Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Carl Campbell creates “recycled teenagers”

Published:Sunday | March 29, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul H. Williams
Seniors enjoying themselves during a dance rehearsal at the National Council For Senior Citizens recently.
Carl Campbell, founder and director of Carl Campbell Recycled Teenagers.
Carl Campbell showing his elderly dancers just how to do a particular movement.

On Thursday, February 19, when Arts & Education entered a dance rehearsal session at the National Council For Senior Citizens, more than 15 persons, including one 'young' man, were grooving to Shaggy's Mr Boombastic, and they were really fantastic, doing what they were taught by their instructors.

They are not 15, 16 or 19, yet they are teenagers, Carl Campbell's recycled teenagers.

Soon after Arts & Education's arrival, the man himself, Campbell, joined the session. He is the founder and director of Carl Campbell Recycled Teenagers, and was visiting the island. He's now back in the United Kingdom, where he said he "created" the term, recycled teenagers, in 1986. Unfortunately, he said, he didn't patent it, so other people have been using it for their own purposes.


This son of a jazz musician was born in St Mary, attended St Aloysius Boys' School in Kingston, and migrated to the UK when he was very young. There, Campbell attended London School of Contemporary Dance, Central School of Speech and Drama, to learn acting, and he was taught how to sing by an Arnold Rose.

Campbell is now a composer, singer, actor, and dancer, who said, "I don't know if I wanted to be a dancer, something just said, 'That is what you need to do', I am not going to say I was born to dance."

His show business career started in 1970, and since then he has toured Britain doing musical theatre, appearing in musicals such as Hair.

But it was his experience in apartheid-era Lesotho, South Africa, which, he said, was the turning point in his career, "My whole career took a completely different turn. The apartheid system there changed my whole concept of coming back, performing in the West End to 99 per cent of Europeans," Campbell said.

So he established his own performing arts company, Dance Company Seven, when he returned to London in the mid-1970s. Thereafter, he met Rex Nettleford, dancer, founder, and long-time artistic director at the National Dance Theatre Company (NDTC). Nettleford gave him a signed copy of his book, Roots and Rhythm, which, incidentally, Campbell used as a teaching tool when he taught at the University of Lesotho.

Much of the NDTC's philosophies, he said, he has adopted to his own company, "in terms of education".

Part of the company's outreach efforts was to create a social space for senior folks, but Campbell said, "We didn't want to call people old people, so I came up with recycled teenagers." He noticed that many seniors had worked hard, never taking time out to appreciate or participate in the arts, and so, he said, "I thought, now they are of pension age, what do we do?"

What happened was the creation of an opportunity for them to be creatively engaged, to get them involved in things they didn't get a chance to do because they were busy working and raising their children. "As a result of that in the UK, what we try to do is to get them on television (they have been on television a lot), in big theatres working with young people," Campbell said.

working with the elderly

But what is it like working with the elderly from an artistic perspective? "You work from a basis of educating through memory, that's why I insist on people memorising. One thing about dance and movements is memory. It helps the brain, retention, gets the body going" Campbell explained. And for those who might have memory challenges, there is a project for them.

"One of the projects we are doing is called 'Dance and Dementia', and (it) is very, very good, because what we found out is that the member might not necessarily remember what I just said to you, but the music that we use triggers it back, and then suddenly they are reacting to it," Campbell said. In essence, dancing stimulates their memory and enhances "active ageing".

After years of working with the Recycled Teenagers in the UK, Campbell was to eventually set up a similar project in Epsom, St Mary. That one was called Respect The Elderly, which he funded from the UK. And in 2008, he approached CHASE Fund to get support for a seniors project in Kingston and St Andrew.

In 2009, the project was launched at the National Council For Senior Citizens, located at 11 West King's House Road in St Andrew. Campbell is the founder and director, and whenever he is in the island, he also choreographs and tutors. In his absence, Beverly Edwards, project coordinator, and Ingrid Hardy, parish organiser, take care of things. Of great importance to all is the safety, health and well-being of the participants.

The main challenge for the project is funding, but the recycling goes on. It really provides an outlet for seniors who would otherwise be bored and inactive. For 80-year-old Violet Brown, who is diabetic, it is a joy. "It is a therapy for me - well, the exercise, it gives me a frame of mind to make me always want to come. I love music, I love dance, I love my tutor, I love the whole atmosphere," the 'recycled teenager' said.