op-ed: barbados dance project – my way of saying thank you to the island that has taught me so much

July 6, 2016

Greetings, my name is Jamal Rashann Callender. I am the founder and artistic director of Barbados Dance Project (BDP). Born in the United States and raised at a young age in Barbados, BDP is my way of saying thank you to the island that has taught me so much. Dance has always been in my life since I can remember. Dancing to Soca and Calypso with my family. Formal dance training took place in NYC beginning at Ballet Tech. I attended the Professional Performing Arts School/The Ailey School with additional training at Restoration Dance Theater in Bed Stuy and Harlem School of the Arts. From there I was accepted into the prestigious Juilliard School where I earned my BFA. I have performed all over the world with dance companies such as Atlanta Ballet, Hubbard Street II, and Ballet Hispanico, where I received the 2012 Princess Grace award in Dance. Currently I reside in Mannheim, Germany working full time at the National Theater Mannheim.

The Barbados Dance Project was established in 2014 with a mission to educate, collaborate, and engage with the Bajan community through dance. All of this while giving each student a full scholarship to attend. A tuition-free program is at the core of why I want to give back to my community. The cost of dance lessons is expensive and BDP bridges the gap to make it more accessible. BDP brings some of the world’s best dancers and teachers to the island to give students an insight about what it takes to become a professional dance artists. Not only do students receive a full scholarship but audience members receive free admission to our dance showcase.

By Jamal Callender, AFROPUNK contributor

The Barbados Dance Project hosts a two-week residency on the island with a rigorous and intense summer dance course. The students will meet from 10am-6pm daily. The day starts with a Ballet technique class followed by a movement lab where they will learn improvisational techniques along with developing and curating their individual movement signature and style. After a lunch break the dancers will spend 3 hours a day learning repertory selected to be performed at the end of the intensive showing. In addition to that, I provide on going counseling and guidance ranging from nutrition, injury prevention, self esteem and development, time management, college recommendations, career choices, and many more. My goal isn’t just to each dance, it’s to cultivate brilliant minds to be the future, while embracing and experiencing their voice through dance.

The Barbados Dance Project was an idea, a dream that always was in my mind. I wondered what it would be like to have an annual dance summer intensive that any dancer or dance lover, at any age can walk into a dance studio and feel free to move. No pressure about fees or payments, no judgment, just freedom and self expression through the body. This is exactly what is happening now. Going on the 3rd year, BDP has brought over 100 dance students from ages 10-73 into the dance studio. One of the joys I have is watching the students open and blossom as they soak in all the information like a sponges. The guest artists I bring are carefully selected. They are peers and colleagues of mine who have demonstrated a clear understanding of outreach and giving back to the community. The guest have lived and performed all over the world but believe in the idea of giving back. The students gravitate to the guest to get a glimpse of what it is to be a professional dancer, the risk and challenges along with the success and celebration.

Did I mention we have a lot of fun? Yes two weeks is a short period of time where students are crammed with intense knowledge and expertise about dance. It can be overwhelming and frustrating but I always encourage the students to take a deep breathe and allow it to soak in. This experience is not like any other on the island or globally. It is important that arts and education remains a priority to everyone. It is the catalyst that inspires communication and unity. Hard work truly does pay off and watching each of them grow so fast is incredible and inspires me to do more, to push harder, to create more opportunities for dance in Barbados.

For the future, I hope the Barbados Dance Project continues to grow and thrive. Some ways includes becoming a institution of learning on the island by having a year round dance training program geared towards enriching young dancers wishing to continue dance professionally in the Caribbean region or abroad. A true gift would be to make the Barbados Dance Project the national dance company of Barbados.The country once had a National theater however it no longer exists. It would be an honor and privilege to know this small idea, this dream, grew to become a staple for the island of Barbados. We are far from that goal today but we continue to plant the seeds and strive for all that is possible.
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