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Taking matters into their own hands - Dancers making moves for themselves

Published:Thursday | May 18, 2017 | 12:00 AMShereita Grizzle
Latonya Styles
John Squad Dancers

After years of lamenting on the lack of government support and even support from entertainers in the music industry, it seems local dancers are finally taking steps to ensure they profit from a craft that has benefited everyone except them as creators over the years.

Dancers are expressing that they have finally put on their business hats, and the emergence of several dance schools are the result. Capitalising on the fact that many tourists still visit the island to learn dancehall moves, more street dancers have begun hosting classes at their homes or at a small corner in their communities. The dancers charge a small fee for the cultural exchange and sometimes the classes are well supported.

Dance Jamaica Academy CEO Latonya Styles told The Sunday Gleaner that while the increase in dance schools presents added competition and perhaps a reduction in the number of persons that would attend her dance classes; she supports the move by these dancers as they have been crying out for help over the years to no avail.


no success


"We as dancers have been trying for years to get support from the creative industry as well as the government, but have not been successful, and so we decided to take things into our own hands," she said.

"The country is filled with dancers and we don't have enough job opportunities as it relates to getting a 9 to 5. Most of us as dancers use our talent to earn a living. It's all about survival. Half of my dancers that I brought into the teaching game don't even teach at the school anymore, they are doing their own thing on the roadside or wherever. But I can't stop them because what I'm offering them for pay is not going to be enough when they can get the money from these clients themselves and in their own yards."

With the number of classes/schools popping up islandwide in recent times, questions have arisen surrounding the legitimacy of these classes and whether they have been formally registered as an institute. However, Styles pointed out also that these classes/schools are merely filling a void that exists as it relates to passing on the Jamaican culture to tourists and are not official educational institutes and have never claimed to be.

"They are not institutions, and the persons who run them are just looking to make a dollar," she said, stating that she believes the influx of dance classes are just the latest trend right now and will not last for long. "It is just for the time. Many of the classes or schools popping up now will not last, and that's because some people are just doing it because they see an opportunity and are just grabbing it, as soon as things get challenging and business isn't doing as well as it was, many of them will die out."


No regulatory body


Michael Holgate, choreographer and dancer, told The Sunday Gleaner that there is currently no regulatory body to formalise dance institutions and agrees with Styles as it relates to the ability many of these recent dance schools have to last.

"We have a dance school at the Edna Manley School of the Visual and Performing Arts; that is the official institute of dance education in Jamaica," he said. "I guess anybody can do that (set up a dance class or dance school), but will they have the audience to last in the long haul? People who will pay for these classes will know who the talented teachers are, so if you don't have a reputation, it is unlikely that your 'school' will be populated with students and you won't last."

He also pointed out that the players in dancehall are in no rush to formalise the teaching of its dances as they are filling a void that the formal institutions are not.

"Dancehall is a street phenomenon; it is not taught in any formal, structured way, and the people who are teaching these dances are offering a service that the formal education sector doesn't offer. Maybe what should be happening is that the formal institution should be teaching these classes, but that's not happening, and so these street dancers are filling that gap," he said. "It being taught in these informal settings has worked and is working because dancehall is street. At the end of the day, someone who pops up to have a one or two classes isn't looking to get people certified in the art of dancing, and the persons taking these classes aren't looking to become certified."

Styles agreed with Holgate, but expressed that dancers setting up these classes should at least register their businesses as it reflects better on dance as an industry.

"Get yourself in the system, create a name and make the thing look proper," she said. "Some of these people, they don't have a name, they don't have a logo, they just doing it because it's there to do, but if we want people to take dancing seriously as an industry, we have to take it seriously as the creators and teachers."