Dance education

ArtSea: the company that brings dance education to the Bahamas

From hotels to hair salons, many industries have been hit hard by the pandemic. But I would say that the industry most affected – the industry that seems to be the lowest priority in terms of support from governments around the world – is the arts, and more specifically dance. No better example of this is the fact that while sporting events have reopened across America, theaters have remained closed, with few attempts to find a solution on how to safely reopen them; a ruling that prevented performers from being paid. Over the past year, it has felt like the powers that be do not value the arts or view dance as a job in its own right – a stigma that has unfortunately hung on the profession for decades. .

It was this stigma and the desire to show people how amazing dancing can be for children – whether they become pros or not – that prompted siblings Courtney Celeste Spears and Asa Cary to create. ArtSea Dance, a company that offers dance workshops in the Bahamas, and that “strives to be a bridge that connects young Caribbean artists to the vast world of dance abroad.” Spears and Cary founded the company five years ago, but their mission couldn’t be more important at a time when the arts world struggles to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

Cultivate the love of dance

“I could go on for hours on end about the importance of dancing,” Spears told POPSUGAR on Zoom. “I think the arts in general are an essential part of development. One of the most important things Asa and I mention and promote is that with ArtSea, allowing your children to explore the arts or their passion helps. to strengthen discipline. It builds ethical work. It builds self-confidence. It strengthens team cohesion and creative thinking. ”

Image source: Braxton Gardiner

Spears, a professional dancer with Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, and Cary, who works in event planning and logistics management, started ArtSea Dance after Spears performed in Atlantis in the Bahamas – where their family is from (the siblings grew up in the Maryland and attended the Baltimore School for the Arts, but spent a majority of summers and vacations there as children).

During the tour, Spears was shocked at the response to the performance. “It was this huge wave of young students, parents, artists and dance enthusiasts who came to see us. I didn’t know there were so many people eager for this live art performance experience. . I knew Bahamians love to dance. There is Junkanoo; there are the local festivals; but, there is not that level of organized professional art. ” The enthusiasm of the community sparked an idea for the young ballet dancer: why not bring professional dance teachers from the United States to the Bahamas to teach the children? She mentioned the idea to Cary, who Spears describes as “the epitome of execution and logistics,” and who has experience planning and executing events for large companies like CitiBank and Twitter.

Make dreams come true

In the winter of 2015, the siblings began to seriously think about how to organize a dance workshop. And in a Herculean feat (and a testament to Cary’s meticulous planning), the first ArtSea Dance workshop kicked off in the Bahamas in June 2016. Spears used his connections through Alvin Ailey to recruit teachers, while the duo tapped into their relations in the Bahamas – including Robert Bain, the director of Bahamian National Dance Company, and their grandmother – to help them fundraise and contact the local press. “We really had a lot of people standing up for us at the start. And although it was just a small group, they believe in what we’re doing,” Spears said.

Image source: Braxton Gardiner

One of the biggest challenges in getting ArtSea off the ground this first year was just getting the word out to kids and their parents. “[In the Bahamas], they still rely heavily on television, newspapers and billboards as their primary marketing tools, ”Cary explained. “With a lot of new businesses, you set up an Instagram account and you have all the marketing that you’re going to do. need for your first couple years. Where for ArtSea, in that particular area, getting on the news or doing a radio segment, you actually reach a lot more people who would then put their kids. “

Like most summer activities in 2020, the ArtSea Summer Workshop has been canceled, replaced with a virtual program that included digital dance lessons and panel discussions with professional dancers, as well as a small after-school program. and private sessions. “I think like every business and organization, this gave us the opportunity to be creative about how we might engage with students,” said Spears. And while not being able to host ArtSea in person was disappointing, one bright spot was that going digital has allowed Spears and Cary to reach new audiences. “New York and the Bahamas are still our biggest markets, but we’ve seen some expansion in Italy and California,” Cary said. “We were able to adapt and talk to students in different fields than before, which was pretty cool.”

Dance education. . . and lifelong skills

Normally, an in-person ArtSea workshop – which Spears and Cary plan to do in 2021, albeit slightly adapting the format to allow them to follow COVID security protocols – includes instructors who teach different forms of dance, such as jazz. , ballet and hip-jump. But what makes this program so special is that in addition to taking a dance class and learning choreography, students also gain valuable career guidance and body wellness practices that will help them throughout. throughout their life.

Image source: Braxton Gardiner

Dr Sheyi Ojofeitimi, Alvin Ailey Senior Physiotherapist and ArtSea Program Senior Faculty Member, helps children learn to care for their bodies and avoid injury, for example; while Tracy Miller, arts administrator and university consultant (she was the former administrator of Alvin Ailey’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program) helps provide participants with career advice. “She worked with students pursuing a degree and an arts education,” Cary explained. “She comes in and talks to middle or high school students to find out if they are interested in turning to the arts as a next step for themselves. She then advises them on how to do it and how to fit it into your business. university research. “

“Within the Bahamian community dancing, unfortunately, is still not seen as a viable career. A year ago I was at home in the Bahamas and someone was still asking me what my real job was because that I think it’s something they’re not used to seeing, ”Spears explained. “You come from a Caribbean environment, where parents want to see their children succeed. They want them to have careers where they can see the highest point of success – the doctor, the lawyer, the accountant. And so, why do I think this ArtSea is so important because there are so many young dancers on the island who have the potential. It’s in their bones. ”

Image source: Braxton Gardiner

Make arts education a priority

Spears may have spoken specifically of the Bahamian community, but what she explains could apply to many countries around the world and to states in the United States. And with the pandemic wreaking havoc on dance companies around the world, ArtSea’s goal of introducing children to the arts and teaching them how they can make it a viable career has never been more timely and integral. .

“It’s important to open up the perspective and give kids a bigger view of the world,” Spears said. “Say, ‘Hey, look. to perform on stages around the world; or to become an art curator, art journalist or art writer, ”said Spears. “There are so many benefits to allowing your child or students to explore this creative side of them. Especially in dance.”

Image source: Braxton Gardiner

Even if a child doesn’t end up pursuing a career in the arts, what he learns in a program like ArtSea will stay with him throughout his life – which I can attest to as a person who grew up passing every day in a ballet studio. . “The discipline of being able to sit and focus on a task and repeat, or practice,” Cary said, “all of these things can apply anywhere you go.”

ArtSea was originally created to bring dance to the Bahamas and to help children learn and appreciate this art form and explore the possibilities of a career in the arts. But after five years, Spears and Cary’s goals shifted not just from the individual to the institutional, with a focus on making real change in government support for the arts. “Let’s say the students can’t travel, they can’t go to New York or LA to dance. I wish they would always feel that their community, their country, their government is supporting their dream of being the arts, ”says Spears. “And I think as we continue to grow, we’ll be in places where we can hopefully help implement that in a more consistent way.”

Image source: Mariah Gravelin