Belize Dance Company celebrates 15th anniversary

It's hard to believe it's really been fifteen years since the Belize National Dance Company was created and began training with Cuban master, Professor Eduardo Rivera. The group, which drew dancers from all over the country, has flowered since 1990. But today the company is facing a crucial turning point as founding members are getting older and increasingly tied up with their careers and families. Fortunately, there are young members ready to step up and step in time to the music. News Five's Karla Heusner spoke with two of the founding members—Althea Sealy and Greg Vernon—about the company, its future, and their role as Belize's Ambassadors of Dance.

Gregory Vernon, Managing Dir., Belize National Dance Co.
"We are very much travelled. We've been to the United States, Mexico, we do the Caribbean, Jamaica, we do Cuba, we did Costa Rica, so we are very, very travelled in this region. Some of the highlighted tours are two-month tours which we go on and which the employers give a lot, because some of them give the dancers to us for two months. So we very much applaud employers who have a love for the arts. And with the folkloric section, because Belize having a rich folkloric black culture, we would take out the Garifuna and Creole folk to Europe and it is quite appreciated in these regions because it's new to them and they want to know where Belize is, how can they get there, how come we are so friendly? Because we would do parades, street carnivals, we will do street performances, we also perform in very prestigious theatres and performing arts centres. It is a very rich experience for the dancers and also a rich experience for the audience."

Karla Heusner, Reporting
But while the National Dance Company has proudly represented Belize abroad, for many of the founding and senior members, their priorities are changing and the time has come to pass the company on to the younger generation.

Althea Sealy, Artistic Dir., Belize National Dance Co.
"We have dancers that work at the banks; most of them work at the banks. We have teachers. Denise, she is doing insurance, but they all have a full-time job plus a family."

Greg Vernon
"Althea and I discussed and we found out that the dancers of this year, of our fifteenth anniversary, are very much educated. We have Bachelor's, Masters Degree people, and most likely they will be reaching out for their careers, so we will be losing them. So with this performance, truthfully we are putting on stage the centre and introducing the dance centre who will become the next seniors, for the next ten years."

But the seniors do not intend to retire completely.

Althea Sealy
"One thing I am sure of, the senior members are there, they will be with us. We are not phasing them out totally because they are still strong. The only problem we have is the dedication, the time because of their own family lives, but they are there still for the kids to see more or less what we are looking for, what we want."

"For the folkloric section, for the seniors, because they have the love for it, I can call them anytime and say, "let's dance" and they're ready and willing to do it. Because I am sure that if we were dancing for money, I wouldn't have them. So most of the time they dance because they love it... trust me, because they don't get paid."

Sealy and career dance teacher Rosita Balthazar have observed that the younger generation doesn't always understand the need for the kind of discipline and training they were exposed to as young dancers.

Althea Sealy
"Because we are exposed to television and things abroad, it kind of has the kids leaning that way. So when we go with a technique that is much slower, they don't want to take the time in getting there, they want to get there with a snap of the finger."

"If you just go with a broad bam, it doesn't make you a strong dancer, it makes you haphazard like I don't know what I want to do. But if you take that solid background, like the classical dance, classical dance has a very solid background and it takes time, so not anybody wants to do that. The modern technique is right behind that, but nobody wants to do it. Immediately they want to do what we can naturally do, shake the body; shake every single part of the body as much as we could. It's part of our culture and we can't help it, so that's the first thing they have. But if you have the heart for it, and the legs for it, it works in quite well and you become a very promising dancer."

Karla Heusner for News Five.

If you would like to see those promising young dancers, and the seniors who created the company, there will be two anniversary performances next weekend at the Bliss Centre for the Performing Arts on Friday night and Sunday afternoon. Contact the Bliss ticket office for times and prices. Funding for the National Dance Company has been provided by HIVOS for the last five years and they will be seeking additional support for the future.