by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- First Grenadian to attend Alvin Ailey’s Professional Division Summer Intense Programme
- Pursuing BA studies in Fine Arts at Edna Manley College
Shaneaka Gibbs of Syracuse St David became the first Grenadian and only Caribbean national to audition successfully for the 2018 Professional Division Summer Intense Programme at the world-renowned Alvin Ailey’s American Dance School in the USA.
The school’s Summer Intensive Programme offers students with at least 3 years of experience, the opportunity to study dance in the heart of New York City’s Theatre District. The Intensive is structured to advance the technical, artistic, and performance skills of dancers by offering an exciting variety of techniques, repertory workshops, and performance opportunities.
During the programme which ended in August, Gibbs was exposed to Horton and Graham Technique, body conditioning, ballet, and West African dance. With her perseverance, Gibbs was awarded the opportunity to perform as a soloist at the school’s grand finale.
Gibbs is pursuing a BA studies in Fine Arts at the Edna Manley College for The Visual and Performing Arts. She developed the passion for dancing and the cultural arts at age 4 with the Spiceland Dancers. She later joined the Conception Dance Theatre where she continued her training in ballet, modern and traditional dance.
“From birth, I was quite rhythmic attending carnival functions and just randomly doing what we call it popularly “whining up myself.” However, I would say dance was gifted to me while attending St Louis RC. I heard my friends talking about a dance class that they attended, and it excited me. I felt compelled to be a part of it for it would not only be me with my friends, but I got to do something I enjoyed. I grew up balancing my academia and dance, even taking up other hobbies like track and tennis. My parents aimed for me to be quite well rounded which would then help me futuristically,” Gibbs said to NOW Grenada as to her decision to pursue dancing.
In 2015, she began at the Edna Manley College for The Visual and Performing Arts after completing 2 years at the TA Marryshow Community College (TAMCC), where she studied natural sciences majoring in mathematics and chemistry. She is a former student of the St Louis RC School and the St Joseph Convent St George’s.
Although having a great passion for dancing, Gibbs had a different career path in mind and wanted to become a physiotherapist, but the deciding moment came following a visit to Jamaica in 2012 for a summer intensive programme.
“My initial goal was to become a physiotherapist. I was hell-bent on that being my path, never one day disregarding dance. I thrive on success; I always tell people I am different in the way I think the way I behave, my reactions, even my experiences. I was never one to give up or not want the best out of any particular situation. This resulted in an insatiable desire to harvest my work. It has taken me regionally to multiple workshops and locally to a point where I began giving back to my country as I volunteered and shared my knowledge. The deciding moment occurred when I travelled to the shores of Jamaica in 2012 for a summer intensive. There my interest was fully heightened. The experience there came with encouragement and positive feedback from the persons I met at the intensive. They assisted in opening my eyes to look at things from another angle. I fell deeper in love with the art form and appreciation for the local and Caribbean culture,” she said.
Gibbs said being chosen to take part in this year’s Professional Division Summer Intense Programme at the school was quite a rewarding experience.
“Honestly speaking I am quite a nonchalant person so when I got the news it just felt normal, but after doing some thinking and receiving feedback from well-wishers, it opened my eyes to the value that this can have, not only to self but representing my home. I must admit at some point in time I was in disbelief and wondering if I was truly good enough to be attending a programme of such calibre. It acted as a catalyst for networking at this well-renowned institution and thinking longterm for a place where I can gain employment and continue doing what I love. Attending Ailey opened another route I would have been able to look into. It concreted the idea of dance having no bounds. The knowledge I gathered has placed me in a position where I would be able to represent myself now on a professional international stage.”
Gibbs is quite humbled to be the first Grenadian at the 2018 professional division. She described it as a “pride filling opportunity.”
“Being the first Grenadian and only English-speaking Caribbean national at the 2018 professional division it is a pride filling opportunity. I encountered something that made me uneasy during the experience. Far too often while attending this intensive I encountered moments where I mention where I came from, and the response from many persons was cluelessness as to which part in the world that was. So the opportunity not only afforded me but my country. Every opportunity granted to me is a stepping stone to getting where I need to be still clinging to the idea of being well rounded in arts.”
Her mother Shaneal Gibbs admitted that she was at first sceptical over her daughter’s decision to pursue dancing instead of a career in the medical field, but after witnessing her daughter’s development was easily convinced the right decision had been made. “I was sceptical at first of the uphill battles she may face doing the nonconventional studies and career, but after seeing her continuous work ethic and drive to attain her degree and build her craft made me become more of her biggest fan. It was about what she was fighting for, what was natural and second nature to her.”
Gibbs said she reached an agreement with her parents which would allow her to finish her studies at Edna Manley and then venture on to pursue a degree in physiotherapy.
“I won’t necessarily call it disregarding my parent’s wishes. Anyone who knows me knows the relationship between my parents and me. I researched and found a way to make my career enjoyable. My parents and I actually made a deal that I would pursue the dance career first and then go to physiotherapy. As I engaged and did more in my years of studies seeking out opportunities and trying to be and do my best I made them see things differently. They now see and appreciate all the possibilities that lie in dance. I made a silent promise to both of them though that I would go to the ends of the earth to make them proud, create awareness of my journey, inspire and balance it with academia.”
Gibbs was elected President of Edna Manley College Dance Works 2018 for 2 consecutive years and was awarded a 3-year honour scholar award. Gibbs has had some successes in her career performing for various TV advertisements, music videos and several high-profile events including Jamaican Olympians. She also performed for Jamaican musicians such as Jimmy Cliff, Chronnix, and OMI who is known for his worldwide hit song “Cheerleader”.
Other notable achievements include:
- Being selected to join L’Acadco Dance Company at which she has also excelled.
- Be part of the team representing the company at CARIFESTA 2017 in Barbados where she performed at the main CARIFESTA concert.
- Worked as a training assistant at various L’Acadco workshops.
With her eye set on achieving her dream to hold a doctorate in dance sciences and cultural studies, Gibbs intends on bringing back her experience and knowledge to Grenada to help develop the performing arts industry.
“Ten years from now I am aspiring to hold a doctorate to my name in dance sciences and cultural studies. I would like a chance to still balance performing as well. I always tell people I am willing to go the extra mile for dance to take me to the beyond. My initial contribution to Grenada will be to create awareness and try to break the stereotypes associated with dance. The world’s point of view is slowly shifting, and with its shift, I am only a catalyst in Grenada’s process to shifting. I would like to be an educator and facilitator for cultural studies hopefully as it is implemented in our school curriculum. I will continue to not shy away from teaching classes, volunteering islandwide and engaging in motivational conversations with people wanting to make bold steps in life or just want that extra push.”
Gibbs’ advise to young people is to “Do what makes you happy, what you love, what you willing to sacrifice everything for, follow your own path for you alone know what lies within you. Actively become your own cheerleader. Dream, imagine and create as you have never done before but most importantly, don’t lose yourself in the journey.”
The 22-year-old is in her final year at the Edna Manley College and is expected to graduate in November 2019.