Six-year-old Jamaican dancer wins gold in California
At just six years old, little Ajahne Reid is already a big winner. She won a gold medal in her age group (five to seven) for dance from the World Championship of Performing Arts (WCOPA) held in Long Beach, California, earlier this summer.
Ajahne initially entered the competition as a model after being scouted by her school's dance teacher, Denesha Wright, who participated in the competition last year. "Her teacher found the talent in her - saw that she wanted to and loved to dance. She was always a moving child," Ajahne's mother Keron Pinnock told The Gleaner.
WCOPA is an annual Olympic-style international meet for aspiring performers and entertainers. It invites singers, musicians, dancers, variety artists, actors, and models to compete. Before the competition begins, contestants participate in a boot camp, complete with comprehensive performing-arts seminars and workshops given by top industry experts.
"But in this competition, there's more value than cash prize. There's the exposure. There are scholarship agencies, and you can get signed by a modelling agency or an agent. It's a lot more than just a competition. I wish more Jamaicans knew about it. It's like the Olympics for performers," said Pinnock.
As a competitor last year, Wright described her experience as difficult, but fulfilling. The day before her performance, she suffered an inflammation of the hip, but had to power through her routine in excruciating pain. Amazingly, she came home with a bronze medal, along with a vision to pull more Jamaicans into WCPOA. "I told them I wanted to be a talent scout and I signed up," she said.
Ajahne's audition as a model took place last November, but when she returned to school - Jabnea Christian Academy in Westmoreland - in January, Wright told Pinnock that a talent scout suggested the young model be entered in the dance competition as well. "They said, 'No man, let her dance!' And I saw the zeal in her." Though wary about Ajahne's technical prowess, the teacher quickly choreographed a hip-hop routine, to a song from dancehall-influenced rapper Stefflon Don.
"I was iffy because I wanted her to model, and trained her for that. But she learnt the choreography in one week, and spent five weeks perfecting it." All the hard work paid off. "That's huge for a six-year-old girl with no prior experience, to come out with gold," Wright said. "I feel good," Ajahne told The Gleaner of her win.
Ajahne was not the only Jamaican who tasted success at WCOPA. Wright also scouted performer Kenrick Sharpe, who left the competition with three medals and a scholarship. Wright came home with an award of her own - Outstanding Coach award for 2018.
Ten Jamaicans entered the competition this year, and the call has gone out for more. Wright has organised two open calls next month. The NDTC Dance Studio in Kingston on October 6, and at the Green Tree Dance Studio in Montego Bay on October 20. "I know several young people who would love to dance, but feel like their family won't allow them," said Wright. Pinnock added, "Art is not widely recognised in Jamaica, but competitions like this are a step in the right directions. There's more to art than painting or museums. Dance, photography, modelling ... these are things that we should harness and use to lift our people. Opportunities come from it. It's not my dream that she'll be in Jamaica performing, but all over the world."