Bahamian dance studio owner brings ‘something new’
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Bahamian dance studio owner Reequal Smith has brought “something new” to the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island (PEI), owning the only Black dance company on the island.
Smith, the founder and artistic director of Oshun Dance Studios, told Caribbean Life, in an exclusive interview on Sunday that she has taken “a leap of faith” to pursue her longtime passion to own the studios in Charlottetown, PEI.
Born and raised on the beautiful Bahama islands, Smith said she grew up in Nassau, and is an emerging professional artist trained in ballet, jazz, modern contemporary, African, aerial ballet and fire dancing.
During her career, she said she has performed in multiple shows in hotels and Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival for three years with local artists.
Prior to furthering her career in the arts, Smith said she has always looked at education as a pivotal factor in her life. He obtained a BA in marketing at The University of The Bahamas.
Since graduating, Smith said she has been working to establish her career as a dancer, artistic director and teaching artist on PEI. She is a graduate of Holland College’s School of Performing Arts.
The amazing Smith’s recent work includes artistic director in the Stratford Fall Festival, performing in the Island Fringe Festival’s “Pounding the Pavement” and in the 2019 River Clyde Pageant, as well as being a featured artist for the Confederation Centre’s “Postcards from the Island” project.
In early June, Smith said she was seeking support to present a full-length showcase of her dance work.
Through her vision, she reached out to “three most amazing innovative women on the island of PEI”: Megan Stewart (artistic director/producer of River Clyde Pageant), Tamara Steele (executive director of Black Cultural Society) and Grace Kimpinski (festival director of the Island Fringe Festival), “who agreed to partner on the project and lend their combined expertise in live event production to present ‘Calypso Secrets.’”
Created in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith said Oshun Dance is “a vision brought to life to bring young women artists of all ethnicities together to find empowerment and to access outlets for creative expression through dance.”
Being a Black-owned dance company in Charlottetown, she said Oshun is in “a unique position to nurture creativity and confidence among women, particularly women of color, on the island.”
Smith said “Caribbean culture took center stage within ‘Calypso Secrets’”, which featured musical selections, choreography and costume design inspired by Smith’s Bahamian roots, a culture, she said, deeply entwined with her dance practice.
“The performance also shone a spotlight on an ensemble of primarily Black artists, many of whom are emerging graduates of Holland College’s School of Performing Arts,” she said.
“’Calypso Secrets’ not only featured performers of varying backgrounds performing together on stage but also celebrated the cultural arts traditions of the Bahamas, bringing a refreshing Caribbean flavor from one island to another while promoting an inclusive, community-building environment in an effort to showcase the diverse talents of the island’s youth and, ultimately, to bring joy to the community at large,” Smith said.
Smith said her choreography infuses modern, jazz, African and funk styles, paired with live and recorded music, including Afro-Caribbean, Latin, funk, reggae and jazz selections.
Thematically, she said the performances celebrate “the power, beauty, sexuality and strength of women, acknowledging the goddesses living inside each of us.
“’Calypso Secrets’ invites audiences to embark on a journey with the performers, witnessing and unleashing the powerful spirits we hold within, emerging through a joyful combination of dance and music,” Smith said.
“Calypso Secrets” is co-produced by the Black Cultural Society, the River Clyde Pageant and Grace Kimpinski , with additional support from the City of Charlottetown Community Sustainability Micro-Grant Program, Women’s Network PEI and Transform Events.
Since the first showcase, Smith said Oshuns has been growing. In November, the performance at the Bog debuted on YouTube (search Calypso Secrets or Reequal Smith to view it).
Additionally, Smith said ‘Calypso Secrets’ was rebooted to a live audience presented at The Guild, on Dec. 5, a well-known local theatre in Charlottetown, PEI, managed by Alanna Jankov, “in bringing more diversity to the arts.”
Smith said Oshuns has had the opportunity of adding new performers to its repertoire featuring original dancers Dawn Ward, Asia MacMillian and newest member Brigitte Caroll; singer-songwriter Kierrah Titus; Shauna Gibson; and drummer Chavez Edgecombe.
“This winter, if all goes well with the current circumstances of the pandemic, Oshuns plans on performing two more shows presented by The Guild in March,” Smith said. “My business is still in the beginning stages, and I am directing my work right now more towards performances in Charlottetown and, hopefully, future tours in PEI and internationally.
“As I continue working towards a new showcase for the fall, I believe that nothing is possible without prayers, hard work, family and consistency,” she added. “And I do my diligent best in making those four factors my essential tools to keep me motivated and to keep being creative.
“As an artist, one of my heart desires is knowing that I can be able to incorporate other emerging artists in my work,” Smith continued. “This is something that I have always been adamant about wanting everyone to shine. Being able to own my business, I can fully say it allows young artists, like myself, to do what they love. My fear is just always hoping that my work will be accepted.
“As 2021 unfolds, I want the world to know that sharing my culture means the world to me and a part of me that I cherish,” she said. “I am not only representing the Bahamas, my hometown, but the Caribbean, because that’s where my culture stems from. I want individuals to see my work and not judge me by the color of my skin. I let my work speak for itself, and I will continue to take that route and continue working towards being an international name.