson said this lack of support highlights what she sees as a lack of respect for the art form in T&T. “I have lots of mixed feelings about the arts in Trinidad and of course about dance. All I will say is, go to any national celebration, think of our religious festivals, our cultural festivals, think of the core of any Trinidadian gathering; there is always dance. As David Rudder sang about Calypso Music I feel about dance in Trinidad, it is “rooted deep within my Caribbean belly.” However, we are often treated as an afterthought and the benefits of dance both in terms of physical and mental continue to go unnoticed on a national level. More must be done from all of us to push dance forward and I commend the local dance community for always pushing forward even when we are held back.”
Wilson said it was a tremendous feeling to represent T&T at that level. “We really did not know what to expect going into this and for me personally, I didn’t realize how emotional a journey it would be to be able to stand on stage with my country’s flag in hand and do something that the majority of the country wasn’t even aware that we were doing. It was always about giving the school and it’s students a new experience that would give them memories to last them a lifetime but we did that and more and for that, I am truly proud. The dancers have been so filled with energy since then, they are ready for whatever is next for them and they are eager to do more with their dancing.”
She said she was grateful for the experience and hopes to carry it forward. “As the Principal of Caribbean School of Dancing for just over a year now, I’ve learnt to accept things as they come. This was an experience to show the students what is happening in the dance world outside of Trinidad and based on the experience I think it is something that I would like to offer to students annually to be given a chance to not only compete on the world stage in the art form that they love, but to experience the camaraderie that develops from working as a team and travelling as a team. The bonds that are formed in the dance school tend to be ones that last forever and in my experience, opportunities like this only help strengthen those bonds. It’s hard to put 18 dancers on a stage and ensure they are all doing the exact same thing at the exact same time or on the contrary, because I love contrast, doing the exact same thing at specifically different times. What helps that along is strong team bonds and communication between the group and I really saw that develop over time with the group. I’d like to be able to offer these experiences to more students in our school while still continuing to prepare students for their international exams and the aspects of dance our students are more accustomed to. It would also be great to one day have a regional dance competition of this calibre that sees the schools of the Caribbean come together on one stage to represent their islands and the wealth of talent we each possess.”