When you think about the Pinelands Creative Workshop’s dancers, you conjure up an image of energy, flexibility and strength. After all, all three are needed to go leaping and bounding across a stage, as they do during their award-winning performances.
Today, sitting on the hardwood floor of their Rock Close headquarters (home), yet another facet of the dancers comes to the fore. They come alive in an entirely different way as they settle in to our little chat. From their tight little circle, shoulder to shoulder, the teenagers and pre-teens of the junior programme gaze my way. The girls are fresh off another National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) dance competition win and preparing for the workshop’s annual production.
Their energy is palpable, even after they lower themselves onto the floor with a natural ease that suggests they are ready to spring to their feet again at a moment’s notice. Following a casual introduction from the chief instructor, however, they settle down quickly and our little chat begins. Noticeably, the one who seemed the most shy among them speaks with a confidence that suggests they are very comfortable in these surroundings and in the midst of their sisters. As they speak, the mechanics of dance seldom came up: our conversation centres mostly around their passion for dancing. And in the first few minutes it becomes obvious that for these young women, this is about so much more than learning to move gracefully: lessons in dance joined hands with lessons in life.
It is clear that they enjoy nearly every aspect of dancing. They like the challenges of new routines and new moves. They are only too happy to explain how much work they had to put into their NIFCA award-winning pieces; work on the dance floor and in their personal lives.
The Junior intermediate group spans ages seven to 11, and some of them have been dancing with PCW for four years. On the way to winning the silver award for the “Thanksgiving” piece, they practised between three and four times a week, for two hours per session. Admitting that it was exhausting they were nonetheless excited to practise a new move, the flipping. Understandably, they also relished a soak in the tub afterwards. In the face of the many clashes with other activities like Brownies, cheerleading and netball, dancing usually emerged first. And when they thought they were too tired to finish their homework on a given evening or weekend, there was always help from family and neighbours, to see to it that their attention to school work did not lapse. In the end the hectic schedule actually had a positive effect on most them in the shape of improved time management skills.
The junior advanced group also learned how to prioritise important tasks like homework and chores. Aged between ten and thirteen they are just slightly more mature than the others but most of them had been dancing for longer, some of them for as many as ten years. The two groups practiced and rehearsed at the same time but unlike the intermediate group who were led by Kimberley Jordan the advanced students were under the metronome of Shelly Durant-Forde. The six to eight hours that they spent in rehearsals proved to be more problematic for the dancers among them who had just entered secondary schools. The commute was longer and that complicated the effort by throwing snacks, transportation and a much bigger homework load into the mix.
Fortunately, the same support support system was there, family and friends chipped in where they could to take some of the burden of these young shoulders. And they in turn put in the extra effort to catch up over the weekends. Like the intermediate group they also found the instructors to be tough but fun. This group received the envious gold award for their “Limbo” performance; they also confessed that preparation had been tough. The piece centred on three key moves, splitting, lifting other dancers and the low bar. Each of them was difficult on their own but made all the more gruelling after practicing the moves for forty-five minutes to an hour. But all that hard work paid off handsomely with the prestigious gold award. The girls were obviously happy for themselves but they were also very happy for Pinelands Creative Workshop. They were happy to win the award for PCW which they say had been so generous to them and to the wider community.
Other benefits such as learning about Africa and African dance were also high on their lists. They found African dance “energising” and Akidrea, Marion and Donielle became so enamoured with it that they now plan to try and land dance scholarships and become choreographers, with Marion planning to open her own studio.
The young dancers also mentioned how they had learned to adjust to the air-conditioned environment at the Frank Collymore Hall and managed to stay warmed up for their appearance on stage; how the layout had forced them to go pelting from one end of the auditorium to the other so they could get back into the wings. All of these coping mechanisms, and many more, are now part of their repertoire. Without realising it, they were mentally preparing for any competition, performance or obstacle in life.
As we speak they demonstrate how they have come to the understanding that hard work pays off, adding that they are willing to work hard to reach their goals. It comes out that their fellowship with instructors, friends and family provides them a support system that they could both draw on and participate in. They are also now more keenly aware of the opportunities ahead of them and confident in their ability to achieve.
Pinelands Creative Workshop is arguably the most famous dance troupe on the island. For the past 30 years there has been a constant stream of talent stomping this same floor on many a Saturday morning. Some of those mornings were very much like this one, with the 10 o’clock sun bathing the room in cheerful sunlight.
PCW is undoubtedly shaping a troupe of stellar talent. The awards and accolades are empirical proof of this. But when you get a chance to see into the community that they have built you see an organisation engaged in rehearsals for life. Through concentration, effort and repetition the students learn to master the steps and movements. Over time they gain confidence until they can reproduce the routines on demand, with near flawless execution. Until finally, when the time comes, these young talents will leap from the wings of adolescence and perform gloriously on the stage of life.